Delivering an extraordinary student experience in extraordinary times

In early June, Osler marked a momentous occasion in the delivery of our national student program, as firm members continued to work from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While our 42 articling students wrapped up their work terms from their home offices and 58 summer students joined Osler for an entirely virtual program, we witnessed our firm’s culture in action in how our students, legal professionals and support teams worked together, demonstrated resilience, and engaged in learning and mentoring in this unprecedented time.

From the perspective of the Osler Student Committee, we couldn’t be prouder of how our students embraced the many challenges that arose as a result of the pandemic, especially in the ways they supported, and continue to support, one another and seamlessly adjust their work and skill development to a remote format.

We asked five students from across the firm for their reflections on their time at Osler during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their testimonials each reveal expressions of Osler’s culture as collegial, nurturing, collaborative, supportive, inclusive ... and fun!


Katie van der Sloot

(2018 and 2019 Summer, 2020/2021 Calgary Articling)

Katie van der Sloot
 

“I am genuinely impressed and tremendously grateful for how seamless the firm has made my introduction to articling in a remote environment. Having enjoyed two summers with the firm before commencing my articles, I was anxious to see how a work-from-home structure would fare compared to my valued memories of sharing an office space with partners, associates and fellow students. I am happy to report that I have been keeping busy, feeling well-mentored and engaged as a member of the team. Highlights of my virtual experience thus far include daily Zoom meetings with my practice group, bar calls, Town Hall updates and Friday happy hours!

I have also appreciated the efforts made by the Students Committee to complete wellness checks and make arrangements for appropriately socially distanced activities as a group. While I do miss the smiling faces of my colleagues and the office Starbucks machine, I do not miss taking public transit or tending to blistered feet after a week in heels (currently donning fuzzy pink slippers instead). I’m thrilled to resume my softball career with “Osler, Hotdogs & Hardtunes LLP” on July 6 and celebrate a COVID-19-free return to the office when that time comes!”


Tiye Traore

(2018 Summer and 2019/2020 Toronto Articling, NY secondee)

Tiye Traore
 

“I was pleased with how Osler transitioned to working from home during the pandemic. The process was incredibly smooth for articling students with constant communication and support from our student’s committee and other firm leaders. I think the addition of mobile devices (laptops or tablets), new for us as articling students this year, also helped smooth the transition. We were already used to working from home with these devices, thus making it easy to adapt to our new work environment.

What I appreciated the most were the steps the firm took to make sure that there was a constant flow of communication. As students, we could count on the weekly newsletters from Osler’s COO Ruth Woods and attending town halls to stay informed. Different groups also had weekly group meetings or monthly game nights. There is no doubt that there is no replacement to working physically together at the firm. However, the steps taken by the managerial leaders of the firm to ensure we moved forward together really echoed the “one firm” culture at Osler.”


Jun Lee

(2019 Summer, 2020/2021 Vancouver Articling)


 

“The Osler Vancouver team’s early and constant communication with me, as an incoming articling student, helped to alleviate any uncertainty that I had felt as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This allowed me to begin my articling term with much more comfort and confidence in the firm’s ability to move forward during the pandemic. During the first week at the firm, the Calgary and Vancouver students were provided with computer and library training via online platforms that remained organized, informative and engaging. The firm’s preparation for its incoming students demonstrated to me how much of a tech-savvy and prepared law firm Osler truly is.

The most noteworthy aspect of the students’ integration into the firm via a remote working environment is how supportive, yet effective, the firm has been with respect to getting legal work done. Through multiple mentorship calls and team meetings, the students were constantly encouraged to reach out to the various lawyers and partners at the firm via our messaging platforms if we had any questions. Despite the absence of in-person interactions, the support exemplified by all members of the firm has been overwhelming and the amount and quality of work I have received remains consistent with my summer student experience from the previous year. I am incredibly grateful to be at such a supportive firm that has allowed me to prioritize my focus on my learning and work as an articling student, as opposed to the uncertainties brought upon by an unprecedented pandemic.”


Darren Gill

(2020 Toronto Summer)

Darren Gill
 

“My term as a summer student at the Toronto office is no doubt beginning under unusual circumstances. The summer experience of my classmates and I is no doubt lacking many of the hallmarks of summering at the firm: face-to-face interaction, after-work drinks, and navigating the PATH. Nonetheless, our onboarding has gone smoothly, and the extra efforts of firm members to socialize virtually has been effective at helping me get acquainted with others in a relaxed social setting.

Over the period leading up to the start of my summer at Osler, the firm had been very attentive in providing regular updates. I have been impressed with the organization and well-oiled nature of the onboarding process, with three weeks of programming on navigating firm computer systems, learning about practice areas and honing research skills. The countless professionals involved with our onboarding have truly gone above and beyond in getting us set up virtually.

The social aspect thus far has been characterized by virtual happy hours, game nights (such as Family Feud) and e-coffees — held by practice groups, the Students Program and individual lawyers at the firm. The willingness and eagerness of partners and associates to take the time to virtually connect has been especially noteworthy. I believe that this attitude, to compensate for lost face-to-face time, is most reflective of the friendly, genuine and helpful nature of the firm and its members. Similarly, our summer class has taken it upon ourselves to socialize virtually, organize volunteer days (using the three paid volunteer days established for students in 2020 to help them give back to their community in ways that supports Osler’s diversity and inclusion initiatives) and assist one another in whatever we can.

