Tuesday, 26 January 2021

Tips for Online OCIs and In Firms

The OCI process is daunting in normal years. You’re in the middle of your time in law school and for many, it’s your first substantive dive into the professional legal world. It’s a gauntlet of interviews, phone calls, scheduling, meetings and all the while trying to seem like an employable candidate that stands out from all the other great candidates in the process. 

"Then to top it all off, a pandemic hits and now 
you have to navigate this already complex world virtually."

So what changes? How do you stand out above the rest and showcase yourself in this new environment? I’ll try here to lay out a few tips that can help you be the person that ends up with an offer.

  1. Take the coffee chat online - Asking someone that works at a firm of interest to meet for a coffee is a tried and tested way of getting your foot in the door. It serves as a way to clearly demonstrate your interest, get a real sense of the people in the firm, and ask some of the more in-depth questions that you won’t find on the website. While it’s always nicer to meet with someone in person to start building that connection, our current situation isn’t allowing for that so why not apply that same principle virtually? When you can’t meet face to face, a phone call can help accomplish a lot of the same goals. Here are some tips for when you’re trying to build some rapport with the firm through a call.

    1. Choose wisely. For the uninitiated, there’s always an inclination to go right to the top of the ladder and try and reach out to the perceived decision-makers to show them why you should be their pick. Generally, these are also the busiest people who are least likely to be able to meet with you and likely have much less of a role in the student hiring process then students perceive. Instead, target the firm’s students and or recently called associates, especially people that went to your school. They will be the most likely people to respond to you, they will likely be best positioned to answer most of your questions about the firm’s student program and are usually some of the first people student recruiters ask when looking for opinions on prospective hires.

    2. Don’t bother with zoom or skype. While I could see how prospective students would love a little extra face time, the people you’re looking to contact at the firms are mostly enjoying the casual life through this pandemic, and few will likely be looking forward to donning professional attire just so you can see their smiling faces. If the person you’re looking to contact offers that opportunity then great, but this is definitely a place where a good old fashioned phone call would be much more appropriate.

    3. If you’re not five minutes early you’re late. Always, always, always be right on time. The people you’re trying to contact are likely in the middle of one of their busiest times of the year and they’ve carved out a piece of their day specifically to help you. The least you could do is make sure you’re on time and ready for the call.

  2. Do your homework. Let’s say you’re short on time and you’re unable to connect with someone from the firms in advance of your interview. Well don’t fear, there’s still a fantastic resource out there that you should absolutely utilize: the firm website. You can learn a lot about your prospective employer from what’s readily available online and come interview time, being able to speak to the firm about specific things they do and how it interests you can do a long way to making yourself stand out from the pack. Potential practice areas and specialities, specifics of the student program and even articles and publications are all great things to look into and note to talk about should the opportunity arise in your interview.

  3. Be ready to have a good time. As someone that went through this process already I get it. How can you think about fun in such a high-pressure situation? This is critical though as the most important thing this interview is about for the firms is determining who you are as a person. If you’ve made it to OCI’s they already think you’re a qualified candidate on paper, now it’s time to show them that you’re great in person too. Generally speaking, when your interviewer has an enjoyable time chatting with you then chances are they’re going to think they would have an enjoyable time working with you and that’s the recipe for getting hired. If you’re going into the process stressed and unnatural, your interviewers will absolutely pick up on that. So take the time to do whatever it is you do to relax, embrace the process and try to have a good time with it!

Follow these steps and you’ll be sure to have success with this year’s unique job search. Best of luck to you all!

Adam O.

Wednesday, 6 January 2021


We are now accepting applications for Summer Student 2021 positions in our Toronto and Ottawa offices.

-Due Dates for Toronto

  • Monday, January 18, 2021, or
  • Monday, January 25, 2021

(depending on which group you are in as determined by the Law Society of Ontario.)

-Due Date for Ottawa
  • Wednesday, January 20, 2021
*Applications are due by 5:00 p.m.

Go to our student site for details on how to apply.

Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Things I Didn’t Expect to Like about Articling

images credited to pexels mentatdgt & talal hakim (edits added by Nancy Plante)

There is no doubt that articling is a challenging experience. As the common downsides are well-known, I will shine a light on some of the (perhaps unconventional) experiences I have enjoyed so far.

