Monday, 15 November 2021

Articling: Expectation vs. Reality

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When I was a law student, I was constantly bombarded by fear-mongering stories about articling. “Articling will be the hardest ten months of your life!” “Don’t expect to have a social life.” “So and so at X firm said they worked 70 hours a week… have fun!” I was terrified to start articling.

"When everyone warns you to prepare for the worst, that’s exactly what you do."

But I’m happy to tell future articling students that three months into the term, my fears have not materialized. Work-life balance does not have to be a dream when articling at McCague Borlack. Here has been my experience so far...

Expectation 1: You must meet and surpass insane billable targets.

Reality: Yes, I work hard, but the work does not consume my life.

Articling is hard work, there is no doubt about it. We are fresh out of law school and think we know things when in reality, law school prepares you very little for real-life practice. As Ashley, our Student Director put it during orientation week, “this isn’t summer camp.” There will be evenings and weekends where we all have to put in extra hours to meet an urgent deadline or get caught up after a busy week. But we are not expected to slave away at all hours of the day to excel. The billable target for articling students is reasonable and conducive to learning a ton without feeling the need to burn ourselves out to keep up. In addition, we are encouraged to take our allotted vacation days and to prioritize our well-being.

Expectation 2: You will compete with the other students to get hired back.

Reality: Nobody is competing – all the articling students can succeed, and not at the expense of anyone else.

Many firms hire more students than they plan to retain as associates, which can result in fierce competition between the students to secure an associate position. MB’s approach is conducive to a collaborative and collegial environment – they only hire as many students as they would be willing to hire back as associates. The firm believes in investing in the students for the long haul. This means that every student can shine and excel, and not at the expense of anyone else. It’s a great feeling to be part of an articling team that is supportive of one another. We applaud each others’ successes and we have each others' backs.

Expectation 3: Articling will feel overwhelming and isolating.

Reality: Although everyone has moments of feeling overwhelmed, there are endless sources of support.

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed at times in any job. What sets my articling experience at MB apart is the level of support I have received thus far. There are so many people who I can turn to when I feel confused or overwhelmed. This includes the other students, our Student Director, my articling principal, or one of the many lawyers who have encouraged us to reach out whenever and wherever we need it. Even while working remotely, I am never more than a phone call away from someone willing to help. Everyone at the firm wants the students to succeed.

Expectation 4: Articling work will only be menial tasks and research.

Reality: Articling work is diverse, meaningful, and interesting.

Within a month of starting, I had taken the lead on a small claims file, drafted an initial opinion, attended a mediation and an examination for discovery, had communications with a client, and more. At three months into the term, that list has grown much longer. All the work we do as students at MB is substantial and meaningful. We are given a lot of responsibility which allows us to gain a vast amount of knowledge within a short time frame. I can’t believe how far I’ve come in only three months, and I can’t wait to see where I’ll be by June!

Starting articling is a daunting prospect, especially with all the fear-mongering law students are subject to. But with the right firm backing you, articling can be a fun, challenging and rewarding experience. It certainly has been for me!

Monday, 25 October 2021

The Big Jump: The voyage from law student to lawyer

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As someone who had an entire career before law school, I believe I had a robust tool kit going into articling. I was familiar with deadlines and multitasking and felt that articling wouldn’t be as challenging as rumoured. I was wrong. Even seasoned business professionals will struggle during articles. Of course, the tool kit was helpful, however, I question whether law school adequately prepares you for the actual work you will be doing.

Like my fellow students, I can prioritize my time effectively and complete tasks. 

"The struggle is knowing what to do, how to do it and how long each task will take." 

For example, when asked to summarize productions, I allocated five hours. It took me almost 15! (Productions are all the material provided by the Plaintiff – including medical notes, insurance documents, receipts etc.) This miscalculation meant my other tasks kept piling up. This made me reflect on the steep learning curve.

How is it that I felt so unprepared for articling? Why didn’t I learn how to do any of these things in law school? Shouldn’t law school teach you the law and how to lawyer? Including, and this is from a litigation standpoint, how to write factums, motions, damages briefs, affidavits of documents, etc.? Of course, for every area of law, there are different forms, processes, etc., that need to be followed. Shouldn’t law school touch on these? For example, I took Real Estate law; however, I have no idea what systems to use or how to use them should I pursue a career in real estate law. That isn’t a reflection on the professor. He only has so much time to teach us. That is a reflection on the law school experience as a whole. Wouldn’t practicum courses covering docketing, litigation forms and procedures (like motions, affidavits etc.), and technology used in law be far more impactful than making business law mandatory?

