Saturday, 18 August 2018

Why Litigation?

It is that (exciting) time of the year when law students are preparing for their applications for 2018 recruitment and are reaching out to summer law students and associates to learn about their firm and experience.

One of the common questions that I have been asked is 
"How did you know you liked litigation?”


In my first year of law school, I participated in two moot competitions. It was exhilarating to step up to the podium, be tackled with difficult questions by the Judge, and have to formulate an answer on the spot.

Similar to mooting, having to speak in front of a Judge, Master, and others is common in litigation. The summer students at McCague Borlack LLP have attended mediations, discoveries, motions, and pre-trials, with the associates to learn various litigating styles.

Having experience with moots helps to know whether you will enjoy litigation. However, if you do not have mooting experience, that is okay!

Exposure to the Courtroom

As an extern at the Michigan Court of Appeals, I spent a few days at Court observing litigators. During those few days, I sat quietly at the back of the courtroom and watched both Judges and litigators converse, trying to come to a resolution for the legal issue at hand. After I completed my externship, I knew that litigating is something I wanted to pursue in my legal career.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

A front row seat to a human rights hearing

From day one at McCague Borlack, I assisted an associate with different aspects of a human rights matter. After researching case law, drafting a witness statement, and compiling a book of documents, I was excited to finally attend the hearing at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.

The Vice-Chair initially proposed the option of participating in a mediated adjudication. This is a quicker way to negotiate a resolution that gives parties more autonomy over the terms. Although we were not successful, the terms discussed would not be brought up at the hearing.

At the hearing, the Vice-Chair determines whether the applicants had their rights infringed and if so, what the appropriate remedy is. To start off, an agreed statement of facts saves time and avoids producing the same documents multiple times. By weeding out the non-controversial facts, the focus of the hearing is on the divisive issues. However, agreeing on the facts is a negotiation exercise between lawyers.

The Vice-Chair’s decision is based only on relevant information at the hearing. This is presented orally through witnesses’ testimony and documentary evidence.

Relevance is based on two factors:
  • Whether the respondent treats the applicant differently or in a way that had a negative impact based on a ground of discrimination in the Human Rights Code, i.e. disability; and
  • Whether the applicant suffered a disadvantage or a loss, i.e. loss to the applicant’s sense of self-worth and dignity

Over the two-day hearing, I observed three witnesses engage in examination-in-chief and cross-examination. These are my three takeaways:
  1. Know the answer before asking the witness a question.
  2. Prepare your witness so they remember the evidence they need to give in their testimony. Since applicants may testify as witnesses to their own hearing, they are emotionally invested in the outcome. However, this is not the time for witnesses to vent their grievances.
  3. Avoid open-ended questions and restrict the testimony to admissible evidence. It is crucial to have the witness give evidence that helps your argument.

Since this hearing was extended by another two days, I was not able to observe submissions and closing arguments. The outcomes of the hearing can include a dismissal or a remedy in the form of a monetary award or order. Ultimately, the Human Rights Code is meant to remedy an infringement of human rights, rather than be punitive. Tribunals commonly “reserve” their decisions, so this decision will likely be released on CanLII in Fall 2018.

Monday, 30 July 2018

Networking Tips for the 2L Recruit

The application deadline for the 2019 Toronto 2L summer student recruit is August 20th – less than a month away. By now, many of you have started to update your resumes and draft your cover letters. A lot goes into a cover letter, and you don’t have much space to work with.

Many applicants reserve a line or two in their cover letters to mention if they have reached out to someone at the firm to which they are applying – a student, a junior lawyer, or even a senior partner if they so desire.

"This shows employers reviewing your applications that you have done your homework on the firm and are applying out of genuine interest in working there."

 It is also your opportunity to really investigate the firms to see what might be the best fit for you and get comfortable striking up conversations with people you don’t already know – which is an important skill when it comes to interviews.

Even if you don’t have time to contact someone at every firm you apply to, you should try for as many as possible. It can’t hurt your application to show that you made an effort.

Who should you reach out to?

The most accessible (and probably least intimidating) people are summer and articling students. They can give you the best insight into what it is like to be a student at their firm because they are currently experiencing it. They are also not very far removed from being in the exact position you are in, so they know what you are experiencing and can give you great advice.

Junior lawyers are also great to reach out to, as they will have better than a faint memory of the application process and are happy to chat about their experiences with interested students. They can also speak to the transition from student to lawyer, and how their firm manages that shift.

