Friday 21 June 2024

Survey Says...

image from vecteezy.com khan.zein554159

On Monday morning Ashley, the Student Director, emailed each of the eight summer students: “Please complete the attached questionnaire and send it back to me.”

The questionnaire was a survey with a list of tasks such as “drafted statement of claim”, and “worked on a personal injury claim, etc.,” with the option to select “yes” or “no” upon completion of the task.

Monday marked four weeks since we began working as summer students at MB, the time flew by, which wasn’t surprising. What was surprising, however, was the multitude of tasks we had been exposed to in those four short weeks. I filled in “Yes” to nearly half of the survey.

During OCI’s and In Firm Interviews last September, everyone in the interviews boasted about MB’s summer program and the hands-on experience the summer students receive. I’ll admit I was skeptical. How could such a program be possible? I had always been told that summer students -- especially those at downtown firms in Toronto -- would be tasked with nothing more than file production, research, and memo writing. Pre-OCIs, I expected my summer to be spent on Westlaw.

Then, in November, when I first visited MB in person, I was elated to learn that the summer students are exposed to meaningful litigation experiences during their term. While still skeptical, the MB articling students, outside of the interview, really drilled in the notion that things are different here.

In fact, Ashley has made it her mission to ensure that every single summer student attended both a mediation and an ED in their first few weeks. I was taken aback by this commitment. I thought I would be lucky if I attended a single ED all summer; I had no idea that exposing the summer students to these proceedings was the expectation, not the hope.

While not all work can be as exciting as attending a heated mediation, I’ve found that even the more “tedious” tasks -- i.e. drafting damages briefs or affidavits of documents -- are stepping stones to learning about the entire litigation process. The best way to learn about the development of a case is to analyze every single relevant document. I now have a much greater understanding of the way a file progresses, and how and why certain steps in the litigation process are taken.

Drafting statements of claim, statements of defence, mediation briefs, and initial reports has kept me engaged in client files. These tasks all serve their own unique purpose in the development of a case, which is why I am grateful for the opportunity to work on them.

After four weeks at MB, I am delighted at how many meaningful tasks we have been allowed to work on. Come August, I’m certain I’ll be able to complete Ashley’s survey to nearly 100%.

By Jordan J

Thursday 13 June 2024

My First Assignment and Other (Not-So) Scary Things


The first day of work is always daunting, there’s no way around it. Thanks to the orientation program at McCague Borlack, I felt as well prepared as I possibly could be. But of course, I was nervous when that email went out announcing:

"The Summer Students are available to take on assignments." 

So many questions ran through my mind – What if I don’t know where to start? What if I take too long to complete my tasks? What if I can’t keep up with the workload?

The Summer Student program works off of a list system for assigning tasks. A lawyer's work request comes through a group email account and is assigned to whichever student is next on the list. Within the first few days, I realized how useful this system is. It ensures that no one works exclusively with one lawyer or in one area of law and that we experience different types of work and working styles. It also ensures students aren't competing for assignments, making it much easier to work as a team.

Back to that first assignment

When the list came around to me, I was incredibly nervous for my first meeting with the assigning lawyer. Luckily, everyone at MB is supportive and understands that this is likely our first time doing this type of work. I felt comfortable asking questions and was given useful precedents to get me started.

I was also surprised at how nervous I was when handing in my first assignment. A new set of questions ran through my mind – What if it’s not what they wanted? What if I did it wrong? What if they don’t check my work and an error slips through the cracks? Again, these worries were unwarranted. The assigning lawyer thoroughly checked my work and discussed changes with me so I understood what was needed for next time.

After a few weeks in

The nerves wear down with each new assignment that comes in, and I've found MB truly has a great support system where no question or concern is left to fester. With these first few weeks on the books, I realize what an amazing team I get to be part of, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn in a supportive environment.

by Emily O.

Tuesday 4 June 2024

Summer Student Orientation Week


Every student feels the nerves that come with starting a new job. Transitioning from the classroom to the office is always a significant adjustment. Prior to the start of summer orientation week, our Student Director, Ashley Faust, made sure we were well-prepared to commence our journey with McCague Borlack. We are lucky to have Ashley as a mentor as she was not only a summer and articling student at MB, but she is the lead lawyer on a number of files, enabling her to share all of her experiences with us eager students.

My fellow summer students and I received a detailed orientation schedule outlining the activities for the weeks ahead.

This schedule was so helpful to ensure we were prepared for the start of the summer term, which greatly eased the stress from the start. It made day one so much easier for us to navigate and gave us many exciting things to look forward to. It also provided our first glance inside the firm’s multifaceted practice areas.

