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.

Thursday, 14 July 2022

Learning by Doing: Examination for Discovery

One of the highlights of my summer thus far has been attending a lengthy examination for discovery (or ‘discovery’, for short) with senior counsel. While the examination took place over the course of 4 days a few weeks ago, my work on the file has been ongoing ever since. It’s always great when you can continue to do work on a file to see how it progresses and how your contribution makes an impact!

You might be wondering (like I was just a few weeks ago), what even is an examination for discovery?

Well, discoveries are a pretty significant part of civil litigation that take place before the trial. I like to think of discoveries as getting a “sneak peek” into the other side’s case. The lawyer has the opportunity to ask questions to the opposing parties about the issues at hand as well as the evidence that they provided. The proceeding is less formal than a trial: it happens outside of court, but the parties are still required to make an oath.

Prior to the discovery, I took some steps to make sure I was properly prepared. The very first step was to speak with the lawyer I was attending with. Since this was a pretty complicated case, she gave me a nice overview and a few good starting points for familiarizing myself with the case. There were over 2000 documents associated with the file but luckily, I didn’t have to review everyone! Instead, the lawyer pointed to some key documents like the Statement of Claim where I could gain a good understanding of the case. I quickly learned that the case was about a corporation suing former employees alleging that they committed fraud. Crazy!

The discovery took place virtually over zoom with a court reporter present. Despite the very contentious issues involved, the lawyers had a good rapport with each other and exchanged pleasantries. Everyone also gave me a warm welcome to the practice of law!

During the discovery, my task was to observe and take notes. In particular, it was important to keep track of what is known as “undertakings.” This happens when the opposing lawyer does not have the answer to a question you asked right away, but the information might be available at a later date. The lawyer can “undertake” to provide an answer and/or request additional information to do so.

The lawyers went right into asking questions to the witnesses once we were on the record. They also gave witnesses the opportunity to seek clarification or rephrase questions if they were not sure of what was asked of them. It was really interesting to see the different examination strategies used by each of the lawyers, and how they used the evidence to their advantage. Things definitely heated up at times, but the lawyers and witnesses remained respectful of each other throughout.

After the discovery, I was eager to remain involved with the file on the next steps. I assisted in preparing a Discovery Report by providing summaries from my notes, which were then sent to the client! I also created undertakings schedules that will be sent to opposing counsel to ensure we receive the requested information. All in all, my first discovery was a great success and I am looking forward to attending many more and hopefully running the show myself one day!

Thursday, 30 June 2022

The Summer Students' First Day In Person!

Although we summer students have been working at MB for over a month now, the firm's offices have been effectively closed since COVID hit in 2020. But, Ashley Faust, our fearless leader and Student Director, pushed and pushed for the firm to have us back in the office this summer… AND it worked! 

As of this week, all of MB’s students were back in the office and it was great (to say the least)!

The day started around 10 a.m. when we were greeted by Ashley in the lobby of our building. We walked to the elevators and up to the 27th floor we went! I can speak for all of the students in saying that the office environment was very well organized, very bright, and an overall really nice surprise! We went over to our designated student area, where our desks were adorned with monitors, keyboards, mouses and LOTS of space. A common thought that students have about the office is that they will be working in windowless, dark cubicles for the summer. I can say with confidence that that’s not the case at MB! Our cubicles are spacious, with large desks, tons of windows with gorgeous Toronto views, and lots of spots to put your personal items.

I was largely impressed by the culture of the office environment. It was really great to see the excitement with which all the lawyers had while greeting their colleagues (and friends) that they had not seen much of (if at all) since the office closed in 2020. All of the lawyers which us students know by name took plenty of time to greet us and get to know us in person – which was a really great touch. As students at MB, you certainly do not feel overlooked. 

 Then, Kathryn Stroscher, the HR Manager, gave us a tour of MB’s two-floor office and the building. The tour included the amenities in the underground PATH, the food court, the most convenient ways to get in (and out), and of course the COVID and fire safety protocols. I’m not sure what I expected, but the office is huge! I know it’ll take me some time to learn the lay of the land.

 After settling into our desks, and chatting about our new and exciting surroundings, we finally got to work. At around 1:30 p.m., we ventured out of the office for lunch. Our summer cohort is very fortunate that we get along so well. We were missing, Naomi, one of our fellow students because she was at a discovery, but lunch was still a blast! 

 For the rest of the afternoon, we worked at our desks exchanging comments and questions between the students, got to know the lawyers and associates better, and got comfortable in our new office space. I headed home at around 5:30 p.m. (my usual log-off time) and relaxed! 

by Madeleine C.