Monday, 8 April 2019

Time-stamped: A true day in the life...

Time to start my work day!

Wait! Don’t worry, I choose to be here this early. One of the biggest advantages of working at McCague Borlack is the work-day flexibility. It goes without saying that students must be present during business hours, but otherwise, our time is not micromanaged by lawyers. As long as we meet our deadlines, we make our own schedule. Some students come in around 9:00 a.m., but I personally prefer early mornings: my head is clearer, the office is quieter, and the line at Starbucks is shorter.

I start my day by checking my “to-do” list. Most students make the habit of recording their assignments in an excel sheet in order to keep track of their deadlines. I skim columns for any limitation periods and client guidelines: there’s a motion that needs to be confirmed by 2:00 p.m. tomorrow and four days left to submit an initial report. These will need to get done first.

Ideally, I’d sit at my desk and focus on one assignment at a time; however, seldom do my days go uninterrupted. Usually, I stop my work for one of two reasons: receipt of a new assignment or correspondence from an external source (such as a client or opposing counsel). I hear my email chime go off, and it’s a conflict check… with an interesting legal problem! In addition to list and walk-in assignments, McCague Borlack encourages its students to pursue their curiosity. I quickly reply to the lawyer to express interest in the file and then go back to my initial report.

The mail has arrived, and I notice that I have a fax from plaintiff’s counsel indicating that they maintain their refusals, and agreed to my undertakings motion for any time in the last two weeks of June. This means I can finally requisition my motion date and make final amendments to the motion record. There is a lot of work involved, but thankfully we have a wonderful support system that helps the students save time (and the clients save money). Without skipping a beat, our assistant requisitions the date and our very own office services prints and binds the motion record.

Today we have a Lunch and Learn seminar. McCague Borlack likes to feed educate their lawyers by providing these information sessions with a nice lunch. I’ve noticed that topics tend to provide updates in the law or provide tidbits for practice. Today’s workshop is about calculating costs and interest, which is a tricky (yet very important) part when drafting pleadings.

Upon returning to my desk, I notice there is an email with a list assignment marked “STATEMENT OF DEFENCE - URGENT”. It’s not my turn on the rotation system, but the student to whom this is assigned does not have the capacity to draft one right this minute. This student isn’t worried though, as she knows the other students have her back.

Although we are all eager to take the assignment, we decide to settle this matter by comparing our “student bucket lists”. Yes, you read right. Although McCague Borlack affords its students a lot of freedom, there is a student coordinator that checks in to ensure we’ve had the best-rounded experience, and this involves keeping track of our work history. According to the bucket list, two students have not yet drafted a statement of defence. This assignment will go to one of them.

My phone rings and it’s a lawyer for whom I drafted a statement of claim. She wants to know if I’m interested in assembling the Affidavit of Documents for the examination of the co-defendant next month. This is a perfect example of how lawyers tend to keep students involved in a file in a significant manner. I inform the lawyer that I’m happy to assist and add the Affidavit of Documents to my to-do list.

At this time, you see people slowly heading for home as the office begins to clear. I don’t have anything pressing at the moment, but I know that I’m attending mediation the following day. As such, I choose to stay a bit longer knowing that I might be out of the office on a field trip. MB Lawyers are big on visual learning and encourage us to go out of the office. In fact, this tendency is so well known, I’ve heard other lawyers comment on it.

It’s the end of the day. Most students are packing up (if they haven’t already left yet). I throw some papers in the shredder, log-off my computer, and head home.

Friday, 15 March 2019

These are a Few of Our Favorite Things: MB Articling Class of 2019 Highlights

During articling, you’re constantly learning. In law school, the majority of our education focused on theory, but as students-at-law, we are learning about the practice of law and the application of the theory we studied. As our articles get closer to ending, I have been reflecting on how much I’ve learned and also how much I still don’t know.

In order to highlight the variety of experiences our articling class has been privy to, I’ve polled my fellow students to ask them which of their many experiences so far stood out the most. This is what they said:


Favourite assignment:
  • My attendance at a small claims settlement conference.
Why it was my favourite:
  • It was a great way to strengthen my negotiation and oral advocacy skills.
What I learned:
  • It is important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your client’s case and to anticipate the arguments of opposing counsel. I also learned that negotiating is an art form and that negotiation styles develop over time with practice.
What I’ll do differently next time:
  • Use time more efficiently by trying to narrow the issues with counsel beforehand.


