Wednesday, 2 November 2022

Speaking on my very first motion…alone!

image combined from pexel
DING DING. Off goes the list serve notification, and a new assignment has just come in for me. As I read the email, suddenly I am hit with a wave of excitement, and then utter fear. I have just been assigned to speak at an unopposed motion to request an adjournment…alone. Every litigator loves being in the courtroom, and consequently, I have always dreamed of speaking in court. However, now that the dream was about to be a reality, I felt immensely unprepared. >

"How am I supposed to speak in front of a real judge? How am I being trusted with this? What if I screw up big time? So many questions were rushing through my head."

As articling students, we are afforded the opportunity to speak at all types of motions. Despite this motion being unopposed, I knew this does not diminish the level of preparation I would require. I instantly knew that in order to be prepared for this, I needed to take advantage of all the resources available to me at McCague Borlack. First, I called the assigning lawyer, and he walked me through everything I needed to know. I was to look through all the materials, including the motion record, supporting motion record, evidence, and pleadings. I reviewed these in-depth, as my motto in life has always been that there is no such thing as over-preparation (we can debate this another time). Once I felt like I really had the materials down and understood the case, I began to draw a very sparse outline of points I want to make sure I cover. You never want to be reading from a script in front of a judge. However, it can be a nice piece of mind to have a few bullet points near you of the main gist of what you want to say, especially for your first time. I picked this practice up from my mooting days which was now proving to be an asset in terms of experience. Once the sparse outline was done, I got to practicing in front of a mirror to ensure I was prepared to articulate what I was seeking from the judge in a professional and competent manner.

Despite my preparation, I was still terrified the morning of. Every lawyer I spoke to told me I would be fine and not to stress, but I was still worried about all the “what ifs”. I made it to be some monster it wasn’t. I attended the motion (on zoom, as most motions are still being heard through video conference), outlined to the Associate Judge what exactly we were seeking, directed her to the exhibits which supported what we sought, and evidenced that the motion was unopposed. The next thing I know, the Associate Justice told me the adjournment has been granted and the endorsement will be sent shortly. I was dumbfounded – it was all over within 10 minutes! The first thing I thought to myself was that I had shed a skin. I had my first independent appearance in court and didn’t fail. It was an amazing learning opportunity and I know I will be less terrified for the next opportunity to appear independently in court. And yes, I say less terrified because let’s be real; the nerves never truly leave in entirety.

Monday, 24 October 2022

How I survived My Busiest Week of Articling (so far)

The articling experience is about learning to become a practicing lawyer and a significant part of it involves developing time management skills. This is critical for a litigator. What I am quickly realizing is that while you can try to formulate a plan to divide your tasks a few days ahead, it can often change so quickly. The key is to adjust and recognize that at McCague Borlack, you have a team of people ready to assist you.

"Our common goal is to always get the job done for the benefit of the client."

In the 8 to 10 months of an articling student’s term, there is bound to be at least one week where everything seems to come all at once. Last week just happened to be one of those weeks for me.

On Monday, I had come in early to plan out my weekly schedule. The prior week, I received numerous rush assignments. So naturally, the assignments I had planned on finishing way in advance had to be done this week instead. Thus, my schedule already had to shift from the start.

I created what I thought was the perfect schedule in which I would meet all my deadlines with time to spare. However, all of a sudden mid-week, a variety of new tasks came in on files I had worked on previously and needed to be addressed on an urgent basis. All my careful planning had to be set aside to complete these more urgent and interesting new matters.

Fortunately at MB, we have a student director, lawyers, and fellow students who understand that a litigation file can have many twists and turns and are always available to assist and work as a team for a common goal. With their help, I was able to meet all my deadlines and finish the tasks I planned for the week.

Lessons learned

The biggest lesson I learned from my busiest week is how to better manage my time and plan around unexpected rush assignments, as you never know when they will come. I will do this in the future by scheduling to finish the assignments I receive way in advance of the actual deadline if possible and being honest with the lawyers upfront about my capacity to deliver the assignment within their preferred deadline.

