Lenczner Slaght scraps its cocktail party ahead of in-firm week

By: November 1, 2018

The firm acknowledges that such events often alienate students from diverse backgrounds

Fresh Summer Cocktals- Marco Verch

The Bay Street recruitment season is about to reach its pulse-pounding climax: in-firm week. On Monday, hundreds of law students will arrive in Toronto. And over the course of three days, they’ll sprint across the downtown core as they interview with some of the top firms in the country. The prize they’re all chasing? A second-year summer job.

It’s also during this week that many students will get their first taste of the corporate-law party scene. On Monday or Tuesday, most firms will host a dinner or a cocktail reception in the evening. For most job applicants, these events are brutal. They run late into the night. There is a social pressure to drink, even though most party-goers have interviews scheduled the following morning. And they often alienate students who come from diverse backgrounds. By and large, the typical lawyer on Bay Street remains white, male and affluent. So when the banter at these social functions turns (as it often does) to the common interests of that demographic — sports, overseas travel, wine, art — it sends a clear message to students who aren’t fluent in those subjects: “You don’t belong.”

The toxic nature of these events was a central theme in our latest cover story, an investigation into the systemic flaws that permeate the on-campus interview process. When we published the piece, in September, it struck a chord with the profession. But there was no sense it would spark immediate reform.

That is, until now. Lenczner Slaght LLP, one of the top litigation boutiques in the country, announced last week that it will no longer hold an in-firm-week cocktail reception. And, in its press release, it cited our journalism as the catalyst for that decision.

“We would host a cocktail party to demonstrate to students that we are a collegial firm with fun people who support each other,” says Melanie Baird, a partner at Lenczner Slaght, who co-chairs the firm’s student committee. “But as your article correctly and helpfully pointed out, that message isn’t coming across.”

The firm wanted to do more, however, than simply axe the reception. “We asked ourselves, ‘How can we make this process less stressful?’” says Shara Roy, another partner who co-chairs the student committee. “We also wanted to think of all of the students going through the process, not just those who interview at our firm.”

So this year, with that goal in mind, the firm is launching the Lenczner Slaght R&R Lounge. Throughout in-firm week, students who head to the lobby of 130 Adelaide St. W. will find a dedicated space to “relax and recharge” in between interviews. There will be free healthy snacks and complimentary Wi-Fi. The firm will not be keeping track of which students make use of the lounge.

“It’s just a place for people to relax and chill,” says Baird. “When I participated in the process, I didn’t have any family in Toronto. I also couldn’t afford to stay at a fancy hotel. So to have somewhere to go during the day would have been pretty sweet.”

And don’t worry: students who visit the lounge will not encounter associates and partners who work at Lenczner Slaght. Moments of respite will not turn into impromptu job interviews. “Mel was great on this point,” says Roy. “There were some partners who thought that our no-lawyers-in-the-lounge rule wouldn’t apply to them because they’re cool and unique. But Mel told them, ‘It does and you’re not.’” Baird admits: “It was pretty fun to tell all of my partners to stay out.”

During this year’s in-firm week, Lenczner Slaght will continue to hold lunches and dinners with applicants. At these functions, one student shares a meal with a small group of lawyers, allowing both parties to interact in a less-formal setting. Though the firm has not cancelled this element of its recruitment process, it is considering whether to do so the future.

Lenczner Slaght’s decision to axe its cocktail party is part of a broader mission to recruit a more diverse crop of students. For instance: over the summer, the firm announced that, during this year’s on-campus interview process, it would remove the names and gender pronouns from each resumé. Research has shown that when minorities submit job applications with stereotypically white names, they are more likely to receive a callback. “I found it very jarring, but in a positive way,” says Roy. “It made me think more critically about why I was attracted to one person over another person. That was really powerful.”

Next, the firm plans to survey the lawyers who participated in the name-blind resumé-review process and to collect data on whether the firm is, indeed, attracting a greater number of diverse candidates. “We’re not wedded to any of our initiatives,” says Roy. “If any of them have unintended consequences, we’ll continue to tweak and modify. Every element of our process is on the table right now.”

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