Favourite assignment:
  • It’s hard to pick a “favourite” assignment since I’ve received so much good work during my articles. A really cool assignment that comes to mind is a settlement conference I was asked to attend. The pleadings had closed, and I was asked to help negotiate the settlement. Though I sought approval from a lawyer before taking each step, I was given the freedom to develop the negotiation strategy on my own.
Why it was my favourite:
  • The best part was that I could assess damages using any method I wanted, including calling stores across Ontario to ask for their pricing. I was the main contact point with both the client and opposing counsel, which meant I continuously re-evaluated both positions to find a middle ground. The matter eventually settled last year.
What I learned:
  • What made this file interesting was that it was very emotionally charged. In addition to strengthening my advocacy skills, this assignment taught me how to interact with parties in a sensitive situation. When the opposing party’s position is personal rather than financial, it’s a lot harder to elicit a compromise.
What I’ll do differently next time:
  • If I could do it all again, I would rehearse my submissions another a dozen more times. I remember my voice trembling as I was speaking to the deputy judge. Nerves make you seem less prepared and less confident in your position (which couldn’t be farther from the truth).


Favourite assignment:
  • Student support on a summary judgement motion. This included conducting research and helping draft the Brief of Authorities and Cost Outline
Why it was my favourite:
  • It was super rewarding seeing my research being used in legal documents and discussed in court. I had heard so much about summary judgement motions in law school, so it was such a great experience finally seeing one in action. I also loved seeing the different oral advocacy styles of counsel.
What I learned:
  • Real life litigation is even more exciting than a moot court. Good advocates can have completely different styles.


Favourite assignment:
  • I have a few favourites, and one of them is something I’m doing now: helping a lawyer prepare for trial.
Why it was my favourite:
  • I helped draft the pre-trial memo for this file, so when it began heading to trial, I was excited to get a glimpse into the process. Putting together the trial brief is a satisfying process on its own, but I enjoy preparing for the performative aspects even more. I mooted competitively in law school, both at the trial and appellate levels. I’ve also taken improv classes for fun. Taking the first crack at drafting the opening/closing and examinations is not only fun, but it’s also incredibly instructive on persuasive advocacy and evidence.
What I learned:
  • While we’re still in the midst of things, I’ve already learned to expect nothing but prepare for everything. While I tried to organize my workload around this assignment, I didn’t realize preparing for trial would be this all-encompassing. I have a number of other large projects, including a small claims trial that will take place shortly after this trial. Time-sensitive assignments can and do come up when you least expect it. I will be moving everything forward with these two trials at the forefront. A trial is the “final act” of a file, and as they say, ‘the show must go on’.


Favourite assignment:
  • Drafting the initial opinion for a subrogated fire loss claim.
Why it was my favourite:
  • It’s interesting, challenging, and I learned a lot in the process. Initial opinions to clients are an important step in the litigation process, even though they exist outside of the court process. Initial opinions are the first opportunity we have to demonstrate an early mastery of the facts leading to our client’s loss and chart a way forward for its resolution.
What I learned:
  • I found the assignment challenging because I have a long way to go before I master litigation strategy! Luckily, I was able to review some sample plans for similar cases and work closely with the partner in developing the opinion.
What I’ll do differently next time:
  • If I knew then what I know now, I would definitely consult more litigation plans, looking at the different strategies we’ve used as a firm to be successful in winning cases like this. I was very happy to draft and revise the entire opinion, discussing it with an Associate and a Partner along the way. Ultimately I got to see a final product that was predominantly my work going to our client, and I learned a ton along the way.


Favourite assignment:
  • My favourite assignments so far have been drafting mediation briefs.
Why it was my favourite:
  •  Drafting a mediation brief gave me the opportunity to exercise written advocacy.


