Monday 25 November 2019

Family Matters

Articling is not only about academic learning. It is also about learning about people; how to be a part of a team, how to be inclusive, and how to remain positive, even during stressful times.

"While in trial for four weeks, my learning of the above expanded ten-fold."

Walking to court each morning, you can never really know what to expect for the day, especially as an articling student. All you can expect is a long day. After spending 7 hours in court each day, we would come back to the office, ready to complete any work necessary for the next day in court, which usually involved late nights, early mornings, and plenty of coffee. Weekends were not safe and too much pizza was consumed. Usually, under these circumstances, people would succumb to the pressure and long hours and begin to feel defeated. I can honestly say though that this was not my experience.

Working with Charlene Kavanagh and Christopher Macaulay was such a pleasure. They included me in everything they could to contribute to my learning and created such invaluable learning opportunities for me, even when they had their own insurmountable workloads (I even sat at the Counsel’s table up front). We always made sure to check in with each other, fill in for each other when required, and get in those necessary laughs to lift us back up. Most importantly, we trusted each other. It really felt like a “we leave no person behind” kind of team. I could not have asked for more during my first trial experience and I have to say that this experience solidifies for me why McCague is such a great firm to work at as a student.

Kyle, Carly & Brittany are all smiles after coming
back from the Supreme Court of Canada
While they created these learning opportunities for me, Carly and I paid it forward to a partner’s son. During a "take your kid to work day", Carly and I took James Brown’s son, Kyle, to the Supreme Court of Canada while Uber Technologies Inc., et al. v. David Heller (Ontario) was being heard; a very topical case for the time. He had a great time learning about the law and at the Supreme Court of Canada, no less. This reminded me of the time I visited the Brampton Superior Court of Justice while taking a law course in high school. That experience, among others, helped steer me towards law.

Ultimately, I decided to write this blog to stress how important it is to treat the people you work with as a family and how that mindset affects the way you work together, your productivity and your success as a firm. McCague has that recipe for success. They know that family matters.

by Brittany

Wednesday 30 October 2019

The Virgin Diary Part II – My First Pretrial

I was recently given the opportunity to assist a lawyer on a claim involving a motor vehicle accident. The matter was coming up for a second pre-trial conference, which is one of the last opportunities for the parties to settle the dispute.

After researching different areas of the law, drafting the pretrial brief and
compiling the documents, I was prepared to attend the pretrial conference.

I had taken courses in alternative dispute resolution in law school and attended mediations but I didn’t really know what to expect from a pretrial conference. At a pretrial, there is a judge guiding the parties, trying to bring the parties towards a settlement. I was unsure how this was going to look and how this would affect all the parties’ arguments and settlement positions.

The pretrial took place in a setting resembling that of a boardroom with the judge sitting at the head of the table and the parties sitting on either side.

Below are my top 5 discoveries from the pretrial conference:

The judge means business. After walking into the room the judge immediately asked for updated settlement numbers and whether the parties were any closer to settling the matter. No pleasantries were exchanged or small talk was had.

Turned into a mediation. The judge thought it was best for the different sides to be in separate rooms and for the judge to go back and forth between the rooms like in a mediation.

Be ready for anything. No matter how much you prepare and how well you know the law, unanticipated questions and issues of the case arise. As such, it is imperative that you are quick on your feet and can find the answers in your materials as quickly as possible.

Settlement negotiation is an art form. Each lawyer has their own unique negotiation style and technique. Sometimes a lawyer will use more than one style depending on the issue being debated.

Coming close but not close enough. In this claim, there were many issues in dispute both in liability and in damages. As a result, it was very difficult for the parties to make a deal. However, on many issues, the parties made substantial ground and came much closer to a settlement.

Overall, the pretrial conference was a great experience and I look forward to being exposed to many more new opportunities as articling continues.

p.s. Read The Virgin Diary Part I - Mediations
by Israel K.

Thursday 12 September 2019

Your Survival Kit for Articling

Solution-Focused Thinking

From day one, many of us feel pressure when we begin articling to be perfect: to produce perfect work and to never make a mistake. I quickly learned that this standard is not attainable for a new articling student.

"Articling is a learning process that provides us with
10 months to learn, experiment, and improve."

As long as we are improving, we are achieving what we set out to do. When you mess up, don’t dwell on it or engage in negative self-talk. Ask yourself how you can avoid making that mistake next time, and put your plan in action. Being imperfect is not something to worry about, failing to learn from our mistakes is.

A Nearby Gym or Studio

Without our health, we have nothing. When we sit for long hours, we end up with sore and stiff necks and backs. For this reason, it is so important to stay active during articling. Find a gym or studio (spinning, yoga, etc.) near your firm that you can walk to with little effort. Work it into your schedule either before work, at lunch, or in the evening. Working late? Leave for an hour to go work out or do a class. You’ll feel so much more focused and fresher when you return.

A Workstation that “Sparks Joy”

If you have a type-A personality, like so many lawyers and aspiring lawyers do, make your desk a place that “sparks joy”, as Marie Kondo teaches. Even after a long day, take a few minutes before you leave to put things away, throw things out, and get organized for tomorrow. That way you can start the next day fresh. If you have space, bring in a plant or family photo. Make your desk somewhere you like to be.

A Good Set of Headphones

Long work hours turn into longer work hours when you are easily distracted. Most of us have student debt to pay off, but I still recommend investing in a good set of headphones and a Spotify account. Your investment will pay off in your work-life balance and general mental health.

