Thursday, 14 February 2019

The Fantastic Five

In honour of our 5th month of articling, I have taken 5 Topics and for each, I’ve compiled a list of 5 tips to provide insight into our experience thus far.

I. Ways We Receive Work

  1. The list - A lawyer can send an email to the articling students and whoever is next on “The List” gets the assignment.

  2. Conflict Checks - Monitor & respond to a conflict check involving an area of law or a set of facts that you are interested in. There are always some unique files that catch my eye.  (p.s. this is a great one!)

  3. Personal Touch - reaching out to lawyers personally. As a student, you may enjoy working with specific people and/or in certain areas of law. You can simply walk over to a lawyer’s office and ask them if they have any work that you can assist with. It’s as easy as it sounds.
  4. Trading - Depending on availability and whether certain students prefer to work on specific tasks, you can trade jobs with fellow articling students.

  5. Student Liaison - Ashley Faust is the Student Liaison at McCague Borlack and she checks in with the students to make sure we experience as much as possible. If there is something you want to do but haven’t yet, let her know and she will set you up! Two of my favourite attendances so far, including arguing contested costs hearing, was arranged by Ashley.
II. Events to look forward to
  1. Orientation! - Honestly, the amount of times I refer to the material that was provided to us during orientation week is unbelievable. McCague offers articling students the opportunity to increase their knowledge exponentially within that first single week.

  2. The Christmas party! - Don’t forget that the articling students are responsible for entertaining the audience during the Christmas party. We thoroughly enjoyed preparing for our skit and (we think) the audience enjoyed watching it just as much.

  3. Christmas in January - Christmas party round 2? Almost. McCague Borlack hosts a Christmas in January event for clients and all members of the firm. It’s a great opportunity to get to know everyone better and have a chance to put a face to a name of a client you have been corresponding with through email for the past few months.

  4. Practice Group Seminars - We have a number of practice groups at McCague Borlack. Recently the Transportation Law practice group put together a lunch and learn. This is another great opportunity for students to meet with clients, draft papers on specific areas of the law and even present on them!

  5. After work socializing - It’s easy to plan social events among the students. Whether it’s a simple dinner at a restaurant or going to an escape room, the students are able to spend plenty of time together outside of work.
 III. Ways to learn
  1. The library - Most of us use the internet for almost everything. I don’t blame us. But what if I told you that someone has already collected knowledge on the topic you’re researching, compiled it into a book, and that very same book found its way onto a shelf at McCague? The best place to start when researching or simply learning about a new topic is in your firm’s library!

  2. Litigator - Of course, the internet is helpful too. At McCague, we have access to Westlaw’s database including a resource called “Litigator”. The best part of Litigator is that you can find pleadings and other material filed with the court in previous actions. These templates are useful tools and you can learn what to include, or avoid when drafting your own materials.

  3. Asking questions - I’m sure this has been mentioned many times in previous blogs, but that is because it is so important! The collective amount of knowledge in the heads of everyone at the firm is huge. If you are stuck, ask around, there are many willing teachers.

  4. Not asking questions - Yes that’s right. Part of learning is understanding how to independently find answers in an efficient manner. Of course, don’t hesitate to ask questions in urgent situations or once you have exhausted your other resources. However, the exercise of finding an answer is a learning experience in of in itself.

  5. This Student Blog - We aren’t the first set of students at the firm and we won’t be the last. The blog has captured the experiences of the students who were in our exact position previously. It might have the answer you’re looking for!
IV. Things to Remember for your motion for leave to amend a Statement of Claim
  1. Attach the amended Statement of Claim to your draft Order
  2. A staple remover;
  3. A mini stapler;
  4. There is a Staples right beside the Toronto Courthouse;
  5. Thank the associate who you ran into in the courtroom that helped you fix your draft Order minutes before the motion… thanks Marla!
V. My Articling Bucket List
  1. To argue a contested motion;
  2. To settle a small claims file at a settlement conference;
  3. To draft (even more) factums - they are great for working on your persuasive writing skills;
  4. To watch a trial; and
  5. To get hired back!