Every day of orientation was filled with plenty of insightful presentations, seminars and activities. We were given the opportunity to learn from many of the firm’s amazing lawyers about their practice. This allowed us to have a variety of insights into the different ways each person would tailor their files based on their personal preferences. While the program prepared us for the work that we had to look forward to, it was also a great way to get to know the incredible people that make up the firm’s staff. Everyone gave us plenty of time to ask questions about anything that we could think of and made us feel so welcome.

Despite the focus being on preparing us for the substantive work that makes up much of the summer, we were given plenty of fun breaks to ensure that we could stay energized for the next activity. Some of the fun activities included playing Scattergories and participating in the annual student Brownie Baking Bonanza (which turned out to be the best brownie recipe I have ever tried!). This week was an amazing way to get to know the other students, especially those I am now in the Ottawa office with every day.

With the summer program having just kicked off fully, the orientation experience was so helpful in preparing me for the start of the work period. Not only did it give us a great overview of the summer term ahead, but it also ensured that we were able to seamlessly transition into being in the office every day. Even though I took notes and paid attention during orientation (with the help of a few coffees), there was still so much to learn/re-learn once we got started officially. But everyone at the firm is so helpful in teaching you the best practices, tips and tricks to help you succeed. Now, I wonder why I was ever worried at all.

To any future summer students reading this: even if you feel like you know nothing, someone will always be willing to help. I have learned so much from asking questions and doing my own exploration of the firm’s systems. While I know that I still have a long way to go before I am comfortable, I am confident anyone I ask will happily jump in to help. The firm culture is truly special in terms of the willingness to support the summer students with all our needs. We know that we will make mistakes, but this is part of the experience. We will be better for it by the end of the summer.

by Alexander D.

Friday 19 April 2024

An eye-opening account of the significance of written advocacy

image from pixabay

While nerve-racking at first, every novice litigator looks forward to their first day speaking in Court.

After all, advocacy is our passion. 

However, it is important to not confine the definition of advocacy to fit within any particular four walls. In my time as an articling student, I saw time and time again how effective a pen (or a keyboard!) can be. Whether it is a carefully drafted email to opposing counsel or a thousand-page “Brief," what a lawyer does outside the courtroom, at their desk, is most often what is needed to successfully advocate for their client’s interest. We always hear statements such as “99% of a lawyer's work happens outside the courtroom” but it takes the perspective that comes from immersing oneself in litigation to understand what it truly means. 

Almost eight months into my articling term I had an experience that shined a great deal of light on this concept. I was invited to observe an appeal proceeding at the Court of Appeal for Ontario. Excited for the opportunity, I went to the courthouse to observe two of our lawyers make submissions. While I had been to court, both virtually and in person, many times by this point, it was my first time at the ONCA. 

We entered the courtroom and the first thing I noticed were the pillars that were standing tall at every corner of the room. As everyone prepared to begin, I set down the rather large folder containing Briefs, Factums, Books of Authorities, etc. The court started with the Honourable Justices addressing the other side with a series of questions based on the written documents for over an hour. Then they turned to our side and simply stated that no oral arguments were necessary! While disappointed that I did not get to witness oral arguments being made by our lawyers, I realized I was carrying what resulted in this case's success in my hands all along. In other words, the winning arguments were made long ago by those drafting the factum and other documents. 

While I always knew written advocacy was important, this experience highlighted just how significant of an impact it can have. Despite this, students get to be a part of this work from day one. So a message to those law students at the beginning of their journey: Your briefs may not be brief, but neither is their impact. 

by Ali A


Wednesday 13 March 2024

My First In-Person Court Attendance


Since the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual court hearings have become the norm, and in-person court attendances are harder to come by. That’s why when I got assigned to attend Small Claims Court in Burlington in person, I was overjoyed!

While I have made several court appearances virtually during my articling term, I had not attended any in-person hearings, so I was hit with a wave of excitement. 

As an aspiring litigation lawyer, I have always dreamt of physically speaking in a courtroom, and here was my opportunity to do so.

As articling students of a litigation law firm, we are often given the opportunity to attend court, so I wasn’t as terrified going to court as I was the first time. Nonetheless, I made sure that I was prepared and took advantage of all of the information available in the file. I also spoke in great detail to the assigned lawyer, who walked me through everything. Once I felt like I was prepared and had finalized my submissions, I rehearsed them again and again.

Despite all of my preparation, I was still nervous the morning of. I was worried about all of the things that could potentially go wrong, including not finding the courthouse or getting stuck in traffic and being late for court.

