Thursday, 12 September 2019

Your Survival Kit for Articling

Solution-Focused Thinking

From day one, many of us feel pressure when we begin articling to be perfect: to produce perfect work and to never make a mistake. I quickly learned that this standard is not attainable for a new articling student.

"Articling is a learning process that provides us with
10 months to learn, experiment, and improve."

As long as we are improving, we are achieving what we set out to do. When you mess up, don’t dwell on it or engage in negative self-talk. Ask yourself how you can avoid making that mistake next time, and put your plan in action. Being imperfect is not something to worry about, failing to learn from our mistakes is.

A Nearby Gym or Studio

Without our health, we have nothing. When we are sitting long hours, we end up with sore and stiff necks and backs. For this reason, it is so important to stay active during articling. Find a gym or studio (spinning, yoga, etc.) near your firm that you can walk to with little effort. Work it in to your schedule either before work, at lunch, or in the evening. Working late? Leave for an hour to go work out or do a class. You’ll feel so much more focused and fresher when you return.

A Workstation that “Sparks Joy”

If you have a type A personality, like so many lawyers and aspiring lawyers do, make your desk a place that “sparks joy”, as Marie Kondo teaches. Even after a long day, take a few minutes before you leave to put things away, throw things out, and get organized for tomorrow. That way you can start the next day fresh. If you have space, bring in a plant or family photo. Make your desk somewhere you like to be.

A Good Set of Headphones

Long work hours turn in to longer work hours when you are easily distracted. Most of us have student debt to pay off, but I still recommend investing in a good set of headphones and a Spotify account. Your investment will pay off in your work-life balance and general mental-health.

A Friend

Articling can be a stressful time. If you are lucky enough to find a friend in a fellow student at your firm, you can be each other’s greatest resource. Ask each other questions, confide in each other about your concerns, and help each other achieve your goals. It will be that much more rewarding when you cross the finish line together.

Friday, 23 August 2019

"Articling is a marathon, not a sprint", and other advice

Almost three weeks ago, the six 2018 summer students returned as articling students. On the first day, we walked into the board room, one by one for our arrival time at 9:15 a.m. Everything looked the same, but it felt very different. We weren’t as nervous; we felt comfortable and excited to be back at the firm.

It is now the third week of articling and the “floodgates” have been open for almost two weeks. When sitting at my desk I hear either keyboards clicking or phones ringing…everyone is busy. All of the articling students have received a variety of assignments from various lawyers at the firm.

Even though we feel comfortable, having been summer students at the firm, having the title as “articling student” can feel overwhelming at times. Howard Borlack, the managing partner at the firm, gave us advice during training week that has stuck with me and been helpful in the past few weeks:

“Articling is not a sprint, but a marathon.”

As articling students, we were advised to pace ourselves with accepting assignments and avoid burning out at the beginning of the articling term.

This advice is similar to what I was told in my first year of law school. As many people know, the first year is very competitive, but it cannot be treated as a sprint because students should not be burnt out for their final exams. Similarly, although it is tempting to use all of our energy right away, we were reminded to spread out our hard work and assure that we are improving throughout the term and maintaining our hard work.

“Maintain a work-life balance.”

We were fortunate to be reminded that it is important to maintain a work-life balance during articling.

Although we will need to meet deadlines, we were advised to still make time for the family, friends, gym, or things we enjoy doing during our free time. This helps combat feelings of being burned out, stressed, and overwhelmed.

“Articling is a time to learn from your mistakes.”

We were advised to take advantage of this opportunity to learn and have lawyers advise us on ways to improve as “baby lawyers”.

We were reminded that we have the benefit of learning as much as we want to and are able to in the next 10 months. So far, the supervising lawyers on my assignments have been extremely helpful in answering questions I have had and explaining why I was wrong when I made a mistake.

With that being said, I look forward to the next 10 months of being a sponge for knowledge; making mistakes, but learning from them.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

So You Want to be a Litigator: Development the MB Way

Entering law school I, like a lot of my peers, had an initial interest in litigation. I had spent many rainy days reading about Atticus Finch’s iconic closing, watching Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee demand to know who ordered the code red, and begrudgingly viewing Elle Woods have epiphanies in the courtroom based on her knowledge of hair-care products. Because of this, I made an effort in my first year of law school to get involved in moots and working with my school’s advocacy committee which grew my interest in the field. What I needed to know now was if a career as a litigator was going to be everything I had made it out to be in my mind.