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Preparing for Mediation

Contrary to popular belief, trials don’t happen every day. However, trials are not the only opportunity to flex your litigious muscles. Another forum is mediation. I have been fortunate enough to attend two mediations so far during my articling term and assist in the preparation of two mediation briefs.

In practice, a mediation begins with both sides sitting across from each other at a boardroom table. Counsel for each side is given the opportunity to make opening statements. This is potentially the first and last time a lawyer presents the strengths of their case while highlighting the weaknesses of the other side.

The two sides then move to separate rooms which the mediator
will bounce 
between carrying messages such as offers or concerns.

One thing I learned in preparing for mediation is the compounding nature of a case. Everything in the practice of law builds off of the previous step. Information from the pleadings informs what will be asked at the examination for discovery while the answers and undertakings given at discovery lay the foundation for potential motions and documentary production, and so on and so forth. Preparing a mediation brief gives you the chance to get to know a file in depth and use what is in there to outline the facts and tackle key points at issue. One of the purposes of mediation, especially in Kitchener where mediation is not mandatory, is to try and settle, therefore, it represents a pivotal point in the progression of a matter.

In season 2 of the television show Ozark, the lawyer character had a clever response when being asked why she couldn’t do a certain task. The main character Marty Byrde says “I’m an accountant, I move money around” and the lawyer responded, “I’m a lawyer, I move words around.” Now, is that all there is to one being a lawyer? Of course not. But at a basic level, when trying to be persuasive and convincing, that is sometimes what you are doing. I relished the opportunity the ‘move words around’ when preparing the mediation brief and further develop my ability to frame arguments, which is a learned skill.

As for advice, what should come as no surprise is that my second mediation brief was much better than my first. That is a recurring theme as an articling student. In a general sense, after every task or assignment you complete, you learn something. You may not even realize it right away but the next time you are assigned that task, you will do it better. Even a 1% improvement makes a massive difference in the long run.

It will seem difficult at first but you have to welcome any challenge and treat it as the learning experience it will eventually be.

To quote Bojack Horseman:

It gets easier.
Every day it gets a little easier
But you gotta do it every day – that’s the hard part.
But it does get easier.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Lessons learned at the half-way point

Somehow, it is already the halfway point for us articling students. The amount we have learned in just five months is incredible. Here are my top three lessons learned so far:

It’s important to push yourself outside of your comfort zone…

One of the many reasons we are fortunate as students at McCague Borlack is because our firm practices in a wide variety of different areas of the law. This has allowed me to have countless opportunities to assist lawyers in areas of the law that I had never studied in law school. This was a bit daunting at first, but I quickly began to love when I was asked to assist with a type of file or task I had never been exposed to before. Similarly, lawyers at the firm have always been nothing but inclusive and encouraging whenever I have expressed an interest in learning more about a particular area of the law. If I had shied away from these opportunities, or not taken the initiative to pursue files I was curious about, I would have missed out on many lessons and positive experiences.

…but it’s important to realize that it’s called “practicing” law for a reason

As articling students, we are innately overachievers and always striving for excellence. As such, it is obviously a tough pill to swallow when you realize you won’t master drafting motion materials, mediation briefs, pleadings, etc on your very first try. Or even your second. It’s important to realize that it’s okay to wobble a bit before you hit your stride. Luckily, everyone at the firm is quick to provide mentorship and share best practices. After a while, you start to realize that practicing law is exactly that – there will always be room for improvement, the law is always evolving, and articling is just the start of a career-long learning process.

… Which is why it is important to always be humble, helpful, and respectful

Legal dramas on TV couldn’t be further from reality. During the first half of my articling, I have had the chance to observe a trial, pretrial conference, and numerous mediations and examinations for discovery. One of the most consistent things I have observed is counsel for each party working together in a respectful and courteous manner to achieve an outcome that is in the best interest of the clients involved in a matter. While it can make for a scintillating television plot, in reality, nothing is gained by treating opposing counsel as your adversary.