In order to whole-heartedly swear an oath to be the best lawyers we can be, we need to fully understand what’s being asked of us. How would you recommend law school better prepare its students for the actual practice of law?

Currently, the responsibility of training lands squarely on the law firms hiring these students. Luckily, McCague is a remarkable organization that puts a ton of resources into training its students. We have mentors, an open-door policy (aka call anytime), and a group of students who work together. I do not doubt that my articling experience will prepare me for becoming a strong litigator. I wonder how other students will fare if they don’t have the same support?

My advice to other students is to take any practical courses you can to gain hands-on experience. That is my one regret.

I welcome feedback from other students, firms and even law schools. Perhaps together, we can make a difference for future law students so that their learning curve won’t be as steep.

Monday, 4 October 2021

How does articling compare to law school?

During law school, I always wondered what the differences would be between being a law student and articling. Below are my observations so far:

There’s a lot of talk in law school about workload during articling. My experience is that it varies. It’s not as bad as the rumours many of us have heard; just like with school, there are ebbs and flows.

Rather than having “exam crunches,” the articling equivalent is receiving a large assignment with a short turnaround time. Some assignments require me to devote a lot of time over several days while balancing other assignments as they come up. Other assignments may not require more than a 15-minute phone call to complete.

"Like law school, your articling workload will require you to work slightly more than an average 9 to 5 day."

But if it gets in the way of the important things in life you may need to work on time management strategies.

The other factor that may affect workload is that you’re often doing something for the first time. In law school, however, with at least 3+ years of school under your belt, you’ll know how to study for an exam and write a paper.

For me, the biggest adjustment between articling and law school is scheduling. As hard as you try to stick to a schedule, it is impossible to perfectly schedule your days during articling.

In law school, students receive a syllabus on day 1, which allows you to plan your day-to-day for the semester.

As an articling student, when you receive an assignment, you get a deadline and can work from there. The challenge is, as you work and plan to meet that deadline, you may (and I have) receive rush assignments that a lawyer would like done for the same or next day. Obviously, you need to stop what you’re doing and work on that rush assignment, but this comes at the expense of your schedule.

The way I get around this is by scheduling my deadlines earlier than what the lawyer asked for and being honest with the assigning lawyer about my scheduling constraints upfront.

At law school, there is a lot of support: friends, classmates, upper-year students, Professors, academic advisors, Deans, dedicated support staff, etc. Though they mostly have different titles, there is a lot of support available while working as an articling student too. For questions and concerns that come up, I’ll reach out to any of the following people: my articling colleagues, our Student Director, my firm-assigned mentor, junior associates, lawyers I have previously worked for and of course, the assigning lawyer.

Overall, while there are some differences, my law school experience prepared me well, and I’ve been enjoying my time as an Articling Student! It’s been a wonderful learning experience. Every day brings a new and exciting opportunity.

Monday, 27 September 2021

Articling is no joke

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this, but articling is no joke. At MB, we are assigned real client work with actual deadlines. Plus, we are given work on a variety of client files and must learn to prioritize, multi-task, and schedule our own time well. We also must learn to track and record our time by entering our dockets in the firm’s accounting system. We are allowed to ask questions, but we must figure out the right questions to ask. We must also be team players in order to work well within the articling student group and with many different lawyers and personalities. 

This holds especially true in today’s climate, while we’re still in the middle of a pandemic. Luckily, MB provides robust training!

"While work from home didn’t come without its challenges, I’ve slowly grown accustomed to it over the past (almost) two months of articling and can now confidently say I enjoy it."

Here’s what a typical day in the life of a work from home articling student looks like for me:

9:15 - 10:15 a.m.: I attended a team meeting with all articling students.

The articling students meet virtually twice a week with the Student Director, Ashley, on a meeting we call Zoom 7. This meeting gives us the chance to discuss our assignments, receive firm updates and ask any questions. We also discuss our “roses and thorns” each meeting; sharing the good and not-so-good experiences articling has brought us.