The truth is that you never know if you truly like something until you try it, and this is exactly how I entered the OCI process. I knew that if I wanted a career in litigation, I wanted to get the most experience possible to be certain that this was the primary direction I wanted to head in my career.

Throughout the hiring process, McCague Borlack promised me exceptional early experience in the field as a primary feature
of their summer student program and they have not disappointed.

So what should you come to expect from a summer with McCague Borlack? In my experience anything and everything. From the first day that we were able to accept work following orientation, I was challenged by a broad array of interesting tasks and treated as a full, equal member of my new team: team MB. I drafted a wide variety of pleadings, attended numerous discoveries, mediations, and court appearances, and worked on several thought-provoking issues from across a broad spectrum of legal topics. I can honestly say following this summer, I learned as much as I possibly could about a career in litigation in a three-month period.

The experiences that I had also allowed me to do meaningful work with twenty different lawyers across the firm, including associates, partners, and even Howard Borlack himself. By getting an early opportunity to work with senior lawyers at the firm from day one, I had a great opportunity to work on big and exciting cases that many students wouldn’t have the opportunity to work on this early in their careers. Additionally, working with a wide spectrum of different lawyers from across the firm was a fantastic opportunity to learn about the culture of the firm as a whole. Getting a lot of responsibility in a fast-paced and demanding work environment can be a daunting proposition, however, the support I received from every lawyer I worked with at the firm was tremendously helpful in becoming acclimatized to this new work environment. The biggest take away I had was that, from top to bottom, people want to teach you how to do new things and are truly invested in your development as a lawyer.

Reflecting back at my earlier self thinking about a day where I might be making a passionate and over-the-top closing in court, I am glad that I made the conscious effort to pursue this field and take a leap into the deep end of the litigation pool. Learning the process of this craft, improving my abilities as an advocate, and being a meaningful part of this team is a true joy. I can only imagine what I will learn next going into articling.

Friday, 19 July 2019

You’re Going To Get Yelled At In Court, So Let’s Talk About It

The moral of the story is that perspective is everything. The way you think about these negative experiences – in court or otherwise, shape the way you approach every task you do, and that is the most valuable lesson I have learned so far this summer.

Picture your first time attending court for your new job. This is the first assignment you have for a lawyer you greatly respect, and it is a simple task to complete – get a draft order on consent signed. This should not be too hard – right?

You finally find your way to where you should be in a Courthouse you have never been before, that is the first win of the day. Now should be the easy part, you have got all the documents you need, which you know for a fact because you checked eight times before you left.

"You know exactly what to say because the lawyer who assigned this 
to you gave you a script – what could go wrong?"

thx to OpenClipart-Vectors / 27427 images on
It is your turn to speak. You stand up, say good morning, repeat your script as confidently as you can, and take a sigh of relief afterwards when you did not make a mistake. You did everything you were told and therefore nothing can go wrong. Or can it? Spoiler alert, it definitely will at some point or another.

I stood there bewildered as the Master asked me a plethora of questions. Not only did I simply not have the answers, but I also could not even provide him with an inkling to where we might find the answers. My inner monologue was melting down as I tried to explain that I did not have information to answer the questions, and my instructions included everything I had given to him. In my head, I thought surely this would be enough; he could not be upset for me not having instructions. I was wrong, he definitely could be, and he was.

Let us fast forward through the part of eye rolls, yelling, and a banged fist on the desk. I just kept thinking repeatedly how this could have happened because I followed my instructions exactly.

I get back to the office, and our Student Program Director, Ashley happened to walk by our desks to do her usual check-up on us. She then gave me some of the best advice I have ever gotten. “You have to change your perspective from ‘I hope they don’t yell’ to ‘they are going to yell, and I will not feel bad about it if I did nothing wrong.’”

That was a fundamental change in perspective. Instead of hoping that they will not yell at you, you have to accept that they could just be having a bad day, and taking their frustration out on anyone, and perhaps a student is the easiest. Every time you speak in court and no one yells – that will be an incredible win.