I look forward to the lessons the next half of articling will bring.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

A Day in Divisional Court

It probably goes without saying, but as a student interested in litigation, if you ever get the chance to get into the courtroom, either to present or watch, you take it! Earlier this month, I was tasked to observe a judicial review hearing in the case of Sabadash v Statefarm at the Divisional Court.

If you are not familiar with Divisional Court, it is a branch of the Superior Court of Justice and acts as an appellate court. It hears certain types of appeals and applications for judicial review.

Unlike a trial, where there is one judge and sometimes a jury, counsel at Divisional Court present to three judges of the Superior Court. Counsel in Sabadash v Statefarm worked to persuade Madame Justice Swinton, Madame Justice Copeland, and Madame Justice Thorburn, a formidable panel of accomplished judges.

"As an appellate court, parties don’t advance new evidence at the hearing; instead, they muster their best legal arguments in support of their position."

In Sabadash v Statefarm, the legal issues were:
  • What is the standard of review for a Director’s Delegate’s decision at the Financial Services Tribunal?
  • What is the proper test for causation in accident benefits cases, “but-for” or “material contribution”?
  • What remedy should be ordered?
Observing appellate work is incredibly useful, especially to young lawyers. In under two hours, I observed two talented senior counsel present their arguments and listened as the judges asked various questions of each side. When arguing appellate work, you have to be ready to answer disjointed questions about any step of an analysis and know the foundation for your argument like the back of your hand.

Another useful strategy I learned in law school and observed being used by counsel was the use of an argument roadmap. Before launching into an hour-long presentation/conversation with your judges, they want to know what you’re going to talk about, and when they can ask the questions of you they formulated reviewing your material.

If you ever get the opportunity to get out of class or the office I can’t recommend Divisional Court hearings enough. Attending this hearing was a great way to expand my learning in a substantive area of law that I am practicing. It provided me with the chance to improve my advocacy by watching senior and experienced counsel, and finally, I was able to speak with both counsel, meeting members of the Toronto and Ottawa bar.

Outside of Toronto, Divisional Court sits infrequently on an annual schedule. If you are interested in learning about the Divisional Court, call your local courthouse to see when it is sitting next.

by Lee Chitty

Friday, 9 November 2018

The Art of Settlement: Lessons Learned from My First Pre-Trial Conference

Early into my articling term, I was given the opportunity to assist a lawyer on a claim involving a motor vehicle accident. The matter was coming up for a pre-trial conference, which is one of the last opportunities for the parties to settle the dispute. Having been asked to assist with the materials,

"I reviewed the file, drafted the pre-trial brief, and
was ready to attend my very first pre-trial conference."

In law school, many of the oral advocacy courses that I took involved mediation or some form of negotiation. However, I didn’t really know what to expect from the pre-trial. When asked, the lawyer described it as an informal discussion with a judge to help the parties narrow the issues to essentially reach a settlement. This description turned out to be fairly accurate.

The pre-trial took place in a setting resembling that of a boardroom. Soon after the judge entered the room, he attempted to gauge the parties’ appetite for settlement. He also wanted to learn about the main barriers to settlement. I was amazed at how the lawyers, after a series of caucuses with the judge, were able to pinpoint the issues in a relatively short period of time and ultimately come to an agreement.

Below are my top five takeaways from the pre-trial conference:

  1. Preparation is key. It is very important to know the facts of your case inside out. This will help you narrow the issues and make the most of the opportunity to obtain a settlement.
  2. Be confident in your position. This can be achieved by understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your client’s case and anticipating the arguments of opposing counsel. When you are confident in your position, you have a better chance of convincing the other side to consider your point of view.
  3. Times flies - use the time effectively. You only have two hours with the pre-trial judge. While settlement discussions may continue after the pre-trial, it is important to use this time effectively if the parties wish to settle the matter.
  4. Settlement negotiation is an art form. Like all art, it requires practice. Each lawyer has their own unique negotiation style and technique. It is only by practicing and observing others that you will be able to develop a negotiating style of your own.
  5. Pre-trial judges act like mediators. The pre-trial judge, in this case, had reviewed all of the materials in advance and was therefore very helpful in evaluating the positions of the parties to facilitate settlement.

