Thursday, 21 April 2022

Family Law on Monday, Privacy Law on Tuesday, and Transportation Law on Wednesday...

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Being an articling student is one of the few times in a legal career where we are afforded the opportunity to practice several different areas of law in any given week. As you may have gleaned from the title, I’ve been given this chance during my articling term with McCague Borlack LLP.

For my development, I keep track of all the assignments I complete.

"Here’s what my daily journals
look like in a typical week..."

Monday - Family Law

My week began with completing the first draft of a separation agreement for one of our clients. It was exciting because I needed to draft terms that reflected our client’s interests. This included going through a risk analysis of each key term to see if it could be used against us. Being trained at a firm that primarily does litigation work, I have been provided with insight into the ways that contractual terms can be effectively drafted to accomplish their goals.

Tuesday - Privacy Law

I was tasked with conducting legal research around the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act [PIPEDA]. After my research, I wrote to our client to advise on whether their practices and policies were compliant with PIPEDA and helped them prepare consent forms. My newfound interest in Privacy Law is entirely because of the diverse legal work I am given at our firm.

Wednesday - Transportation Law

I began a transportation law-related action in New Brunswick. This involved researching how to bring an action in New Brunswick, reviewing all the relevant documents, drafting a Notice of Action with a Statement of Claim, then serving and filing the Claim. This wasn’t the first time I had to bring an action in another province, nor will it be the last.

Thursday - Mediation

I attended a mediation for which I prepared the mediation brief. We settled, and it was amazing to see the arguments I prepared come to life and help create a positive result for our client.

As you can see, many of my weeks and days end up being filled with various areas of law. It always keeps me engaged and I look forward to assignments that have me exploring a new area.

Monday, 11 April 2022

Bringing a Motion for the First Time: Step-by-Step

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I believed to attend and speak to a motion in Court would be a cornerstone of my articling experience. 

"Luckily, last month, I was asked to assist a lawyer to bring an unopposed motion for the first time."

This was a five-step process:

  1. Submitting the motion confirmation form: The purpose of this form is to provide the Court with all necessary information regarding the motion being brought forward, including the date and jurisdiction, the estimated time required for the motion, and the position of the parties involved.

  2. Confirming the position of all parties: The motion confirmation form must be sent to all parties for their review as a part of scheduling the motion. The party making the motion must discuss this matter with all parties and each party must confirm whether they are unopposed, opposed, or otherwise consent to this motion prior to the date of the motion.

  3. Upload documents onto Caselines: Caselines is the portal used in Ontario to ensure that the judicial official has access to your materials. Uploading to Caselines is mandatory and material that is not uploaded will likely not be reviewed in advance. Using Caselines for the first time was challenging, but with help from the articling group and the lawyer I was working with, I was able to navigate this system with ease.

  4. I also learned that the Superior Court of Justice operates with strict timelines; for instance, you need to get the Civil Motion Confirmation Form to be emailed to the court by 2:00 p.m. five days prior to the hearing, excluding weekends and holidays and motion materials must be uploaded into CaseLines at least three days in advance of the hearing. Given the rigidness of these timelines, it is beneficial to begin gathering and submitting motion materials as early as possible.

  5. Attending Court and speaking to the motion: I presented the motion to the Justice and answered any questions she had about the motion. I also had to make some edits to the draft order, so I had a Word version of the Order on hand. Since this was my first time attending Court, I made sure that I knew the matter I was speaking to very well. Answering questions requires quick and agile thinking, so it is important to be fully prepared and well-versed prior to the day of the motion.

  6. Issuing the Order with the Court and serving it on all parties: Once the relief you are seeking is obtained in the form of an Order, the Order must be issued and entered at the Courthouse. Once issued, the Order is to be served on opposing Counsel.

While speaking to a motion in Court can be a daunting process, it is also one that is exciting and rewarding!

by Kritika S.

Monday, 28 March 2022

Articling in 270 rows

images merged from pexel

With final reviews and offers to come, I find myself looking back on how far I have come since I started here in August. Back then, everything seemed very foreign. Pleadings sounded like a desert and summarizing thousands of pages of productions sounded like a daunting task.

Looking at my assignment worksheet on excel (which every articling student likely has an iteration of) it looks like I have completed roughly 270 unique assignments to date. These assignments differ in complexity, length of time required to complete, and how interesting they were. In reviewing the list, I would say that there are probably seven categories of assignments that I have worked on:

  1. Pleadings (i.e., Statements of Defence, Claim, Third Party Claims, Defences, etc.);
  2. Research;
  3. Summaries (i.e., summarize affidavits of documents or undertakings productions);
  4. Review and Compile’ (i.e., affidavits of documents, books of authority, etc.);
  5. Motion Materials (i.e., affidavits, notices of motion, motion records, etc.);
  6. Written Advocacy (i.e., mediation briefs, pre-trial briefs, factums, etc.); and,
  7. Oral advocacy (i.e., speaking to a motion).