Favourite assignment:
  • My favourite assignment during articling was being given my own small claims file.
Why it was my favourite:
  • It was my favourite for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that it was completely nerve-wracking. In most other tasks I am assigned, I am not the head point of contact on the file. Having that responsibility was a challenge and an opportunity that I welcomed and only made me better. All of my actions carried a different weight compared to other assignments because it was my name that was being attached to it. It also provided a great foundation from which to build off of and I felt it really took me to another level in terms of my confidence and aptitude.
What I learned:
  • Aside from the bigger events like preparing for a settlement conference, I also learned about the finer details such as communicating with the client and other parties. I learned how to manage expectations and confidently give my opinion on the status of the matter. These behind the scenes communications are every bit as essential, and they’re not something I was always privy to. Additionally, I learned when it comes to pleadings to ensure that you are thorough and cover all possible angles of your case and leave no stone left unturned.
What I’ll do differently next time:
  • The next time I am given my own file I will be better equipped to hit the ground running. I wouldn’t necessarily do things very differently as new cases also come with fresh issues and nuances, but I would definitely have fewer questions regarding the process and how to navigate it. 


Favourite assignment:
  • My favourite assignment was to bring an application under the Repair and Storage Liens Act for the return of an article that was improperly seized.
Why it was my favourite:
  • It was my favourite assignment because at the time I was unfamiliar with the legislation and it was a chance to explore an area of law that I hadn’t yet experienced.
What I learned:
  • I had the opportunity to communicate back and forth with the client and the insured throughout the completion of the application which was a great learning experience.


Even writing this blog post was a learning experience. What I learned from interviewing my fellow students is that we have all had diverse and varied experiences. I’ve been lucky enough to try some of the “favourite assignments” listed above, but some I still haven’t. There’s still a lot to look forward to. The great thing about this profession is I don’t think we’ll ever stop learning.

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Why Litigation Boutique?

Last November, I had the opportunity to participate in the OCI recruitment process for the second time, and from the other side of the table. In just 3 short, but also very long days, I shared my articling experience with, what felt like 100, candidates. By the end, I realized (a) I can talk someone’s ears off, and (b) many people were surprised to hear how exciting and diverse our litigation practice and specifically, our insurance defence work could be. Our firm can provide any aspiring litigator with excellent hands-on experience—and very early on in their career.

Litigation Experience

"Every file we work on teaches us about some aspect of the litigation process." 

As a Summer Student, I learned about the nuts and bolts of this process by assisting with examinations for discovery, motion materials, research, and mediations. As an Articling Student, I gained more insight into the life of a claim from the beginning; by participating in client intake, drafting pleadings, preparing for discoveries, mediations, pre-trials, and even trial. This gave me the “big picture” perspective of what it is we do. As I gain more experience with the process, I feel more comfortable with the idea of working as a litigation lawyer after articling ends.

While it’s not always realistic to see a single file from beginning to end during an articling term, small claims files can and do provide that opportunity and at MB, Articling Students have carriage of small claims files. These files provide a great learning opportunity for drafting, settlement discussions, and if it comes to it, trial. We are also learning to be the main contact for our clients by briefing them on the status of the case, and if necessary, preparing them for trial.

Diverse Work

Many just think of motor vehicle accidents and slip and fall injuries when they think of insurance defence, but insurance defence work can actually be incredibly diverse. In addition to commercial litigation, I’ve already had a chance to work in the following areas of law, all surprisingly under the heading of insurance defence:

• Employment law (employee & management-side) 
• Criminal law
• Coverage
• Professional Negligence
• Administrative law
• Human rights law
• Cannabis law
• Contract law
• Product Liability
• Environmental law
• Property loss
• Privacy law

While having diverse work makes for an interesting articling experience, it also tests your knowledge of litigation procedure and helps you develop the skills you need to be an effective litigator. For example, property loss assignments have taught me the invaluable skill of quantifying and proving damages—which is necessary for productive settlement discussions for any claim. Criminal law taught me to think on my feet and feel comfortable in a courtroom—because court appearances are frequent. Employment law taught me to anticipate and negotiate risk.

Additionally, our plaintiff and subrogation practices expose us to other skills that are necessary to be an effective advocate. This can be in the areas of product liability, construction, cyber and privacy, shareholder disputes, and estate litigation, to name a few.