Joining and integrating into the firm has gone incredibly well given the current circumstances. Because of the best efforts of the firm, I am confident that I will still be able to learn a great deal, get better acquainted with firm members and enjoy my time this summer.”


Ryan Holland

(2019 and 2020 Ottawa Summer)

Ryan Holland
 

“The year 2020 has certainly been an unprecedented one and has been filled with many memories that most will likely want to forget. Upon reflection, I can without a doubt say that my experience as a 2020 summer student at the firm thus far has been a positive one. Throughout the entire process, from pre-arrival to orientation to full integration, I have found myself constantly impressed with the firm’s processes and the fact that a lot of things have remained constant during the transition from in-office to working from home.

This is my second summer as a summer student in the Intellectual Property Group, specifically located in the Ottawa office (although right now I find myself at my home in Toronto). Since the arrival of the summer students on June 8, I have been extremely impressed with the process by which the firm integrated and transitioned us to working from home. On day one, a team of people assisted all of the students with our onboarding and technological setup; those involved deserve to be commended as the transition went about as smoothly as possible.

I have also been impressed and happy to see that not much has changed (given the circumstances) from what I had experienced in my first summer in-office. While we may be in different physical spaces this time around, I have noticed that everyone has continued to be very friendly and there is still a strong sense of collegiality and teamwork. What may be most impressive, in my eyes, is how much the partners and associates I work with in Ottawa and Toronto have been checking in with us to see how we are doing. At some point on every call I have had since my arrival, the person on the other end of the screen has asked how I am doing overall (both personally and professionally) and how I am adjusting to the work-from-home environment. While it may seem like a small gesture, the impact it has is immense and continues to show how much they care about us, both personally and with regards to our career development.

Finally, while remote working diminishes social interaction as compared to working in the same physical space as others, I have also been impressed with how the firm has tried to maximize what social interaction is possible. From my experience so far, the method has been that every time work is assigned, a call will be set up between the student and assigning lawyer. Again, while this seems basic, it is effective in mimicking the social face-to-face meeting that would occur in-office and has a greater social impact than a simple email would. On top of that, group socials have been moved ‘virtually’ with great success.”


Evan Belfer

(2020 Montréal Summer)

Evan Belfer
 

“I joined Osler as a summer student one year ago in a world that barely resembles the one that we are living in today. That first summer truly exceeded all of my expectations. From the moment I first stepped foot in the Montréal office, I was made to feel that I was part of the team. It was immediately evident to me from my interactions with colleagues that I was surrounded by brilliant, hardworking individuals who genuinely enjoyed working with one another on a daily basis. I was astounded by how willing and eager people were to take time out of their busy days to answer questions, give advice or just to have a friendly conversation. The firm’s culture of collegiality was pervasive, and whether it was over a file in the boardroom, over lunch downtown or at one of the numerous events planned by our wonderful Director of Professional Resources, Catherine Lambert, I was able to develop incredible professional relationships, as well as great friendships.

Nobody could have possibly anticipated the events of the past few months leading up to my second summer here at the firm. I was drawn to Osler to begin with because of the people I would be working alongside and the work environment that is second to none. Like many members of the firm, I could not help but feel a twinge of disappointment and a creeping sense of uncertainty when it became evident that we would have to undertake the necessary step of physically distancing ourselves from one another and from the office we all share. How would the Osler experience, with our open-door policy and collaborative attitude, translate when we were forcibly working from a distance? Would the quality of my learning and growth diminish as a result? Would it be possible to continue to build upon the relationships and the foundation of work that I had poured so much effort into over the past year?

While the experience this summer has certainly been unique thus far, I can confidently say that my worries dissipated on day one. Videoconferencing via Teams reassured me that physical separation could not displace the spirt of collegiality that resides in the members of the firm rather than in any one physical location. I quickly was made to realize that this is a situation that we are all navigating together, whether you are a student, associate or partner, and that we, as students, were not alone in our concerns and were not to be left to try and figure everything out by ourselves. In fact, I think that the constraints of the situation have in some ways galvanized the team and pushed members to make themselves even more accessible to us to ensure that we are profiting from our summer and participating in a wide array of complex and stimulating matters. Furthermore, I have been able to catch up with colleagues, and have gotten to know others better, through a number of creative activities, which the team has put on during these difficult times. Specifically, I’m thinking of our weekly chats with Catherine Lambert, weekly meetings with the entirety of the firm, the virtual scavenger hunt event (which I will not fail to mention that I won), and, of course, Friday afternoon “Quarantinis” catching up with the Tax Group.

While I am eager to return to the office and to see my colleagues in person once again, I know that my summer experience will nevertheless be a great one thanks to the team’s unwavering positive attitude and adaptability to any situation. I believe that in tough times, a person’s true character will reveal itself, and the response from our firm has only reinforced my belief in Osler’s culture and values. I am excited for what is in store for us for the rest of the summer and I am grateful to be navigating this situation as part of the Osler team."


A big thanks goes out to Evan Belfer, Darren Gill, Ryan Holland, Jun Lee, Tiye Traore and Katie van der Sloot for their contributions to this article.

On behalf of everyone at Osler, congratulations to each of our articling students on your upcoming Call to the Bar, a significant milestone in normal circumstances made that much more memorable during these unprecedented times.  

For more information on our virtual student program, read “Largest law firms stay the course with summer programs, employ students at home” in The Globe and Mail.

You can also follow Osler’s Student Program on Instagram.