This advice was about more than just somebody yelling at you in Court. What we already know is that negative feedback is a learning experience. Of course, we love it when busy lawyers take time out of their day to tell us that we did a good job on their assignment. They do not always have time to do this, so you might not hear from them at all. What I took away from this conversation with Ashley was quite simply, if there is no negative reaction, you are doing just fine. Now when I hear nothing, that radio silence tells me that what I did was probably fine, and I am probably doing fine. Regardless of what the task is, whether it is speaking in court, drafting a mediation memorandum, a statement of claim or defence, or merely assembling a motion record, if you gave it all your effort and no one comes looking for you to make changes, you are doing a great job.

The pressure to impress can weigh heavy on your mind and can cause a lot of stress, but learning how to read the interactions you do have, is fundamental to managing your own stress. It also never hurts to have a Student Director like Ashley Faust to run to after an experience like this.

P.S. Do yourself a favour, on your first trip to court and wear waterproof mascara.

by Jennifer

P.P.S. from a senior lawyer’s perspective on Masters ‘schooling’ a student. 

It is gratifying to know that some things never change. Students being grilled by some Masters is a tradition and part of the development of a litigator.  I especially enjoyed being in Masters motions court when I had a few years under my belt watching a Master school a student.

Did you read the Rule which is the basis of the motion?
Do you have the Rules with you today? 
Did you read my recent decision in John Doe  v Jane Doe?
Maybe you better call your principal and suggest he come to court to deal with this.

And all the more seasoned lawyers smiling as they went on. Eventually the Student usually obtained the order or was told what to do to get the order when the Student returned.

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Mediation Toolkit for Beginners

At McCague Borlack, students are given a checklist of experiences and tasks that the firm wants us to experience. One item on the list is to attend a mediation.

"We are only six weeks into our summer term and I have already had the chance to attend two mediations!"

The mediations I attended could not have been more different. The simple fact is that one case was ready to reach an agreement, and the other one was not. While the outcomes of these mediations were different, I found myself reaching for similar things. Based on my (limited) experience, here is my mediation toolkit for beginners:

File Material

At the beginning of the mediations I attended, each party had the opportunity to make opening statements. Having all of the file material available allowed the lawyer to check particular facts raised by the opposing party.

Laptop/Pen and Paper

The mediator’s role is to keep parties talking. To do this, they go between parties delivering messages and offers. The offers are often broken down, line by line, and are delivered quickly by the mediator. A laptop or pen and paper are important to take down these numbers and keep track of offers throughout the day.


As a law student, and now summer student, I spend a lot of time reading, writing and analyzing problems. During mediation, I had to access a skill I have not practiced regularly since high school – math! As mentioned above, offers are often broken down. Addition is simple enough, but once you bring in the post-judgment interest rate, a calculator is necessary. The lawyers I shadowed had sophisticated Excel spreadsheets that did the calculations automatically. I will be sure to include something similar in my intermediate toolkit!


One of the mediations I attended was scheduled for 10 am to 4 pm. While it did not take the whole day, there was a considerable amount of time waiting for the mediator to return from speaking with the other party. This time is a great opportunity to speak with the lawyer about their strategy and to get to know your client.

An Appetite

When I arrived at my first mediation, I was pleasantly surprised by all of the food! I quickly forgot about the lunch I had packed as I eyed the sandwiches, lasagna, salads, and a mountain of Timbits.

I am looking forward to checking the next item off the experience list and building my next toolkit!

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Weird Projects, Field Trips & RAAAPTORS!

After orientation, an email that came through for me on the file assignment list was ambiguously phrased,  “Who in Toronto wants to take on a weird project?” A thrill of both anticipation and slight apprehension ran through me. This sounded like a challenge, which only made me more excited as I collected my pen and notebook to discuss the file with the assigning Partner. We chatted about the matter, which turned out to be a research assignment pertaining to an overseas John Doe who had fraudulently stolen a client’s funds through online hacking.

I was asked to determine the best way to move forward in order to recover our client’s losses and was given wide latitude in ascertaining what that might be.

This freely given trust and responsibility were exactly why I had admired MB’s student program. Excited, I sped back to my desk. Time to research!

Week 2: Spontaneous Field Trips

My first field trip was a contested motion in Superior Court, where I watched the negotiation process unfold between two lawyers outside the courtroom in a bid to save their clients costs by settling the matter early. In law school, we learn more theoretical and black letter law concepts, and therefore it was interesting to see how the law operates on an everyday, practical basis. Before this, I didn’t realize how much of a legal outcome relies on pragmatic and measured negotiation prior to actually speaking in front of a judge.

