Claire Wortsman is an IPilogue Writer and a 2L JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.
As applications for 2L summer student and articling positions approach, law students typically receive the opportunity to visit firms and talk to partners, associates, and students in person. This allows them to get a better idea of where they want to apply and how to best tailor their applications to specific firms. When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted this practice, law firms adapted to hosting virtual open houses on Zoom, Webex, or similar platforms. Virtual open houses offer students a sense of a firm’s workplace culture and values without physically walking through their doors. On July 21, I attended a virtual open house hosted by Bereskin & Parr (B&P) and got an idea of life at a leading Canadian IP law firm.
B&P’s open house consisted of a panel discussion followed by a networking session where panelists were paired with small groups of students. Panelists included Trademarks Partner Wynnie Chan, Engineering & Technology Partners Reshika Dhir and Paul Horbal, Life Sciences Counsel Ainslie Parsons, and Director of Recruitment & Professional Development Ryan Baker. The panelists discussed their practice areas and the kinds of experiences that summer and articling students may expect.
Prospective 1L, 2L, and 3L students from across Canada, and even across the pond, attended this event. Although some virtual open houses are webinars where students remain anonymous, B&P encouraged students to keep their cameras on if they felt comfortable. As an attendee, I appreciated both the cameras-on suggestion and the breakout room networking session because they created a sense of connection that is difficult to foster in virtual meetings. Throughout the pandemic, B&P cultivated a positive virtual culture with team-building activities in the form of virtual events like yoga classes and trivia nights.
What is Life Like at Bereskin & Parr?
The panelists discussed many values underlying the firm’s culture, from collaboration to wellness and mental health awareness, to diversity and inclusion. Their emphasis on learning stuck out most to me. Multiple panelists highlighted the importance of a willingness to learn—it was cited as the one quality that would make a new hire successful and, according to Horbal, as the most enjoyable part of working at the firm. In my breakout room, he explained that as a student he had to pay to learn about interesting topics, but now he does so constantly in his role at B&P. Working on innovative and unique projects has enabled him to develop new skills and build knowledge about emerging fields, such as artificial intelligence and cannabis.
Although IP work requires new skills and knowledge, students at B&P are not without guidance. In their summer program, each student is paired with a junior associate who serves as a mentor. Sine they were recently students, junior associates can empathize and guide new hires through their work and their transition to working at a law firm. In addition to weekly meetings, mentors typically introduce students to other associates and partners to help them build connections and learn about various practice areas. Although this practice became more difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic, it did not lapse. Instead, mentors made virtual introductions. Articling students are also paired with someone more senior who can assist them with workload allocation.
If B&P’s culture and expertise in IP interests you and you would like to apply, here are my main takeaways from the webinar:
- First, be prepared to talk about anything you put on your resume. Do not list an experience or publication that you could not discuss in an interview setting.
- Second, tailor your cover letter to B&P and explain your interest in working at a boutique IP firm. Even if your interest in IP is not reflected through your formal work experience, tell your story and connect your experiences with your interests and goals.
- Lastly, do not undersell yourself or count yourself out. A background in STEM is not required to work at B&P, so long as you are willing to learn new things. B&P has a variety of roles across their various practice groups including Copyright & Digital Media; Litigation; Patents; Regulatory, Advertising & Marketing; and Trademarks. There are roles for individuals with no technical background which may differ from what students initially envision, so building the requisite skills and knowledge may require some extra work.