Senior lawyers are happy to speak with you, however, they are generally busy and you will likely need to schedule a time to speak in advance. They can share particular insight into their various practices, which might be helpful, especially if you are considering applying to boutique firms, or are eager to explore certain practice areas at larger full-service firms.

Do not feel obligated to choose just one person from each firm to speak to – talking to as many people as possible is the best way to get a feel for the firms to which you are applying.

How should you reach out to them?

The easiest way to make contact is by email. You can look to firm websites for contact information, and your school’s career services office might give out the email addresses of students who previously got positions through the recruit. When writing to someone, always introduce yourself and indicate why you are contacting them. Say that you are thinking of applying to their firm, and ask if they are free to schedule a call or a meeting to answer your questions about the firm. Be cordial, and just like in your applications, make sure you are using proper grammar and avoid mistakes – you always want to make a good impression, no matter who the recipient is.

Cold-calling is also fine. The person you call might be busy and have to call you back, or you might get their voicemail. Be respectful and play it the same way as you would in an email.

Meeting with someone in person is a great way to make a connection, but is by no means obligatory. If you’re applying broadly, you might not have time to meet 40 people for coffee. Use your time efficiently and make sure you are getting the most out of your networking opportunities.

This probably goes without saying but I’ll include it anyway: don’t show up at the office unannounced.

What should you ask them?

Now that you have scheduled your call/meeting, think about what you want to ask. Make sure to review the firm’s website before your call/meeting so that you are familiar with the firm’s practice areas and how their student program operates.

  • Ask about the person’s experience at the firm as a student (or as a lawyer, or both). Ask about what a typical week is like for them – that might give you a sense of the types of files they are working on and (if they are a student) the types of assignments that they might receive. Recognize that different firms give their students different degrees of responsibility.
  • Ask why they like working at the firm, and if they prefer the size of the firm to a larger or smaller environment. These are questions that will get them talking about the firm culture and the advantages and drawbacks of different firm sizes – important things to consider when applying and ultimately deciding where to accept a position.
  • Definitely ask about how the firm helps its students make the transition from law school to law firm, and then from student to associate. Students and lawyers will be quick to tell you that you know very little about the practice of law coming out of school, so the way the firm helps you navigate those challenges is important for your decision.
  • If you have an interest in a particular practice area, ask about it. The student or lawyer probably knows more than you and can explain that area of law, as well as the aspects of the practice that they like. Take interest in learning about different practice areas. This is your opportunity to be a sponge and learn as much as possible.

Take note: if the firm doesn’t advertise how much they pay for the summer or exactly how students are assigned work or any less substantive questions that you would like to have answered, the students are your best resource. They had the exact same questions that you now have and understand that at such an early stage in the recruit, any piece of information is helpful.

Lastly, be yourself when networking. Authenticity goes a long way and you want to find a firm that will be a good fit for you. Meeting new people should be enjoyable, so have fun with it!

P.S. Experiences and opinions may vary so always keep an open mind.

Best of luck with the process!

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

6 Simple Steps to a Successful Summer

As is common when starting our first day at our firms, we are all full of nervous energy. We are anxious because we do not know what to expect but we do know we want to impress.

For my entire life, I have lived by a saying my father told me and it guides me every day while working at McCague Borlack.

“You only get out of something what you put into it.”

This has sparked 6 simple steps to having a successful summer at any firm.

Never say No

Since summering and articling are both designed for students to absorb as much information as possible in order to become self-sufficient lawyers, saying no to a task is only a missed opportunity. It is important to recognize that, even with the smallest of tasks, we are learning what the practice of law is like and it is not always glamorous.

Schedule, Schedule, Schedule 

While summering and articling, you will be handed tasks sporadically or all at the same time. Whether you are on a rotation or receive tasks through other means, it is incredibly important to stay organized, keep track of all ongoing assignments and schedule-in all deadlines. I also recommend triaging tasks depending on the time sensitivity and importance of the matters to ensure that a deadline is never missed. Sometimes, this is a very fluid process because an assignment may come across your desk that needs to be completed immediately. For me, lists and charts are vital!

Research is Key

For many students, this is the first time working in a law firm and they may even be the first in their family to go to law school or university! (I fall into the latter category). This means that you may come by concepts or problems in your work that you have never heard of. Do not fret if this happens to you because this is the very nature of the practice of law. The field is constantly growing and changing, which is why there is a need for continuing legal education. If you find yourself in a situation where you do not know, this is where your excellent research skills will be of use. Try to research as much as you can before you ask a question. You are not expected to know everything but the last message you want to send to your supervising lawyers is that you did not try.