While any list is necessarily over or under-inclusive, and your mileage may vary, I would say that the list is a fair representation of an articling student’s life at a civil litigation firm.

Looking back, I am proud of how far I have come, and how much I have learned. When I interviewed with the firm, I was told something to the effect of ‘we train litigators’, and I can confidently say that that promise has been fulfilled. The firm has allowed me to be involved in each and every step of the litigation process, from the pleading stage to the execution stage, and for that, I am very grateful.

There’s no real takeaway here, but if one is required, I would say it is amazing just how much you can learn in the right setting.

by Conner S.

Monday, 14 March 2022

Here's a peek into one Articling Student’s work

compiled from images on pexel

As articling students, we are given the opportunity to assist lawyers with different types of work. Our assignments vary, depending on the file’s stage in the course of litigation.

One of my past assignments required me to research case law where a party had suffered similar injuries as our client and to focus specifically on the non-pecuniary damages awarded by the court. 

My research would ultimately assist the lawyer with their post-discovery report, which must be prepared for the client after an examination for discovery. This report typically entails pertinent evidence from the examination for discovery, along with the lawyer’s revised liability and damages assessment of the file.

In order to find relevant cases, I took a three-step approach.
  1. I logged into the firm's Westlaw account, an online legal research platform. I also spoke to a Westlaw representative over the phone, who introduced me to the “Personal Injury Quantum Service” tool. By inputting certain general details, such as the type of injuries sustained, age group of the injured party, and jurisdiction, the tool populated the applicable cases along with a range of damages awarded in those cases. 

  2. Then, I met with our firm’s designated Westlaw representative over Microsoft Teams. I shared my screen, allowing me to learn more about the fascinating Westlaw platform and obtain more thorough research results. 

  3. As a final step, I sent a firm e-mail to the “MB lawyers'"group, asking for their insight on this topic. One of the lawyers directed me to the “Compendium of Damages awarded in personal injury actions across Ontario”, which was compiled by CCLA and was useful for my assignment.
The examples above are indicative of the vast variety of resources available to students for their work. While it is inevitable that we will get assignments we have never done before on topics we are unfamiliar with, what remains consistent throughout is the firm's support available to help us every step of the way.

Friday, 7 January 2022

Look for a Firm That Includes Students in Decision Making

Ottawa recruitment is coming up and I remember how daunting the OCI process is. For those that aren’t aware, OCIs are when second-year law students apply for summer jobs, in hopes that the employer will ask them to article. 

"The amount of time, energy and pressure facing students during recruitment is unmatched in any other hiring process that I’m aware of."

Students write firm-specific resumes and cover letters, they submit them through the web portal and they eagerly wait to see which firms will interview them. In my year, this process was done in person. The first interview was held at the convention centre. Every 15 minutes, you’d rush off to the next interview. It’s speed dating reinvented for employment. This process went on for two days, yet classes kept going. After the initial interview, you were invited to the firm to meet more people and continue the interview process. Each firm met with selected candidates three to four times. At the end of the interview period, students eagerly wait for call day to find out if they landed a job.

The process is so stressful and cumbersome for students. I was shocked to learn it is equally taxing on the firms that participate in the program. The recruitment process is unreal. In an industry that is all about hourly targets and billables, it’s amazing how much time and effort is spent ensuring they hire not only the best candidates but the best fit for their organization.

McCague’s Student Program is spearheaded by Ashley Faust. Although a team effort, Ashley goes above and beyond to make sure the program runs smoothly. Ashley calls on current students and encourages them to be part of the interview process. That just shows how dedicated McCague is to the program. If they weren’t certain they offer their students a rewarding and challenging mentorship program, they’d never encourage current students to talk to future ones. Not only did McCague encourage our participation, but they also considered our comments when discussing who they wanted to hire. To me, that spoke volumes about the kind of collaborative, open and equal environment that McCague offers. 

 While this process was in person for me, the firms have done an excellent job mimicking the experience through zoom. This is advantageous for students because they aren’t rushing to and from firms. Plus, they may get an opportunity to meet more lawyers. I do recommend that students prepare as thoroughly as they would had the interviews been in person and not read from a script while they are on zoom.

All that being said, I recommend students look for a firm that puts them in touch with their students. That demonstrates confidence in what they have to offer and remember, you’re interviewing them as much as they are you.

Monday, 15 November 2021

Articling: Expectation vs. Reality

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When I was a law student, I was constantly bombarded by fear-mongering stories about articling. “Articling will be the hardest ten months of your life!” “Don’t expect to have a social life.” “So and so at X firm said they worked 70 hours a week… have fun!” I was terrified to start articling.

"When everyone warns you to prepare for the worst, that’s exactly what you do."