10:30 - 1:00 p.m.: I attended my first examination for discovery!

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into an examination, but I was ready to diligently take notes and learn. I enjoyed watching the different styles of lawyers as they cross-examined witnesses. McCague Borlack encourages articling students to go on “field trips” so that we can get real-life experience of what being a lawyer and carrying your own files is like. Since I learn the most from actually doing rather than listening, I was grateful for this experience and look forward to accompanying lawyers again in the future.

1:00 - 1:30 p.m.: I took a quick lunch and coffee break.

Coffee is a non-negotiable work-from-home necessity.

1:30 - 4:00 p.m.: I checked my to-do list and planned the rest of my day.

I find that I’m most productive when I have a clear list of what needs to be accomplished and what my goals are for the day and week. I had an Affidavit of Documents due later in the week, so I started drafting it after calling the assigning lawyer to get some clarifying instructions. Lawyers at McCague Borlack are always happy to chat and answer any questions you have on a matter. Even though it can be daunting at times, I’ve learned picking up the phone and making a call is more effective than e-mailing back and forth.

4:00 - 6:30 p.m.: Switching gears and winding down.

By this point, I made considerable progress on the Affidavit of Documents I was working on. I switched gears and started working on a research memorandum I had due in the next couple of days. Legal research can be tricky, but luckily, we had WestLaw training during orientation and access to many resources to help us!

By 6:30, I started winding down for the day. 

No two days are the same, but this is what a typical day of articling looks like! I’m excited to continue learning and developing new skills as the articling term progresses.

Friday, 10 September 2021

Virtual Social Events

In approaching a potentially virtual articling term here at the firm, you may wonder how we manage to get to know each other? 

 Even in these strange and restrictive times, we still managed to eke out some face-to-face contact with one another. 

To get us organized, our Student Director, Ashley, created a schedule and assigned a different student each month to arrange an event for us on the first Thursday of the month. For obvious reasons, there is no requirement that the event be in-person. 

The first month, Ashley organized a virtual charcuterie and mixology class. See Ashna's blog below.

This month, Paul organized a Jackbox Games night. For those unfamiliar, these are a suite of web games where you log in with your phone and compete with others in various trivia-based games. 

Some of us keeners -- that were able -- met up in person, and the others joined via Zoom. 
(Shout-out to Tess who came from Ottawa.)

Zohaib generously hosted and put out an awesome spread. 

Lots of fun was had by all and many laughs were shared (along with a bottle of wine or two).

Ashley deserves credit for her expertise in selecting the right people for a student team. So, for those prospective students interviewing with the firm, rest assured that you will find yourself within a group of people who just seem to gel. Also be assured that despite the virtual world we are living in, camaraderie is alive and well. 

With that said, I am very much looking forward to our October social event.

Conner S.

Friday, 27 August 2021

So what has the first few weeks of articling been like?

Approximately three weeks ago, I, along with six other students began our articles. In short, so far, my experience has been beyond what I could have imagined articling was going to be like, especially “working from home.”

But, let’s backtrack to the night before my first day. As I prepared my outfit for the next morning, I felt both a sense of nervousness and excitement. After all, tomorrow was going to be a big day. I was finally going to be able to start work!

 I remembered the utter joy I felt when I received the phone call at 5:00 pm sharp on the last day of OCI recruitment and was offered a position to work at MB. 

After meeting so many members of the firm and learning about all the interesting work students would be able to do, I couldn’t wait to begin, and now, the time was finally here!

As excited as I was, I also felt a bit nervous. There were so many thoughts that crossed my mind. What will it be like to learn how to practice law, especially away from the office? Will I miss out on the learning experience due to not being able to be in-person and seeing my colleagues? Will I be able to stay motivated working from home? What if I make mistakes on an assignment? Am I even capable of all this? Unlike school, which is what I have been familiar with all my life, for the first time now I would be working on real client files. Hence, there was added nervousness.

Approximately three weeks in now and much to my surprise, none of my earlier concerns have factored into my incredible experience so far. From the very first day of articling, our comprehensive orientation prepared us very well by educating us on the substantive practice areas of the firm, as well as the administrative "know-how" of litigation. In addition, our orientation was thoughtfully planned in a way where we not only covered substantive material but also got the opportunity to socialize and “e-meet” other members of the MB team - all through Zoom of course. Who said Zoom could only be used for serious meetings? Thanks to Zoom, I really enjoyed our charcuterie board-making and mixology event where we channelled our culinary skills while sharing some great laughs with lawyers from across all five office locations.

