Wednesday 29 June 2016

Trust the Process

I entered the Summer Student program with enthusiasm and a hint of trepidation. How will I fare? Will I be able to meet what are no doubt high expectations? These and many other concerns can become all-consuming in and out of the workplace. As law students, each new experience in our legal education brings new stressors, but they also bring opportunity. This blog post is a reminder for me (and perhaps a few readers) to be intentional in my work and to continue to look for opportunities to learn. In short, I’m trying to be mindful.

Exactly what is mindfulness and how can I apply it to my summer experience?

To counteract the stresses of life, we are regularly urged to “be in the moment.” Exactly what is mindfulness and how can I apply it to my summer experience?

Trust the Experts

I believe that it starts with trusting the experts – trusting that many successful lawyers have walked this path and that our mentors are eager to help us make the most of our summer experience.

Trust Ourselves

Then we must learn to trust ourselves – trust that we will work hard, and we will meet expectations. One lawyer I have worked with quite a bit over the last few weeks mentors us Socratically (a teaching style most readers will be familiar with from law school, no doubt). Instead of answering my questions right off the bat, the lawyer will ask me to try to answer my own question. More often than not, I do know the answer. This lawyer’s mentorship style has made me more confident in my own abilities.

Trust the Process

Next, we must trust “the process.” The practice of summering allows us to gain invaluable practical experience as we are mentored and guided while actively engaged in the practice of law. One month into the job and I have carriage of my own files! Along with many other one-off tasks from various assigning lawyers, I will see a file from its infancy through to the investigative stage, onto the pleadings stage, and beyond. Under lawyer supervision, I will communicate directly with clients and opposing counsel to move the files along. It is amazing how quickly we learn by doing.

Finally, we must trust that taking time away from the office to gather interesting experiences is time well spent. Seek out opportunities to shadow lawyers as they conduct examinations for discovery, participate in mediations and settlement conferences, and appear in court. While it is paramount to meet work deadlines, it is often possible to finish your assigned task at the office and still go on a field trip. As my mentor said, soon enough we will have a great deal more responsibility and far less time to spend away from our own files. I have found that by going on these sorts of field trips, I am better able to understand the human aspect of the file. Meeting our clients, the opposing parties, the opposing parties’ counsel, and mediators is always insightful. In what is an adversarial process, we are able to find common ground and build relationships.

When we undergo a transformation – be it training for a marathon, taking a big risk, or beginning a career – it is important to be accountable to the process. We should remember that there are opportunities to learn around every corner. To bring the mantra of mindfulness into the workplace, we need to trust the process, to approach new challenges with intention. Each new experience is helping me build a stronger foundation upon which to build my future law practice.
Emily K.

Monday 20 June 2016

Mathematics in Litigation

Despite the fact that law students vary immensely in their personal tastes, experiences and cultures, there is one thing that is widely common among legal thinkers – we are not fond of numbers and steer clear of mathematical equations. Simply put, it is scarce to uncover a law student that is a skilled mathematician and passionate about numerals and equations. Our weaknesses in calculations and our deliberate attempts to avoid the irksome symbols, which force activating a different part of our brain, are obvious and a source of routine amusement inside law school classrooms.

...full force mathematics requiring precise calculations that correlate to specific percentages for three possible judgment outcomes...

My distress over numbers was quickly triggered when I received one of my first tasks as a summer student at McCague Borlack: preparing a Bill of Costs. After discovering what exactly this meant I was nervous and anxious. Full force mathematics requires precise calculations that correlate to specific percentages for three possible judgment outcomes. I remembered the definitions of partial, substantial and full indemnity rates from my Civil Procedure Professor at the University of Windsor and how he referred to cost awards as the bonus round of litigation but applying lessons into actual practice is easier said than done.

Luckily, McCague Borlack encompasses a team that is approachable and genuinely interested in teaching new students. Not only did I receive help from the legal team but was pleasantly surprised at the patience and invaluable assistance I received from the mathematics experts themselves, the accounting department. Needless to say, support at McCague Borlack does not end with the lawyers; the whole firm unites to help one another. After receiving amazing tutelage from accounting, I now feel at ease and prepared to confront any task requiring calculations.

Numbers and computations form a big role in litigation, something law students need to become acquainted with and stop running from. Besides, there is always the trustworthy and loyal calculator.

Gabriela C.

Tuesday 14 June 2016

Bridging the Gap: Who Wants to Play 21 Questions?

Although it’s only week two of the summer program at MB, I’ve quickly come to realize how important it is to ask questions when receiving new assignments. Despite receiving an excellent legal education at the University of Ottawa, I have never had the opportunity to draft damage briefs or affidavits of documents, let alone draft motion records and book motions at the Superior Court.

...bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical legal work...

In order to bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge of the law and the experience required for practical legal work, it is imperative to ask questions. Asking questions not only allows you to provide the best work product but also helps with the learning curve and provides a sense of confidence when attempting something new. That being said, it is always best to make an attempt at any assignment or problem on your own first. Although the lawyers at MB are approachable and friendly, they like to see that you’ve thought about the issue before coming to them with questions, plus you want to show that you at least learned a few things at law school, between all that “socializing”.

Bottom line: don’t be afraid to play 21 questions with the lawyers that you are working for. More often than not they will guide you in the right direction and you will quickly learn that no question is a stupid question. As summer students, it’s important to approach problems confidently but also realize how much more there is to know before we become excellent lawyers.

Last but not least, don’t forget to bring some paper and a pen when going to ask questions. You’ll feel like a private eye but at least you won’t miss any of that important information.
Mark B.

Thursday 2 June 2016

Hit the Ground Running

It is our second week at MB as summer students and if I could describe the experience so far, it would certainly be to say we have hit the ground running. During our first week, we immersed ourselves in learning about the various practice areas the firm specializes in, the art of docketing, file management, research skills, and getting to know many wonderful and talented people. This week, it was time for us to put theory behind us and begin the real work.

it is always exciting to find out what our tasks are for the day...

At MB, work is mainly assigned through 'The List'. Students are placed on this List alphabetically and respond to assignments in that order. So far, it seems to be a great system that equally provides everyone with varied opportunities. We do not get to cherry pick assignments or decide who we want to work with in terms of the assignments that come off the List, so it is always exciting to find out what our tasks are for the day and with whom we will be working with. In just two days, I have had the pleasure of working with two partners in conducting research for a file, drafting an Affidavit of Documents, and a Damages Brief. My peers have also received several interesting assignments, including drafting a Notice of Motion and a statement of claim. In addition to the List, we can always seek out work in areas that particularly interest us or from lawyers we are eager to work with.

Although we are very excited to begin our journey as summer students at MB and gain all the practical skills of lawyering, the learning curve is steep. There is a world of a difference in learning the theory behind drafting a particular type of document versus actually doing it. The key to success in this program is to work hard, take initiative, have a positive attitude, and be open to trying new things and understanding that you might not get it right the first time (or the second). My first Affidavit of Documents required multiple drafts and revisions, and entailed several hours of pouring over thousands of pages of documents, determining which of them were relevant, and then sorting them into the appropriate schedules. It is important to stay motivated and avoid focusing on mistakes. Making mistakes and asking lots of questions is an important learning tool. It also helps that the lawyers here are all more than willing to help and it is clear they want to see us succeed.

Also, the summer students have quickly bonded with one another and have formed great friendships. MB encourages collegiality, teamwork, and cooperation. Rather than focusing on competing against one another, we focus on pushing ourselves to learn as much as possible. We know we can always lean on one another for support and motivation should we need it. We are all looking forward to seeing what new experiences the weeks ahead of us are going to bring!

Taskeen A.