Monday, 13 July 2015

Litigation: Yours to Discover

As we cross the midpoint of our summer at MB, we’ve definitely dipped our toes into the cool waters of civil litigation and have learned some useful things over the past seven weeks - including how much we still have to learn! We’ve all fallen into a rhythm of working on assignments, interacting with lawyers & clients, and chatting up a storm when we’re together as a group (trust me, we’re just as friendly as we come across in Mel’s earlier blog).

My first trip to a magical place of the “real legal world”.

But, once in a while, our work rhythm hits a wave and we get an opportunity to leave the confines of the office. Whether it comes through the list, or whether we’ve been approached in-person, each of us has been offered a chance to go outside and experience law in action.

My first trip to the magical place of the “real legal world” came in the form of an invite to attend a discovery for a slip and fall case. I arrived bright-eyed and bushy-tailed the very next morning, eager to take note of every word spoken.

For those of you who might not know, a discovery is a pre-trial process during which both parties are supposed to lay all their cards on the table. Unlike in TV legal dramas, the Canadian civil system doesn’t want big, dramatic courtroom revelations; instead, the pre-trial process is meant to focus on settlement and avoidance of going the expensive trial route. The main goal for each party at a discovery is to extract as much relevant information as possible in the hopes of understanding all parts of the other side’s case.

At my discovery, there were multiple parties involved. And so, it was fascinating to watch the tactics each counsel used to obtain the information they wanted. Even though the atmosphere was collegial (unlike in a courtroom setting, everyone sits around a table in a boardroom-style office) it was easy to distinguish the different approaches of the various counsel present. Each lawyer had their own questioning style, and it only became more apparent what objectives each party had once we reached the nitty-gritty details of the accident. Some were friendly while others were more hard-line with their style of questioning. Unsurprisingly, each was successful in its own way; namely, getting the information they wanted. There can also be nerve-wracking moments at discoveries. At one point, we were all stuck waiting for more than two hours because of an unavoidable delay. Thankfully, there was amazing food and the great company of lawyers at the top of their game to make the time fly by. (Tip: When attending a discovery, go with an empty stomach. I can’t tell you how much I regretted eating breakfast after seeing the huge variety of delicious foods available.)

So, what was the most important thing I learned at my discovery? Don’t underestimate its importance! Because of significant inconsistencies in the answers provided about the accident, the case was no longer rock-solid, and there was talk of dismissing the action altogether.

Each part of the civil litigation process is like a puzzle piece, with its own role in anchoring the outcome. So, over the remaining five weeks, we’re all excited to learn more about how all those puzzle pieces come together and form a complete picture!

Victoria M.