I also learned that fellow articling students can be your biggest resource during the articling term as they have been there for me when I needed them the most. I am so grateful to be able to have other articling students to reach out to for help during my busiest times. I could not wish for a better group of students to have been able to share this experience with. 

Friday, 23 September 2022

Taking a Lesson from Jon Snow

image from pixabay

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” – Socrates

Also known as the Socratic paradox, this principle allegedly uttered by the Greek philosopher Socrates is a great lesson in humility, critical reflection, and—when using it as an excuse for the C-minus grade you got in one of your courses—self-referential humour.

Unlike my fellow articling students, I’m brand-spankin' new. I don’t just mean that I’m new to McCague Borlack... I’m new to the practice of law itself. That’s right, articling is my very first venture into the legal profession as a (now graduated) law student, after forgoing the traditional summer student placements during the completion of my JD.

While this has certainly been a learning curve for all of us students, it goes without saying that the articling experience has been quite different for me compared to my colleagues. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s harder or more challenging, it’s just different.

For starters, given my severe lack of prior firm experience and having taken no particularly relevant elective courses in law school, I knew nothing.

Honestly, that might be generous. I probably knew less than nothing, which is an even greater (or lesser?) amount of nothing than our old pal Jon Snow from Game of Thrones knew. It’s a weird flex, but I’ll tell you why it’s OK.

It’s because I knew that I knew nothing.

To know that you know nothing is incredibly humbling, especially in an industry that radiates (perhaps a little too much) confidence. It gave me no reason to inflate my ego or pretend to be someone I wasn’t because I knew that any attempts at the sort would immediately be recognized for what it was… BS. In that regard, it definitely wouldn’t have served me well to act like I knew how to do a task that I was assigned when I didn’t, lest I wanted to face the wrath of angry lawyers impatiently waiting for the drafted AODs or memos they asked for weeks ago.

But really, knowing that I knew nothing was an opportunity. It was an opportunity that allowed me to learn, ask questions, and grow, both inwardly and outwardly.

A month and a half into articling, I can positively say that I know more now than I did when I started. But at the same time, I recognize that I still know nothing. Because total knowledge isn’t achievable. There’s no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow because rainbows, fun fact, are a full circle. Knowledge is an endless journey that one must strive to retain, as there is always something new to learn. Suffice it to say, I look forward to seeing where this journey takes me next.

By Matt D. 

Tuesday, 6 September 2022

…And We’re Back - WFH vs. In-office experience


image by pixelbay

"They say articling is like riding a bike. Okay, maybe no one says that but so far it’s been true."

Having returned to the office, I'm surprised at how much I’ve retained from my summer student experience.

After being completely remote for the past two years, I am excited to say that the articling program is nearly entirely in person! Going into the office every day means that we finally get to put faces to names, and it has also provided a new avenue of getting work outside the list serve. Lawyers can now drop by our desk which increases the flow and variety of the type of files and assignments we receive. Already, it has made a difference in building relationships and receiving guidance from the lawyers when you can just pop by their office. 

In the few weeks since articling started, I’ve had a diverse array of assignments including drafting statements of claim, motion records, and preparing affidavit of documents just to name a few. Similarly, I’ve received work in various practice areas including construction, subrogation and defence work. Compared to the summer term, I am noticing more opportunities to stay involved with files longer. Given that articling is ten months compared to three in the summer, assignments now come with follow-up assignments. This often includes research, communicating with opposing counsel, or the opportunity to assist with further drafting assignments. It has been an amazing experience to begin to see a file through from start to finish. 

It is safe to say, the articling program at MB is full of hands-on work, and we will not spend the entire year doing research assignments. While the pace of articling moves faster than being a summer student some things remain the same. Namely, our biweekly student check-in meetings and the students from different offices still enjoy getting together for Friday lunch over zoom!

 One month down, nine to go!

by Winona F.

Monday, 15 August 2022

Articling Students 2022

Welcome back to our summer students of 2021 who are now our articling students 2022 - Anita Zamani, Winona Fitch, Alexandria Bonney, Dominique Mesina and one new face Matt DeSumma. To read their bios see our student page.

