Friday 25 July 2014

More than Just a “Suit” going on a field trip...

As I prepared to write this blog entry, I had a look at my calendar and realized that I will already have completed seven of the twelve weeks of my MB summer work term. It is truly incredible how time flies when you work in a fast-paced environment such as this, where you learn something new every day and you get challenged on a regular basis. The office in Ottawa is a great place to work; located in Ottawa’s downtown core, it has the pleasant, collegial feel of a small firm while still retaining the excitement and thrill of a larger firm through its affiliation with the Toronto office. Throughout these seven weeks, I have been very fortunate to work on a variety of files with exceptionally respectable lawyers. The truth is, I could write a blog entry for all the tasks I've completed and it would be an interesting read (OK, almost all the tasks). However, for this one, I've chosen to talk about my two trips to a wonderful town in the beautiful province of Quebec.

"a fire...brought the project to an unfortunate stop."

MB is currently working on a matter involving a construction project in this town. This construction was taking place on a bridge’s pillars, and a fire on one of these pillars brought the project to an unfortunate stop. We retained an expert to assist in the forensic investigation of the site, who joined three expert engineers of the other parties in trying to determine the cause of the fire. Since these three engineers were all locals from Quebec while our expert was a uni-lingual Anglophone (besides a few “Allo’s” and “oui oui’s” here and there), I was charged with making sure nothing got lost in translation. Being bilingual does have its advantages and it felt great to be able to put that skill into use to contribute.

The first time I got on to the construction site, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I had a fairly nice shirt and running shoes on, but I quickly realized that I should have been wearing to the very least steel toe boots, as is typically required on such a site. So I did a quick scan of the area, hopped in one of the crew trailers and kindly asked the workers if I could borrow some gear. Next thing you know, I was ready to go with my steel toe Dunlop boots, safety vest, gloves and my trusted hard hat. Who said lawyers always had to wear a suit?

I climbed my way up the scaffolding and walked along a narrow walkway located on the underside of the bridge to get to the pillar. The layout was very interesting: a steel casing was installed around the pillar, from the base of the river up to about 40 feet, and there were 4 levels of wooden planks that we could walk on. I climbed down the ladder from the walkway to the fourth level and was given a detailed explanation of the site by our knowledgeable expert. The rubble from the fire had accumulated mainly on second and third levels. The first visit was mainly just an assessment of the work that needed to be done on the site, so after a walk around the pillar and a tour of the third level, we were out of there. However, on my second trip, the plan was to have the experts examine the rubble while the construction crew followed behind and threw out the useless pieces, which was unfortunately most of what we found.

"before I knew it, I was down on the second and third levels, shoveling away a mix of burnt two-by-fours, electrical wiring and wet ash."

At first, the experts and I were walking with our flashlights, taking pictures and notes while the workers were hauling burnt pieces of wood and shoveling the rubble. However, before I knew it, I was down on the second and third levels, shoveling away a mix of burnt two-by-fours, electrical wiring and wet ash. I’ve worked in construction before and it felt great to be able to help out, all while searching excitedly to find the one piece of evidence that would explain the cause. As our expert told me, investigations of fires can be like searching for a needle in a haystack without being sure that the needle exists. There’s a good chance that the cause cannot be determined, but it’s necessary to look through the entire evidence to be able to confirm that. Therefore, we shoveled away for most of the day, and headed to a warehouse the next day to examine what pieces we had found.

Copyright: bokica / 123RF Stock Photo
I felt this story was a good one to share because it demonstrates at what point it is important to be adaptable in our profession. I’m not saying that most of us will be throwing on a hard hat any time soon but it is incredible to see how diversified this type of work is. After only seven weeks here, I've become familiar with various types of claims that always involve a new and exciting scenario. Our profession requires us to become experts in plenty of fields, sometimes overnight, and I believe it is one reason why working as a lawyer is such a thrilling experience. As I was shoveling, one of the crew members looked at me and asked me who I was. I told him I was a lawyer, and my laugh said it all: More than just a “Suit”!
Alex R.