It definitely felt a little odd having to drive to court instead of joining a Zoom meeting. However, I made sure to leave super early to account for traffic time. I arrived at the courthouse a little earlier than expected which I didn’t mind as it gave me time to rehearse my submissions once more. I entered the courthouse and found the courtroom where my matter was being heard. Once it was my turn, I made my submissions, and the Deputy Judge told me that her endorsement would be sent shortly. I couldn’t believe how smoothly everything went and how quickly it all finished. Getting to physically attend court was a fantastic learning experience and now I can’t wait for my next in-person court attendance!

by Chanpreet S.

Friday 16 February 2024

Running Your Own Trial as an Articling Student

image from Freepik

I’ll always remember the day when I stepped into the managing partner’s office, and he said, “Nick, you’re going to trial.” A rush of adrenaline and nerves flushed through my body.

This was a two-day small claims court trial where I was responsible for defending an action brought by homeowners against a general contractor.

Half the battle was trying to understand the nuts and bolts of construction practices. I had to spend some time Googling basic carpentry, plumbing and electrical work to familiarize myself with industry standards and Code requirements. You think I would be a handyman by now!

On the legal side of things, I had to work out a case theory. To start with, I read the whole file and jotted down notes about things I felt were important. I did this more times than I care to admit, but I wanted to ensure that I understood the ins and outs of the case and was fully prepared.

The days turned into weeks of trial prep. Countless hours were spent reviewing contracts, emails, photos and invoices to piece together the case like a puzzle. I had to think strategically about what evidence I wanted to introduce as exhibits to support our defence. This became a lot easier once I finally had my theory of the case after reviewing the law--a homeowner must give a contractor a reasonable opportunity to remediate any alleged deficiencies in its work before claiming damages. This is what I built the case around.

The day finally came. I walked into the courthouse with my banker's box full of evidence, a book of authorities, and a list of questions I prepared for the witnesses. I had never been so nervous in my life. However, I felt more settled once things got underway. I thought, I know the case now I just have to defend it.

Throughout the two-day small claims trial, I had the opportunity to make an opening statement by setting out a roadmap for the deputy judge, cross-examine witnesses, engage in direct examination of our own witnesses, make evidentiary objections where I saw fit, and make closing submissions to the deputy judge by tying the evidence together with the law.

The most important lesson I learned from this experience is that you need to be attentive and adaptable throughout the trial and change your strategy at times, depending on the answers given by witnesses. For example, I had to cross-examine a witness on the fly that I did not have any questions prepared for based on new evidence that came to light that I knew I had to challenge. I asked briefly for the Court’s indulgence and then started my cross, which felt natural because I had my theory and knew what to question the witness about.

The deputy judge reserved his decision. Regardless of the result, I feel proud and confident knowing I was trusted to put forth the best possible defence for the client. I now have my first trial under my belt, and it only took being an articling student for it to happen.

by Nicholas T.

Friday 5 January 2024

Learning the Ropes: My First Settlement Conference

image from Pexel Mohamed_hassan

As an articling student, you can assume day-to-day carriage of your own small claims court matters. This provides a great opportunity for you to understand the “big picture” of the litigation process by working on a file from start to finish.

One small claims case I was working on involved the defence of a negligence claim brought against a medical professional.

The first step was to prepare a defence. Because the timeline to respond to the Plaintiff’s Claim was approaching, we did not want to risk being noted in default by the court.

Litigation keeps you on your toes by constantly changing your schedule; therefore, it is important to know the timelines outlined in the Rules so you do not miss deadlines. However, it is equally important to be familiar with the SCJ Practice Directions because procedures vary based on where the proceeding will occur. You want to ensure your materials are accepted by the relevant court.

Once this was done, I prepared an initial opinion and budget for the client. At first, I thought this would be a daunting task. I had a general understanding of the standard of care medical professionals are held to; however, I did not go to medical school. How could I decipher medical terminology and procedures? Thankfully, all I needed was my legal background and guidance from the supervising lawyer to draft an opinion regarding exposure on liability and damages. I even took it to another level by recommending the next steps to the client.

The next thing I knew, a settlement conference was scheduled. These are court appearances with all parties where a deputy judge gives an opinion on the claim in an attempt to resolve the matter or at least narrow down the issues.

The day of, I was nervous because I did not know what to expect. What if I was asked something I did not have an answer for? Nonetheless, I felt prepared because I knew the facts of the case and had brief notes on the legal submissions I would make.

At the end of the day, the claim settled! This was a great feeling because it hinged on the legal analysis provided to the client and submitted to the court. Nothing feels better than a deputy judge agreeing with your view of the law. Now, I feel more confident in tackling my next court appearance. Good thing, because I am appearing at another settlement conference at the end of the month.