Then later an email came in off the list requesting that a student partakes in an examination for discovery. So I spent the next two days observing a multi-faceted examination where various parties were questioned by many different sets of counsel. I was responsible for transcribing all of the evidence and returned to the office with a deepened understanding of effective examination strategies. I also got to prepare undertakings charts based on my notes for all the parties who were examined! In-depth involvement in files such as this allows you to feel like, even as a summer student, you are doing practical and valuable work on a file.

Summer Students 2019: Jennifer Ilton and Chelsea Dobrindt
Week 3: Accomplishments

On Monday, the whole firm celebrated the recent Raptor’s NBA Championship win! We had been told the week before to wear our favourite Raptor’s regalia to work, and a firm-wide email was sent out encouraging everyone to go see the parade. There was also a viewing party complete with pizza in one of our boardrooms, and everyone at the firm came together to enjoy the wave of excitement that was sweeping Canada.

The energy in the city carried me through the rest of the day, and I speedily started preparing motion materials for my previous John Doe assignment. The assigning Partner had wholeheartedly agreed with my recommendations for further action and told me to prepare a novel motion that our firm had never fully brought before. Again, the same familiar frisson of excitement tinged with a sliver of self-doubt; Can I do this? Did I really get my research right earlier?

The answers to the above questions are yes! I have just submitted my draft motion materials, and am looking forward to moving the file along further and keeping up with its future developments. Being involved with strategic decisions and taking charge of the next steps for the forward movement of a file is a heady feeling for a student who has just finished her second year of law school. I am excited for more opportunities to expand my capabilities in the future with MB!

Thursday, 6 June 2019

What to expect during orientation week

I was both excited and extremely nervous to begin my first day of work at McCague Borlack.

The night before, the usual first day of school jitters began to start:

"I hope the other students are nice! Should I pack a lunch?
Is it okay if I wear the same outfit as I wore at my interview?"

On Monday morning at 9 a.m., all the students were greeted by our student director, Ashley. Thanks to her smiling face and approachable manner, our nerves began to slowly fade away. At McCague Borlack, the students receive a full week of comprehensive training. Each day consisted of seminars on legal topics and learning skills that would teach us “how to McCague” such as docketing and binding court materials.


On Monday, we all sat in the boardroom which would become our home for the week. Ashley took time to introduce the summer program and outlined what we could expect for the summer. At lunch, we went on a food court tour of the Toronto building with the Articling students (I guess I didn’t need to pack a lunch after all!). The day ended with learning some legal office skills and a firm tour.


Having had our first day under our belt, on Tuesday morning we all came in a little more relaxed. The morning was spent learning how to docket. This was a task that seemed a little overwhelming at first but turned out to be a very user-friendly system. We also had our first legal seminars covering topics such as subrogation, and how to run a small claims court file. We were lucky to have partners come and give us tips and tricks for dealing with files of this nature.

Wednesday Wednesday morning was picture day! Having spent Tuesday evening practising their best Zoolander poses, all the students came in looking glamorous and ready for their pictures. In the afternoon we had a representative from Westlaw visit. She taught us tips and tricks for making the most of Westlaw resources. I learned a lot, I had no idea that you could highlight and save information straight into a PDF from Westlaw!


Thursday morning we received a tour of the Great Library at Osgoode Hall. The library facilitates legal research to lawyers, through providing an extensive collection of books and online resources. The library itself is beautiful, walking around we felt as though we might actually be at Hogwarts. Not only does the building have an amazing legal history, but the building is also an active courthouse. It was very exciting to see seasoned lawyers roaming the halls in their robes, hopefully foreshadowing our future as litigators.


Our last day of training had finally arrived! We had received so much information over the week and yet felt that we still had so much more to learn. We had a visit from Howard Borlack, who officially welcomed us to the firm. He told us stories of his journey from law student to named partner, highlighting that the learning doesn’t stop once you leave the law school classrooms. He also encouraged us from now on to think of McCague Borlack as our firm and to take pride that this is the first step of our legal career.

Orientation week was a great way to settle into the firm. We all cannot wait to get our first assignment once the list starts moving on Monday.

by Olivia