Opportunities for Growth

The legalization of recreational cannabis is currently a hot topic in many industries, including insurance, and we’ve been receiving a lot of work in this area. As a result, I’ve assisted on property loss, risk management, and employment assignments all related to this topic. I don’t know what the next big thing will be or what the future holds, but I am excited to find out.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

The Fantastic Five

In honour of our 5th month of articling, I have taken 5 Topics and for each, I’ve compiled a list of 5 tips to provide insight into our experience thus far.

I. Ways We Receive Work

  1. The list - A lawyer can send an email to the articling students and whoever is next on “The List” gets the assignment.

  2. Conflict Checks - Monitor & respond to a conflict check involving an area of law or a set of facts that you are interested in. There are always some unique files that catch my eye.  (p.s. this is a great one!)

  3. Personal Touch - reaching out to lawyers personally. As a student, you may enjoy working with specific people and/or in certain areas of law. You can simply walk over to a lawyer’s office and ask them if they have any work that you can assist with. It’s as easy as it sounds.
  4. Trading - Depending on availability and whether certain students prefer to work on specific tasks, you can trade jobs with fellow articling students.

  5. Student Liaison - Ashley Faust is the Student Liaison at McCague Borlack and she checks in with the students to make sure we experience as much as possible. If there is something you want to do but haven’t yet, let her know and she will set you up! Two of my favourite attendances so far, including arguing contested costs hearing, was arranged by Ashley.
II. Events to look forward to
  1. Orientation! - Honestly, the amount of times I refer to the material that was provided to us during orientation week is unbelievable. McCague offers articling students the opportunity to increase their knowledge exponentially within that first single week.

  2. The Christmas party! - Don’t forget that the articling students are responsible for entertaining the audience during the Christmas party. We thoroughly enjoyed preparing for our skit and (we think) the audience enjoyed watching it just as much.

  3. Christmas in January - Christmas party round 2? Almost. McCague Borlack hosts a Christmas in January event for clients and all members of the firm. It’s a great opportunity to get to know everyone better and have a chance to put a face to a name of a client you have been corresponding with through email for the past few months.

  4. Practice Group Seminars - We have a number of practice groups at McCague Borlack. Recently the Transportation Law practice group put together a lunch and learn. This is another great opportunity for students to meet with clients, draft papers on specific areas of the law and even present on them!

  5. After work socializing - It’s easy to plan social events among the students. Whether it’s a simple dinner at a restaurant or going to an escape room, the students are able to spend plenty of time together outside of work.
 III. Ways to learn
  1. The library - Most of us use the internet for almost everything. I don’t blame us. But what if I told you that someone has already collected knowledge on the topic you’re researching, compiled it into a book, and that very same book found its way onto a shelf at McCague? The best place to start when researching or simply learning about a new topic is in your firm’s library!

  2. Litigator - Of course, the internet is helpful too. At McCague, we have access to Westlaw’s database including a resource called “Litigator”. The best part of Litigator is that you can find pleadings and other material filed with the court in previous actions. These templates are useful tools and you can learn what to include, or avoid when drafting your own materials.

  3. Asking questions - I’m sure this has been mentioned many times in previous blogs, but that is because it is so important! The collective amount of knowledge in the heads of everyone at the firm is huge. If you are stuck, ask around, there are many willing teachers.

  4. Not asking questions - Yes that’s right. Part of learning is understanding how to independently find answers in an efficient manner. Of course, don’t hesitate to ask questions in urgent situations or once you have exhausted your other resources. However, the exercise of finding an answer is a learning experience in of in itself.

  5. This Student Blog - We aren’t the first set of students at the firm and we won’t be the last. The blog has captured the experiences of the students who were in our exact position previously. It might have the answer you’re looking for!
IV. Things to Remember for your motion for leave to amend a Statement of Claim
  1. Attach the amended Statement of Claim to your draft Order
  2. A staple remover;
  3. A mini stapler;
  4. There is a Staples right beside the Toronto Courthouse;
  5. Thank the associate who you ran into in the courtroom that helped you fix your draft Order minutes before the motion… thanks Marla!
V. My Articling Bucket List
  1. To argue a contested motion;
  2. To settle a small claims file at a settlement conference;
  3. To draft (even more) factums - they are great for working on your persuasive writing skills;
  4. To watch a trial; and
  5. To get hired back!