Overall, the pre-trial conference was a valuable learning experience. I hope to use what I have learned at future pre-trials and settlement conferences.

Andrew Valela

Friday, 19 October 2018

A Letter to the Next Generation of Law Students

Dear Future Lawyer:

You’re probably very busy, so I’ll keep it brief. I’m three months into my articling term, and there are definitely a few things I wish I knew as a summer student.

First of all, breathe. Like most law students, you’re either a) a perfectionist, b) a high-achiever, or c) eager to please (and if you’re anything like me, you’re (d) all of the above). As such, you’ll get frustrated when receiving your first few assignments. You’ll probably ask yourself: (1) “what are they even asking me to do?”, and (2) “why is it taking me so long?” Relax. You’re not unintelligent, and no, your firm did not somehow hire you by accident.

"What you’re feeling, imposter’s syndrome, is normal."

My first assignment was a brief, two-page initial report on a small claims file – I needed three full working days and numerous meetings with the supervising lawyer before it was submitted to the client. The good news is, I can now draft most reports in a matter of hours. “But when will I be able to work faster?” you may ask. Unfortunately, there’s no exact answer. But by month no. 3 of the articling term, there is a great improvement in both the quality and the efficiency of our first drafts. Also, your mentoring lawyers want you to work hard, but not drive yourself crazy! They’ll never give you work you can’t handle, and they’re always happy to answer questions.

Second, follow your instincts. You will hear all kinds of suggestions from all sorts of people. As a self-proclaimed advice-soliciting aficionado, I can guarantee that some of the answers to the same questions will conflict (and may even fully contradict one another). I’m sorry to disappoint you, but there is no “one size fits all” on how to approach something (i.e. how to choose your attendances, manage your workload…etc.) Individual critical thinking skills are essential. You “do you”, and if your style needs tweaking, you will get help along the way. And while I’m on the topic of carving your own path, I’d like to quickly mention the use of assignment precedents: they’re amazing time savers, but they are just a guide. We are training to be lawyers and we are expected to be able to draft documents to suit the situation. Also, overuse makes you prone to typos and other sloppy errors (seriously, how many times have I forgotten to change the court file number at the top right corner and needed to reprint the first page). Three months into your articling term, you’ll find yourself having enough confidence to say things like, “well, I can draft a motion record, I don’t need a precedent and if I do use one it will be mine…”

Finally, never turn down an opportunity to learn. Lawyers will ask you: “what’s your capacity like?” Unless you’ve been awake for the last 72 hours straight, or have several last-minute assignments with limitations expiring the next day, you’re not at full capacity. Some of my favourite files started off as a walk-in request while I was neck-deep in other work. In addition, you stop learning the minute you shift responsibility onto something (or even someone) else. Even though support staff can be very helpful; it’s incredibly important that you learn how to do administrative tasks as well. But mistakes will happen, even three months into articling. And when they do happen, do your best to fix it while reminding yourself that it’s all a part of the process (albeit a more painful part).

Students are told that the key to success is to be respectful, humble, and hardworking. I’d also like to add that it’s important to be kind to yourself as well – everyone has to start somewhere.

Yours very truly,

Émilie-Anne Puckering

An Articling Student

P.S. Coffee is not a meal substitute, always bring a pen and paper with you everywhere, and remember to pay it forward to the next generation. Good luck

Monday, 8 October 2018

Articling Student Style: What to Wear on Interview Day

When preparing for OCI and In-Firm interviews, one of the most daunting decisions is: what do I wear? Although seasoned lawyers live in their suits, in law school we often attend class in very casual clothes. For many, a summer position at a law firm may be the first time that you have worked in a professional environment, so figuring out how to dress can be intimidating.

I remember spending hours stressing out with my friends in law school over which colour of suit was the most professional, and what type of shoes were appropriate. To save you the same headache, 

the articling students at McCague Borlack have provided tips on what to wear
(and what not to wear) on interview day along with some photos.