Be open-minded

When I was applying to law firms and organizations during the OCI process, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I knew I love learning and there were a few areas of law I knew I did not want to practice but other than that, I did not restrict myself. It is this open-mindedness that led me to McCague Borlack. Now I love the practice of insurance law, which is more multi-faceted than I imagined. If I were closed-minded to this option, I would have missed out on this fantastic opportunity.

Put in that hard work

I think this one is obvious. Your relationship with your firm should be mutually beneficial. You should be learning from experienced lawyers, paralegals, law clerks and assistants while producing great work for them. Of course, perfection is not always possible, but it is something to strive for.

Be proud

This one may sound silly but I think it might be the most important step of them all! I need to remind myself once I finish a task that I did it! Doing this will help you start a healthy relationship with your work. You were chosen by your firm for a reason and if you work hard and follow the above steps, you should be proud of every achievement. Every step you make at this point in the “game” brings you that much closer to what you have worked for most of your life.

Friday, 6 July 2018

The Virgin Diary - My First Mediation

For my first assignment as a summer student, I assisted with a case that has been ongoing for eight years. The case was a complicated one with multiple legal issues. The file was made inherently more difficult by the number of parties involved. In law school, we read about cases only once judgments have been released but we were not exposed to all the work, time and effort that leads up to that conclusion.

"Outside of the theory of law school classes, I learned that the practice of law
 is not quite the same as portrayed in legal textbooks."

Last week, I was provided with the opportunity to attend the mediation for this case. I had never experienced any form of ADR (other than those I watched from my couch on tv) so I did not know what exactly to expect. This mediation was a great learning experience about how a mediation is conducted and how each lawyer has a unique style.

Below are my top 5 unexpected discoveries from the mediation:

Everyone is cordial. Unlike in Suits or similar legal dramas where lawyers are snarky and combative towards one another, the lawyers, even those on opposing sides, were respectful and courteous.

It is time-consuming. We arrived at the location of the mediation at 10 a.m. and did not leave the venue until 4:15 p.m. While the mediation I attended settled in that time frame, some mediations take even longer.

Food! From the minute we arrived at the mediation venue until the very end of the day, food was at the centre of everyone’s mind. Everyone eats throughout the entire day. You have to keep up your energy when advocating for your client!

There can be a lot of free time. A big aspect of mediations is negotiations, with the mediator acting as the intermediary between the parties. While the negotiation aspect of the mediation is taking place, the mediator may separate the parties into different rooms to determine what each party is seeking to gain from the mediation process. While the mediator is with one party, the opposing party/parties are playing the waiting game.

pixabay GDJ

It provides great networking opportunities. Being in a room full of lawyers has its benefits, especially for someone just starting out in the legal profession. At the venue where this mediation took place, there were multiple boardrooms with many different meetings, such as mediations, taking place. With so many lawyers in one location, it makes for a great opportunity to meet and talk with other members of the legal community.

Overall the mediation was a great experience and I look forward to being exposed to many more new opportunities as the summer continues.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Let’s Get Cracking: Tips for 2L Summer Recruitment Prep

The dreaded first year of law school has come to an end — grades have been released and summer is in full swing. Although the hardest part of law school is now in the past, the hard work is far from over since prepping for the recruitment process is just around the corner.

"One of your main takeaways of 1L should have been that
procrastination can be detrimental to your success."

Honing your time management skills by planning in advance and leaving yourself some buffer time can go a long way. Approach the OCI process in a similar fashion. Start early — your nerves will thank you.

What is the 2L recruitment process?
  1. Submitting your applications;
  2. Receiving your OCI schedule;
  3. On-Campus Interviews (OCIs);
  4. Call Day for scheduling in-firm interviews;
  5. In-Firm Interviews; and
  6. Call Day for final offers.
I’ll expand on the first stage in this blog post, since breaking down the entire process may be overwhelming at this point. Don’t fret — you can access several online resources as well as get advice from your peers and the Career Development Office at your school, to help guide you through the entire process when the time comes… At this stage, just focus on perfecting your application to leave a good first impression on your chosen firms.