But I’m happy to tell future articling students that three months into the term, my fears have not materialized. Work-life balance does not have to be a dream when articling at McCague Borlack. Here has been my experience so far...

Expectation 1: You must meet and surpass insane billable targets.

Reality: Yes, I work hard, but the work does not consume my life.

Articling is hard work, there is no doubt about it. We are fresh out of law school and think we know things when in reality, law school prepares you very little for real-life practice. As Ashley, our Student Director put it during orientation week, “this isn’t summer camp.” There will be evenings and weekends where we all have to put in extra hours to meet an urgent deadline or get caught up after a busy week. But we are not expected to slave away at all hours of the day to excel. The billable target for articling students is reasonable and conducive to learning a ton without feeling the need to burn ourselves out to keep up. In addition, we are encouraged to take our allotted vacation days and to prioritize our well-being.

Expectation 2: You will compete with the other students to get hired back.

Reality: Nobody is competing – all the articling students can succeed, and not at the expense of anyone else.

Many firms hire more students than they plan to retain as associates, which can result in fierce competition between the students to secure an associate position. MB’s approach is conducive to a collaborative and collegial environment – they only hire as many students as they would be willing to hire back as associates. The firm believes in investing in the students for the long haul. This means that every student can shine and excel, and not at the expense of anyone else. It’s a great feeling to be part of an articling team that is supportive of one another. We applaud each others’ successes and we have each others' backs.

Expectation 3: Articling will feel overwhelming and isolating.

Reality: Although everyone has moments of feeling overwhelmed, there are endless sources of support.

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed at times in any job. What sets my articling experience at MB apart is the level of support I have received thus far. There are so many people who I can turn to when I feel confused or overwhelmed. This includes the other students, our Student Director, my articling principal, or one of the many lawyers who have encouraged us to reach out whenever and wherever we need it. Even while working remotely, I am never more than a phone call away from someone willing to help. Everyone at the firm wants the students to succeed.

Expectation 4: Articling work will only be menial tasks and research.

Reality: Articling work is diverse, meaningful, and interesting.

Within a month of starting, I had taken the lead on a small claims file, drafted an initial opinion, attended a mediation and an examination for discovery, had communications with a client, and more. At three months into the term, that list has grown much longer. All the work we do as students at MB is substantial and meaningful. We are given a lot of responsibility which allows us to gain a vast amount of knowledge within a short time frame. I can’t believe how far I’ve come in only three months, and I can’t wait to see where I’ll be by June!

Starting articling is a daunting prospect, especially with all the fear-mongering law students are subject to. But with the right firm backing you, articling can be a fun, challenging and rewarding experience. It certainly has been for me!

Monday, 25 October 2021

The Big Jump: The voyage from law student to lawyer

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As someone who had an entire career before law school, I believe I had a robust tool kit going into articling. I was familiar with deadlines and multitasking and felt that articling wouldn’t be as challenging as rumoured. I was wrong. Even seasoned business professionals will struggle during articles. Of course, the tool kit was helpful, however, I question whether law school adequately prepares you for the actual work you will be doing.

Like my fellow students, I can prioritize my time effectively and complete tasks. 

"The struggle is knowing what to do, how to do it and how long each task will take." 

For example, when asked to summarize productions, I allocated five hours. It took me almost 15! (Productions are all the material provided by the Plaintiff – including medical notes, insurance documents, receipts etc.) This miscalculation meant my other tasks kept piling up. This made me reflect on the steep learning curve.

How is it that I felt so unprepared for articling? Why didn’t I learn how to do any of these things in law school? Shouldn’t law school teach you the law and how to lawyer? Including, and this is from a litigation standpoint, how to write factums, motions, damages briefs, affidavits of documents, etc.? Of course, for every area of law, there are different forms, processes, etc., that need to be followed. Shouldn’t law school touch on these? For example, I took Real Estate law; however, I have no idea what systems to use or how to use them should I pursue a career in real estate law. That isn’t a reflection on the professor. He only has so much time to teach us. That is a reflection on the law school experience as a whole. Wouldn’t practicum courses covering docketing, litigation forms and procedures (like motions, affidavits etc.), and technology used in law be far more impactful than making business law mandatory?

In order to whole-heartedly swear an oath to be the best lawyers we can be, we need to fully understand what’s being asked of us. How would you recommend law school better prepare its students for the actual practice of law?

Currently, the responsibility of training lands squarely on the law firms hiring these students. Luckily, McCague is a remarkable organization that puts a ton of resources into training its students. We have mentors, an open-door policy (aka call anytime), and a group of students who work together. I do not doubt that my articling experience will prepare me for becoming a strong litigator. I wonder how other students will fare if they don’t have the same support?

My advice to other students is to take any practical courses you can to gain hands-on experience. That is my one regret.

I welcome feedback from other students, firms and even law schools. Perhaps together, we can make a difference for future law students so that their learning curve won’t be as steep.