What We Wore
or a dress & blazer with flats
like Karolina...
You're sure to Impress!

Whether you choose a skirt
with heels like Emilie...
After polling the women, it is clear that navy or black is the interview colour of choice. You can’t go wrong with either a pant or skirt suit or a dress with a blazer. Some of us wore heels (anywhere from 1.5 inches to 3 inches) and others opted for flats (so you don’t have to hurt your feet if you don’t feel comfortable in heels!)

When it comes to women’s office wear, Priya...
and Jess know black is the new black.

Yousef & Andrew looking tough
& office appropriate.
For the men, blue suits and grey suits were the clear winners. Lighter coloured dress shirts were the most popular, with either white or light blue being the most reported.


We love Lee’s tie – it really livens up his
outfit while keeping things professional!
All of the students stressed letting your personality shine through your accessories, such as a funky tie, crazy socks, or your bright blue glasses. If you wear your hair naturally curly, then keep it curly for your interviews. Don’t feel like you need to sacrifice your identity to fit into a mould, so be yourself and don’t be afraid to add some personality to your look.

Where to Shop

  • Le Chateau (Jessica)
  • Banana Republic (Emile)
  • Winners and HBC (Karolina and Priya)
  • Suit Supply (Yousef)
  • Strellson (Andrew)
  • Calvin Klein (Theo)
  • Moores (Lee)
  • Suzy Shier (Howard Borlack)

What Not to Wear

The overwhelming response we received from the articling students is to make sure your suit fits – if your suit is too big or too small, it detracts from your presentation. The same goes for hair. Keep your hair and facial hair well-kept/groomed. Any hairstyle is fine – just keep it neat.

The students suggest leaving the sundresses and wedges at home as it’s a bit unprofessional – and out of season for November. I also received very specific advice: no electric blue suits.

Another point that was repeated was to avoid wearing anything you don’t feel comfortable in. It’s hard to smile if you’re breaking in new shoes. You want to be confident in your interview, so don’t include anything that makes you feel self-conscious!

Theo, from our Kitchener office,
keeping it cool.
Tips to Keep Fresh all Day

If it’s within your budget, it’s nice to have a place downtown where you can keep a spare shirt/suit in case you spill something on yourself. The students reported booking Air-BnB, splitting the cost of a hotel with a friend, or staying with a friend or family member who lives downtown.

I also suggest bringing a pocket-sized sewing kit. At my interview, I opted for a button-up shirt under my blazer. It looked great, but two minutes before I met my interviewers a button popped off! Luckily the receptionist at MB came to my rescue with a pin – but imagine if that wasn't available!


All the students were in unanimous agreement that you shouldn’t stress out about your interview outfit. As long as you’re prepared, confident, and polished, you’re going to do well.

Below is a checklist of all of the items to bring along on "interview" day. Print it off and use it as you pack your bag for In-Firms.

Check-list of helpful items for In-Firms

  • Multiple copies of your resume and cover letter and any other parts of your application.
  • A notepad and pen – you’ll want to have this to write down your impressions after the interview. It will really help when you’re writing your thank you emails. Believe me, the day will become a blur.
  • Breath strips – they dissolve so you can talk, unlike mints/gum.
  • Hand sanitizer – for keeping your hands fresh for handshakes.
  • Tide-to-go, or similar.
  • A briefcase/large purse.
  • Flat shoes – if you’re opting for heels make sure you give your feet a break by hiding flats in your bag for when you’re running between offices.
  • Snacks – bananas, granola bars. You will get hungry, and you probably won’t have time to stop for lunch.
  • Water
  • Lip balm
  • Band-Aids – try to break in your shoes ahead of time, but keep these handy just in case. o Tissues
  • Deodorant – it’s a loooong day.
  • Phone charger – If you’re unfamiliar with Toronto, GPS is super helpful. You’ll also want to stay on top of your emails throughout the day.
  • A small mirror – very useful for making sure you don’t have any food in your teeth from lunch.
  • Floss – see above.