How to Successfully Prepare and Submit your Applications

The recruitment process begins with students drafting their applications and submitting them electronically to their chosen firms. A typical application will include a resume, cover letter, transcripts, and a list of anticipated upper year courses. It may sound straightforward, but prepare to spend countless hours adjusting font size and scrolling through looking for synonyms that make you sound like a unicorn.

pixabay - jeshootscomAlthough most firms will accept your completed application through an online server that will be set up specifically for this recruitment process, some firms (like McCague Borlack) will only accept applications through e-mail. The online server has an added bonus for anxiety-prone students — you’ll be able to see exactly when each firm opens and reviews your application, which will subsequently send you into a spiral of anguish and overthought. Thus, do yourself a favour and don’t look! I would compare this feature of the online server to that time we all sat and refreshed the acceptance forums on when we impatiently waited to get accepted into law school.

Make sure to do your research by looking at each individual firm website to learn what documents they require and how they would like to receive your completed application. Firms are looking for diligent students who can follow instructions and pay attention to detail, so triple check your application before hitting “Send” because a mistake this early on would give firms an easy reason to take you out of the running.

An easy way to organize your prep for applications would be to make an Excel spreadsheet that lists the following:
  1. firms you’re applying to;
  2. documents each firm requires;
  3. how the firms would like to receive your documents (i.e. through the server or e-mail);
  4. who to address your application to;
  5. the area of law the firm specializes in (i.e. corporate or litigation);
  6. three notable things about their student program (or the firm generally);
  7. a list of people you have met or want to meet at the firm; and
  8. anything else you think you should know about the firm for application purposes.
This spreadsheet will make your life a lot easier because you won’t have to keep scouring the internet when you’re finalizing your cover letter. All of the information you will need to know for the purpose of drafting the firm-specific cover letter will be neatly laid out in front of you. This spreadsheet will also come in handy during Step 3 and Step 5 of the recruitment process. Not only will you have a list of people you’ve reached out to at each firm (so you can slip their name in during the actual interview), you will also be able to remind yourself of what you wrote months ago in your cover letter (OCIs take place 1-2 months after applications are due).

In order to ensure your application is perfect and polished, send your completed cover letter and résumé to a friend and/or mentor who would be willing to read it over in order to catch any last minute spelling and grammar errors. This is an extremely important step — don’t be that guy (or girl) who mixes up “their”, “they’re”, or “there”.

Final Words of Wisdom

The best advice I could give students about the application portion of this process would be to start early. The application deadline is set for August 20th, 2018, by 5:00pm. McCague Borlack is accepting applications via email to If you plan on networking prior to the process kicking off (which is always a good idea), I would recommend starting no later than the beginning of July. You are expected to tailor each application to the firm you’re applying to, so what better way to get a feel for the firm culture, student program, and summer student work tasks than to ask the current 2L summer students, associates, partners, and student recruiters.

Lastly, please note that not every firm sends out confirmation e-mails acknowledging receipt of your application, so, unfortunately, you will have to put your faith in technology and hang tight until the OCI schedule gets posted.  Good luck with the process!

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Articling in Ottawa - Yours to Discover

The 2L recruitment process is all about Bay Street. But if Toronto’s Big Law scene isn’t for you, don’t let yourself get caught up in feeling pressure to apply. Instead, look around to see what else is out there – you might be pleasantly surprised!

For students like me who didn’t participate in the Toronto recruitment process, it’s hard to find information that will help inform your opinion about firms. Where to apply, what each firm is about, and which firm is your “top choice” quickly become daunting questions.

"Take your time learning about each firm online.
Reach out to students and lawyers.
Call them. Go to coffee. Ask questions."

Also, learn about the city you are considering. Many law firms hire their future lawyers from their students, so consider whether each firm is in a city you can see yourself building a life.

For those of you considering Ottawa for summer work, let me tell you what you can look forward to. Ottawa has its own unique culture. We are hard-working but laid-back and collegial; we love pubs, live music, and summer festivals; we have beautiful outdoor spaces, and an endless number of hiking and biking trails, including Gatineau National Park. We also have a much-underestimated foodie scene, with tasty bites in the hipster Hintonburg area, trendy Glebe area, and of course, the well-known historic Byward Market. Or, if the sun is shining, opt for a picnic along the Rideau Canal or on Parliament Hill!

smile4yourself - pixabay
As a law student, you will love visiting the Supreme Court of Canada to imagine your future office or touring the Parliament buildings, including the beautiful and authentic 1876 Library of Parliament. Right downtown you’ll also find the National Arts Centre, National Gallery of Canada, Canadian War Museum, Canadian Museum of Nature, Canada Aviation and Space Museum, and many more Museums and historical sites.

Moral of the story, Ontario has a lot of beautiful and well-rounded cities to work and build a life in. If Bay Street isn’t a good fit for you, discover other beautiful cities in Ontario.