Tuesday 30 January 2018

Benchmarking at the halfway point...

I am a big fan of “review points”. While it is always good practice to look forward, it is equally important to learn from our past experiences in order to grow and improve. What better time to benchmark than at the halfway point of our articles?

In our first week of orientation back in August, there was a definite sense of nervous excitement. What would our day-to-day schedule look like? What kind of work would we be trusted with? What feedback would we receive? One lawyer imparted this advice to us “take advantage of as many opportunities as possible, and make as many mistakes as possible!” Well, I may be extrapolating on that last part, but undoubtedly our mistakes helped us to learn as much as our successes in these last five months.

With that in mind, here are some tips on what is often
overlooked in the “smaller details” category and if given
proper attention can go a long way to ensuring success...

Never Under-Estimate Professionalism

This tip is applicable to both clients and opposing counsel that we deal with on a daily basis and, equally important, with the lawyers and staff at the firm. The work that you receive comes from lawyers at the firm, and while much of the work does come from “The List”, creating working relationships with lawyers and staff ensures that you become their “go-to” when they have a quick assignment and know they can rely on you to get it done. It is good practice to treat every meeting, both internal and external, as a professional obligation that you must be on time for. Following this small tip can help you foster better relationships with your co-workers and in turn help build a positive reputation.

Pay Attention to Detail

This is a lesson I learned personally after drafting a discovery report to the client that did not include page numbers. I was told, in no uncertain terms, I should not draft any document that does not include page numbers. Although it may seem like a small detail, if any document you draft makes it into a trial brief that will be relied upon by the court, the ease of reference that page numbers provide may help both the jury and judge understand exactly what sentence on what page you are referring to, increasing, even slightly, your likelihood of success. Don’t believe me? I personally saw this in action at a discovery I recently attended. It would have saved all parties a lot of time (and client money) if pages had been numbered in the documents that were included in opposing counsel’s Affidavit of Documents. Instead, a lot of time was spent flipping through 60 pages of documents to determine what report opposing counsel was referring to. Never forget page numbers.

On a similar note, it is imperative to review every correspondence and court document alike to ensure that the font type and size are the same, the spacing is consistent, and spelling mistakes are non-existent. It is hard enough to formulate a legal argument without holes that opposing counsel can take advantage of, we do not need to give them any other reason to challenge our credibility or competence.

Photo by Sasint   http://www.pixartasia.comProper Service is Everything

On every motion I have appeared on or observed if the parties and non-parties were properly served, the motion was granted. While this may not always be the easiest, it sure makes shorter motions run more smoothly In contrast, when parties have been served by mail or courier, both I and my colleagues have witnessed motions adjourned and/or dismissed due to improper service.

Learning how to count the days needed to serve documents, such as a Notice of Motion or Confirmation of Motion, has also been a frequent subject of discussion amongst our articling group. Is it 10 days? Is it 7? If it is more than 7 but less than 14, do holidays and weekends count? The best people to ask these questions are often the assistants – they have lots of practice in ensuring that their lawyer does not miss deadlines and will quickly tell you if your calculations may cost you your motion.

There has definitely been a steep learning curve over the last five months, but our mistakes and questions have helped us to learn. Hopefully, our mistakes will help us to impart some “wisdom” onto the next generation of articling students (who will undoubtedly learn them all over again)!

by Danielle R.

Monday 15 January 2018

Holiday Cheer: Work Hard, Play Hard

Throughout my articling experience, I’ve learned how adversarial litigation can truly be.  Often times you are faced with dealing with difficult people and situations. Working with people really is an art; it is a lot more difficult than one may think. Circumstances arise where you have to determine the appropriate way to handle opposing counsel, whether in court or trying to contact them to discuss something as simple as providing their undertakings (which should have been done weeks ago). The stress involved when working in an adversarial and competitive environment is not to be underestimated. As famously quoted in the movie Mean Girls:

"I wish we could all get along like we used to in middle school...
I wish I could bake a cake filled with rainbows and smiles
and everyone would eat and be happy..."

And guess what? That is exactly what we did! During the holidays, the students had a break from the adversarial environment that goes hand in hand with the practice of law. Instead, we brought the competition in-house by competing in a cookie decorating contest. I won’t lie, some lawyers joined in as well!

The articling students were given one hour to decorate two Christmas cookies each. The firm members were then sent pictures of each cookie and asked to vote on which one was their favourite. After the votes were tallied, the winner was revealed in a firm-wide email. I won’t say who won because the contest was not about winning but rather about having fun. However, what I will say is… I won. And if that isn’t true, well how would you know? This is my blog.

All jokes aside, getting the opportunity to have some in-office fun in the midst of our busy work schedules is a great reminder that if you work hard, you should play hard too.

Although the holidays have passed, I’d like to share with you the cookies my talented colleagues and I decorated (if you are wondering, I am the one who could not wait to take the picture before eating one of my cookies).
by Melissa P.

Wednesday 3 January 2018

The Team: A Shout-Out to Support Staff

The lawyers and articling students at McCague Borlack (MB) were recently asked to provide annual reviews for support staff. This exercise made me think of all the different people that have helped me during the time that I have been here.

As lawyers will likely tell you, law school does not accurately reflect the actual practice of law. There is a steep learning curve as you figure out the ins and outs of this new profession.
image compliments of pixabay

When I first started working at MB, I felt like I knew absolutely nothing about practicing law. Sure, I had learned legal principles in school and I felt I had a basic understanding of different areas of law. However, when I first started, I quickly realized I knew nothing about the day-to-day operations of a law firm. Today, I no longer feel completely like a fish out of water, and the support staff that we were asked to review are a big part of the reason why.

As an articling student, you expect to learn a lot from the lawyers you work with, and you do. But you also learn and receive a lot of support from their assistants, the law clerks, and other office staff.

Everything I have done while working at MB has been a new experience. For example, serving people with pleadings and drafting the corresponding affidavits of service, booking motions, and making undertaking charts were all things that I had never done. These are also things that the very experienced staff at MB have done many times before.

As I was asked to do each of these things, I reached out to assistants, clerks and other staff for help. They were all so kind, helping me whenever I required support in a specific area. I learned that, depending on the task, these are the people I should be reaching out to first. These individuals have a significant amount of knowledge and they are always willing to share. I also realized how big their roles are at MB and the importance of teamwork in the legal profession.

I have been able to see firsthand how a team takes carriage of a file, and how it belongs to more people than just the assigned lawyer.

While working here, I have been able to observe how closely everyone works together. I have seen how lawyers and assistants work together on files and, more often than not, how assistants know as much about files as the lawyer assigned to them. The same applies to law clerks, who often work on files from beginning to end. I have been able to see firsthand how a team takes carriage of a file, and how it belongs to more people than just the assigned lawyer.

This same kind of team effort can often be seen at MB during “emergency situations”, such as when a file comes in with a looming limitation period. Everyone comes together to ensure that everything is prepared properly and on time. I have seen assistants, clerks, and lawyers step up to roles that they would not typically have in order to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

This teamwork applies to the overall MB structure as well. Despite having offices in four different cities, lawyers in different offices continue to work together. Everyone works and communicates as a team, which allows MB to represent its clients in the best possible way.

By Jessica M.