Gaining knowledge on random topics

I enjoy learning about random things I would not have taken the initiative to learn on my own. For example, I love surprising my friends and family with explanations on why water towers don’t freeze in the winter or how various pieces of construction equipment work. 

"It is fun to learn about the workings of every-day things
we normally don’t think about."

Meeting new people

It has been great getting to know everyone at the firm. On top of that, while working on different matters, I have had the opportunity to get to know people I would not have had the chance to meet otherwise. I appreciate every time someone gives me a glimpse into their life. Learning about lifestyles that are different from my own, and the challenges that other people face helps me to broaden my perspective.

Learning about health and medicine

Since starting my articles, I have also learned about a) which bones make up which part of the body, b) what certain medications are and what they are used for, c) what some medical procedures and conditions are, and more. Although this information isn’t “legal” in nature, it has been interesting to learn about health and the human body in general. Also, learning about various health conditions makes me appreciate my own good health!

Learning, asking questions and making mistakes

One of the best things about articling is that no one expects you to know precisely what you are doing right away. It is okay to sometimes make a mistake knowing that there will be someone there to catch it. This ensures it is a true learning experience. Also, I appreciate being encouraged to ask questions and not feel judged for it!

Thursday, 12 November 2020

Articling with the Added Bonus of a Pandemic

Needless to say, this year has been a tad wonky. In January, the 2020 law school graduates anticipated a relatively exciting year. We were about to graduate, write our bar exams, and by the end of June, we would be free to celebrate our accomplishments until our articles began.

In actuality, we – like many other students – spent the tail end of the winter semester trying to focus on school while balancing the anxiety and uncertainty that came along with this pandemic. Classes and final exams were online, and social and family gatherings came to a screeching halt. After clicking submit on my final law school exam, I anticipated a very overwhelming sense of relief – law school was finally done! But it was perhaps the most anticlimactic end of a degree, since we could not celebrate with friends, family, classmates, or our schools.

Promptly, the next hurdle came flying our way: bar exams. Could we still write them? Would it be postponed until we were already articling? A lot of uncertainty unfolded in the first few weeks, but then finally, a plan. We were now writing the exams from home. Every student nervously signed up for a time slot to write the exam, choosing our own date of freedom. My last exam came and went. Thrilled to be done, but after these exams loomed over my existence for until early August – it was another anticlimactic end to another grand accomplishment.

Before we knew it, articling was here. With our safety in mind, our firm decided to have us commence our articles from home. This came as a relief, but also spearheaded fresh nerves. Most of my personal nerves came from the concern of how to learn, and produce valuable work from home. After almost two months of working from home, I can confidently say our firm has not let COVID-19 impact our learning or the excitement of articling. I have narrowed down a few tips that have certainly helped me learn how to be a good articling student from home.

1. Call the assigning lawyer with your questions

Assuming I am not the only one, calling a lawyer can feel daunting and stressful. “They’re very busy people, I don’t want to bother them and embarrass myself with what is probably a silly question.” Throw these thoughts out of a metaphorical window. With everyone working from home, I have found all lawyers, assistants, and clerks to be much happier, and free to take a phone call. Not only will you get better instructions over the phone, but it gives you a chance to have a social interaction, and build working relationships. 

"Every phone call you make is an opportunity to learn better, and invite social conversation into your day – which we all need, so try opting for a phone call more often."

2. Use precedents as a tool to produce better work

The single most important thing I have learned is about how to use precedents. Every single document you receive from a lawyer as a precedent, should be copied into a folder on your desktop. Do not stop at one precedent per assignment. Meaning, if you come across four initial reports, save all of those initial reports. Precedents are exceptionally useful tools for any junior. They are the starting point when you don’t know how to begin a task. They give you an idea not only of what the style of the document is, but also the substance. Having a variety of precedents will allow you to see how one task varies depending on the facts of every case, better allowing you to see what information is relevant for what you are working on. Equally important, being able to review the work of lawyers is one of the strongest resources you have to elevate your critical thinking, and the quality of work you produce.

3. Be specific in asking for feedback

Every time I submit an assignment, I make sure to ask for edits, feedback, or revisions. You will not learn effectively if you don’t find out what you have done wrong. Every time you get feedback – as unforgiving as it may feel at times – you are learning. Luckily, the lawyers at our firm are great teachers and are courteous with giving us helpful feedback, which is exactly what we, as articling students, need.