Although our articles have begun remotely, I am grateful for all the efforts made to simulate an in-person experience. For example, every time we receive a new assignment or have questions about an assignment, we are encouraged to simply call the lawyer and have a discussion instead of writing a lengthy message over e-mail. Initially, the thought of calling a lawyer felt nothing short of daunting. However, now, this has become my go-to and truly feels most similar to hopping in their office for a quick chat. I have also found video-chatting with other students while we work on our assignments as a great way to overcome the “work from home” blues. This way, I feel I have company and can unmute my microphone to ask my colleagues any questions I have, just as I would if we were in the office together. Clearly, not being in-person is only as much of a barrier as we let it become.

All in all, to describe my first few weeks of articling, it is similar to a child growing up learning how to navigate the world. I feel likewise as I am learning how to navigate the fascinating world of litigation. There are many challenges and a steep learning curve, which is both rewarding but also challenging. What helps, however, is that I do not feel alone. I feel happy to have such an incredible support system in the other six students (shout-out to our WhatsApp group), and also the large variety of resources available to us.

In the weeks to come, I look forward to learning the ins-outs of litigation, and most important of all, enjoying the ride!

Thursday, 5 August 2021

Summer Student's End of Term - Lesson's Learned

As the 12-week summer student program comes to an end this week, I have been reflecting on how much I’ve learned in what feels like such a short amount of time. There were hundreds of questions I had when I first began 12 weeks ago. 

"Here are some of those questions and I'll share what I learned along the way."

How many hours should I be spending on each assignment?

One of the most perplexing concepts to me was calculating what was a reasonable amount of time to spend on each assignment. What I quickly came to realize is that every assignment is very different. While the first time around I was slower to finish or underestimated how much time the assignment would take, but I picked up things along the way. My longest assignment was summarizing a Plaintiff’s Affidavit of Documents production of 6,000+ pages, which took me multiple days to complete. My shortest assignment was drafting a consent which took me 15 minutes to draft. I quickly learned which type of assignments require longer turnaround times to complete, and my fellow students were a great reference to turn to. Many times, one of the other students had a similar assignment and I asked them approximately how long it took them to complete. This helped me plan my own calendar in terms of due dates.

How will I organize my assignment list?

This is one of those things where there is no “right” method but there sure can be wrong ones. How to organize an assignment list is a very personal preference. For myself, the outlook calendar works best, I simply drag and drop the email assignment into my calendar. I can then track the due dates and instructions all in one spot. Other students have mentioned their different methods, such as using excel spreadsheets or a personal agenda. There is no wrong way as long as it tracks everything one is assigned including due dates and has the ability to find potential conflicts with other assignments.

How often will I be speaking with the lawyers at the firm?

I quickly came to realize how friendly and collegial McCague Borlack is when I had many phone calls during my first week. Any lawyer who assigned me work would reach out with a quick phone call or zoom call to walk me through the assignment, answer any questions I may have, and just have a quick chat about how I was finding my first weeks in the program. While initially the thought of speaking to lawyers on such an often and casual basis was daunting, I quickly realized, by simply reaching out, they are more than happy to lend a helping hand and walk me through any difficulties.

How will feedback be provided to me?

So, I hand in my first assignment, and all I can think of is how will the lawyer respond? Typically, 'no response' can be a good response, it usually means the work was acceptable and so there was no feedback needed to be given. Other lawyers sent a quick email of thanks, clarifying that the completed work was satisfactory. Other times, lawyers would email or call with changes required, or they sent an assignment back with edits and track changes on the document. Either of these methods has one thing in common: the intention was for me to learn. Through every mistake made on an assignment, I was taught the correct way of doing things. It’s a learning process, and not everyone gets it right the first time, nor does anyone expect me to get it right on the first try. When receiving feedback, implementing the changes was paramount but learning for future assignments and practice was just as important.

Once you begin your own journey into the summer and articling programs, you will have many other questions. My advice is to breathe, trust in yourself and your ability to learn and grow, and never be afraid to reach out for help or clarification. You too will be surprised how much you can learn in one summer.

by Anita Z.