Thursday, 11 August 2022

Learning the Law, and the Trade

During my summer at MB, I was actively involved in several Small Claims Court files (topics of the files mentioned in this post have been changed due to confidentiality concerns). This was an interesting experience, but also a difficult one. 

To be involved in a Small Claims Court file, charged with reviewing the evidence and assisting in the matter, was a daunting task. However, what I soon found more daunting was the knowledge required to complete the claim.

In one file, the matter concerned technical issues in a certain trade. Claims of negligence, improper workmanship, and general inefficiencies were thrown around. I may be pretty handy with repairs at home, but the skill with which these individuals were working, the specificity and specialization of their trade, it was something I had absolutely no knowledge of. Law school had prepared me to know the standard of care, but the details of that standard, the specificity of it in person, in this specific trade, was something I knew nothing about.

This was magnified in another case that demanded specific performance. We knew what the client had to do. We could name it, inform the client that it needed to be done, and we could supervise as they conducted the work. We even knew what it would be like when it was finished. We knew point A (where we were) and point B (what it would look like when the task was completed). But, in a very real sense, I had no idea how exactly to get from point A to point B.

My knowledge of the steps required to complete the specific performance was derived from the information provided to me by the client, and the evidence accumulated during the progress of the claim. It goes without question that I familiarized myself with the legal boundaries involved in the claim, but oftentimes, it seems the law establishes these boundaries without defining the specific steps required. So, sure, I could say with confidence that the client could not leave all the excess drywall in the middle of the road. However, if they told me that removing it with an electrical knife was more efficient than a sledgehammer, I wouldn’t be able to disagree in any meaningful way.

When we encountered difficulties in undertaking a specific method of performance, it was the client who suggested an alternative method. Of course, we did our due diligence on the legal impacts of this method, and we made all necessary inquiries. But when there were no legal issues, it was the client who was the expert on the matter, and it was our position to watch them do their work.

I never believed as a lawyer that I would be the master of all knowledge. Hell, I doubt I will even come close to mastering one area of law. But, to me, it was amazing to see that the law truly operates at the nexus of everything else. With a claim involving electrical work, a lawyer need not be an electrician, but having any knowledge of electrician work is quite the asset. With personal injury claims, lawyers are not doctors, but I was amazed at the breadth of my colleagues’ knowledge on medical matters (and their ability to read a doctor's handwriting!) This experience, more than any other, really hammered home the idea that it is a litigator’s position to guide the parties through the legal system, not to engage in their work.

Tuesday, 2 August 2022

Field Trips – Expect the Unexpected!

picture from pexel

Summer student field trips at McCague Borlack can range from examinations of discoveries to mediations, pre-trials, arbitration and motions – all key parts of civil litigation.

  • An examination of discovery is a procedural part of litigation when the parties get to see what the other side’s facts, evidence and defence are. 

  •  Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution where an unbiased third party helps resolve the dispute between the two parties to reach a resolution.

    Both an examination of discovery and a mediation happen outside of the court.
  • A motion is a process by which one party submits a request to make an order to a Judge. The length of which varies, as it really depends on what is at issue and whether on consent. A basic consent motion can be less than 5 minutes, whereas a complicated multi-party motion can take up the better part of a day.
Students at MB play an active role in these field trips, often assisting with preparing key documents, and/or taking notes. These notes usually become part of the client report and are used throughout the life of the file.

Recently, I attended a motion where we were trying to get an adjournment. When we realized an adjournment would not be granted, instead, our lawyer had to make submissions (which are oral arguments) on the main issue. I did not expect submissions to be done during a motion, and that amped up the excitement of the field trip. Although this unpredictability seemed stressful at first, I learned from the lawyer on the file that litigators must be prepared for anything. As he stated, “Hope for the best but expect and plan for the worst!” Of course, he had the full submissions prepared and ready in case. 

Getting to hear litigators be zealous advocates in real-time, while also having my notes used for the client’s report makes me feel like I am contributing in a meaningful way and allows me to harness my own professional development.

That’s litigation – the learning curve is high, and the work is truly one of a kind.