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Preparing for Mediation

Contrary to popular belief, trials don’t happen every day. However, trials are not the only opportunity to flex your litigious muscles. Another forum is mediation. I have been fortunate enough to attend two mediations so far during my articling term and assist in the preparation of two mediation briefs.

In practice, a mediation begins with both sides sitting across from each other at a boardroom table. Counsel for each side is given the opportunity to make opening statements. This is potentially the first and last time a lawyer presents the strengths of their case while highlighting the weaknesses of the other side.

The two sides then move to separate rooms which the mediator
will bounce 
between carrying messages such as offers or concerns.

One thing I learned in preparing for mediation is the compounding nature of a case. Everything in the practice of law builds off of the previous step. Information from the pleadings informs what will be asked at the examination for discovery while the answers and undertakings given at discovery lay the foundation for potential motions and documentary production, and so on and so forth. Preparing a mediation brief gives you the chance to get to know a file in depth and use what is in there to outline the facts and tackle key points at issue. One of the purposes of mediation, especially in Kitchener where mediation is not mandatory, is to try and settle, therefore, it represents a pivotal point in the progression of a matter.

In season 2 of the television show Ozark, the lawyer character had a clever response when being asked why she couldn’t do a certain task. The main character Marty Byrde says “I’m an accountant, I move money around” and the lawyer responded, “I’m a lawyer, I move words around.” Now, is that all there is to one being a lawyer? Of course not. But at a basic level, when trying to be persuasive and convincing, that is sometimes what you are doing. I relished the opportunity the ‘move words around’ when preparing the mediation brief and further develop my ability to frame arguments, which is a learned skill.

As for advice, what should come as no surprise is that my second mediation brief was much better than my first. That is a recurring theme as an articling student. In a general sense, after every task or assignment you complete, you learn something. You may not even realize it right away but the next time you are assigned that task, you will do it better. Even a 1% improvement makes a massive difference in the long run.

It will seem difficult at first but you have to welcome any challenge and treat it as the learning experience it will eventually be.

To quote Bojack Horseman:

It gets easier.
Every day it gets a little easier
But you gotta do it every day – that’s the hard part.
But it does get easier.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Lessons learned at the half-way point

Somehow, it is already the halfway point for us articling students. The amount we have learned in just five months is incredible. Here are my top three lessons learned so far:

It’s important to push yourself outside of your comfort zone…

One of the many reasons we are fortunate as students at McCague Borlack is because our firm practices in a wide variety of different areas of the law. This has allowed me to have countless opportunities to assist lawyers in areas of the law that I had never studied in law school. This was a bit daunting at first, but I quickly began to love when I was asked to assist with a type of file or task I had never been exposed to before. Similarly, lawyers at the firm have always been nothing but inclusive and encouraging whenever I have expressed an interest in learning more about a particular area of the law. If I had shied away from these opportunities, or not taken the initiative to pursue files I was curious about, I would have missed out on many lessons and positive experiences.

…but it’s important to realize that it’s called “practicing” law for a reason

As articling students, we are innately overachievers and always striving for excellence. As such, it is obviously a tough pill to swallow when you realize you won’t master drafting motion materials, mediation briefs, pleadings, etc on your very first try. Or even your second. It’s important to realize that it’s okay to wobble a bit before you hit your stride. Luckily, everyone at the firm is quick to provide mentorship and share best practices. After a while, you start to realize that practicing law is exactly that – there will always be room for improvement, the law is always evolving, and articling is just the start of a career-long learning process.

… Which is why it is important to always be humble, helpful, and respectful

Legal dramas on TV couldn’t be further from reality. During the first half of my articling, I have had the chance to observe a trial, pretrial conference, and numerous mediations and examinations for discovery. One of the most consistent things I have observed is counsel for each party working together in a respectful and courteous manner to achieve an outcome that is in the best interest of the clients involved in a matter. While it can make for a scintillating television plot, in reality, nothing is gained by treating opposing counsel as your adversary.

I look forward to the lessons the next half of articling will bring.