I did this back when I was applying for a firm job. I wouldn't mention ppl by name, though. I like that way you phrased it in your post: "I've been fortunate enough to have some associates and students speak very candidly about some [good] things that have happened to them in their firm. The kind of things that make you want to work somewhere."
I went on a family trip for longer than a week during reading week in 1L and I thought it was fine. To be fair I did bring books and my laptop and made sure I would have internet access but I didn’t end up doing much reading (if any). It’s a personal choice and 1L is definitely a stressful time but for me having the mental break outweighed missing a few days of reading time! Wouldn’t recommend a wild party trip but something relaxing where I had the option to do some work if necessary was fine for me.
What about something along the lines of "When I spoke to your articling student Erica, she mentioned a time where she received one-on-one support from the firm. The firm's commitment to blah blah blah excited me because?"