4. Articling student group chats

One of the best resources you have are your fellow students. Although it would be ideal to be in one place together, our student group chat has actually allowed those of us in the Toronto office to work closer with the students in our Ottawa office. 

"My first step whenever I have a question is to canvas the other students through our group chat."

It is more than likely one of them has faced the issue before. Not only are your fellow students a resource, but maintaining a close relationship with them helps ease some of the isolation that can come from working remotely.

Get a cat!

They make excellent office buddies, and are great at listening to your ideas.

Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Congratulations - Ryan Smith - New Toronto Associate

The firm is pleased to welcome back Ryan Smith as an Associate in the Toronto office after successfully completing his articles and passing the bar.

Read his full bio.

His student blogs include:

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

New Associates!

Congrats to our Ottawa articling students Carly and Brittany on getting hired back as associates!

Since their ‘call to the bar’ ceremony was cancelled, Martin met with them, and their families for a social distancing ceremony at the Supreme Court on Ottawa.

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Articling during COVID-19

When I started my articles, I never thought we would be working during a global pandemic, but here we are.

As of March 2020, millions of Canadians have left their offices for their apartment, condo or house as we all practice social distancing and work together to fight against the spread of COVID-19.

"For many of us, working from the comfort of our own homes sounded appealing, but for some, this came with new challenges (as it has for me)."

My partner and I chose an apartment in the downtown core of Ottawa so we could be within walking distance to our offices. We specifically chose proximity to our workplaces over a larger living space; a decision I now regret, having been at home 24/7 for nearly 8 weeks. But, I digress.

Here are some tips that helped me adapt to working from home:

Keep a regular routine.

The transition to working from home necessarily means a disruption in our regular routines. But it is important that we establish a regular routine as quickly as possible and stick to it. I am using the app Fabulous: Self Care, which has helped me build the perfect routine, ensuring I stay productive. There are many other apps out there like this one.

Stay connected.

One of the many things that makes McCague Borlack great is its people. When working from home, you lose out on keeping up with your coworkers not only in a social capacity (like water-cooler chats) but also when it comes to work. I find that emailing a lawyer to schedule a telephone call is a helpful way to stay connected and create a platform where you can discuss any questions or problems you have come across while working on your files. Our office also regularly schedules social Zoom calls where we play games or just talk for a while. These are just some of the ways that we can help stay connected to the rest of the team, both socially and professionally.

Set up your home office.

As you can imagine, I did not have a home office before COVID-19. Our space only allows for one  small desk in our living room, which was used by my partner who is a software developer. However, we both quickly realized that we do not need a “typical” office space to be productive at home. Instead, we need a consistent and comfortable space. This may be sitting at the same spot at your dining table by a window or at your kitchen island.

Coordinate with others who share your space.

Both my partner and I are now working from home and sharing the same spaces (our apartment is only two rooms). With this comes some challenges, i.e. both being on a call at the same time and not being able to hear our colleagues. To avoid this problem, each morning my partner and I briefly discuss our schedules for the day so we can coordinate around each other’s calls and meetings in advance. The last thing that you want is for your partner, child or pet to find themselves on record during your virtual examination for discovery.

Keep busy.

Working from home does not mean that all of the rules are out the window. During these unprecedented times, your employer will be very appreciative if they know they can still rely on you to get the job done. Also, do not forget that articling is all about learning. The learning should not stop because your work location has changed.

Stay in tune with yourself.

I know I just said that we need to keep working hard, but we should also recognize that times are different. Social distancing from your colleagues, friends and family, only going out in public when it is absolutely necessary, and the blurring of the boundaries between work life and home life can all take a toll on our mental health. For some, acknowledging that times are different is the first step to becoming healthier people. I found that partaking in hobbies (baking and playing piano), exercising daily, and staying connected with friends and family online are all ways to cope with feeling trapped and being surrounded by so much uncertainty. If we take the time to check in with ourselves and listen to our needs, we will be happier with and more productive in everything we do.

Stay on top of the ongoing changes in the profession.

Some of them may be here to stay after we return to work and the courts resume their regular operations. The Notices to the Profession are helpful in this regard but there are also plenty of free webinars you can sign up for.

I chose this profession because every day is different from the last. With constant changes in the law and such a steep learning curve, lawyers and licensing candidates learn to adapt and think quickly on their feet. Overcoming COVID-19 is no exception. We got this.