A Friend

Articling can be a stressful time. If you are lucky enough to find a friend in a fellow student at your firm, you can be each other’s greatest resource. Ask each other questions, confide in each other about your concerns, and help each other achieve your goals. It will be that much more rewarding when you cross the finish line together.

by Carly J.

Friday 23 August 2019

"Articling is a marathon, not a sprint", and other advice

Almost three weeks ago, the six 2018 summer students returned as articling students. On the first day, we walked into the board room, one by one for our arrival time at 9:15 a.m. Everything looked the same, but it felt very different. We weren’t as nervous; we felt comfortable and excited to be back at the firm.

It is now the third week of articling and the “floodgates” have been open for almost two weeks. When sitting at my desk I hear either keyboards clicking or phones ringing…everyone is busy. All of the articling students have received a variety of assignments from various lawyers at the firm.

Even though we feel comfortable, having been summer students at the firm, having the title as “articling student” can feel overwhelming at times. Howard Borlack, the managing partner at the firm, gave us advice during training week that has stuck with me and been helpful in the past few weeks:

“Articling is not a sprint, but a marathon.”

As articling students, we were advised to pace ourselves with accepting assignments and avoid burning out at the beginning of the articling term.

This advice is similar to what I was told in my first year of law school. As many people know, the first year is very competitive, but it cannot be treated as a sprint because students should not be burnt out for their final exams. Similarly, although it is tempting to use all of our energy right away, we were reminded to spread out our hard work and assure that we are improving throughout the term and maintaining our hard work.

“Maintain a work-life balance.”

We were fortunate to be reminded that it is important to maintain a work-life balance during articling.

Although we will need to meet deadlines, we were advised to still make time for the family, friends, gym, or things we enjoy doing during our free time. This helps combat feelings of being burned out, stressed, and overwhelmed.

“Articling is a time to learn from your mistakes.”

We were advised to take advantage of this opportunity to learn and have lawyers advise us on ways to improve as “baby lawyers”.

We were reminded that we have the benefit of learning as much as we want to and are able to in the next 10 months. So far, the supervising lawyers on my assignments have been extremely helpful in answering questions I have had and explaining why I was wrong when I made a mistake.

With that being said, I look forward to the next 10 months of being a sponge for knowledge; making mistakes, but learning from them.
by Anisha B.

Thursday 15 August 2019

So You Want to be a Litigator: Development the MB Way

Entering law school I, like a lot of my peers, had an initial interest in litigation. I had spent many rainy days reading about Atticus Finch’s iconic closing, watching Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee demand to know who ordered the code red, and begrudgingly viewing Elle Woods have epiphanies in the courtroom based on her knowledge of hair-care products. Because of this, I made an effort in my first year of law school to get involved in moots and work with my school’s advocacy committee which grew my interest in the field. What I needed to know now was if a career as a litigator was going to be everything I had made it out to be in my mind.

The truth is that you never know if you truly like something until you try it, and this is exactly how I entered the OCI process. I knew that if I wanted a career in litigation, I wanted to get the most experience possible to be certain that this was the primary direction I wanted to head in my career.

Throughout the hiring process, McCague Borlack promised me exceptional early experience in the field as a primary feature
of their summer student program and they have not disappointed.

So what should you come to expect from a summer with McCague Borlack? In my experience anything and everything. From the first day that we were able to accept work following orientation, I was challenged by a broad array of interesting tasks and treated as a full, equal member of my new team: team MB. I drafted a wide variety of pleadings, attended numerous discoveries, mediations, and court appearances, and worked on several thought-provoking issues from across a broad spectrum of legal topics. I can honestly say following this summer, I learned as much as I possibly could about a career in litigation in a three-month period.

The experiences that I had also allowed me to do meaningful work with twenty different lawyers across the firm, including associates, partners, and even Howard Borlack himself. By getting an early opportunity to work with senior lawyers at the firm from day one, I had a great opportunity to work on big and exciting cases that many students wouldn’t have the opportunity to work on this early in their careers. Additionally, working with a wide spectrum of different lawyers from across the firm was a fantastic opportunity to learn about the culture of the firm as a whole. Getting a lot of responsibility in a fast-paced and demanding work environment can be a daunting proposition, however, the support I received from every lawyer I worked with at the firm was tremendously helpful in becoming acclimatized to this new work environment. The biggest takeaway I had was that, from top to bottom, people want to teach you how to do new things and are truly invested in your development as a lawyer.

Reflecting back at my earlier self thinking about a day where I might be making a passionate and over-the-top closing in court, I am glad that I made the conscious effort to pursue this field and take a leap into the deep end of "the litigation" pool. Learning the process of this craft, improving my abilities as an advocate, and being a meaningful part of this team is a true joy. I can only imagine what I will learn next going into articling.

by Adam O.

Friday 19 July 2019

You’re Going To Get Yelled At In Court, So Let’s Talk About It

The moral of the story is that perspective is everything. The way you think about these negative experiences – in court or otherwise, shape the way you approach every task you do, and that is the most valuable lesson I have learned so far this summer.

Picture your first time attending court for your new job. This is the first assignment you have for a lawyer you greatly respect, and it is a simple task to complete – get a draft order on consent signed. This should not be too hard – right?

You finally find your way to where you should be in a Courthouse you have never been before, that is the first win of the day. Now should be the easy part, you have got all the documents you need, which you know for a fact because you checked eight times before you left.

"You know exactly what to say because the lawyer who assigned this 
to you gave you a script – what could go wrong?"

thx to OpenClipart-Vectors / 27427 images on
It is your turn to speak. You stand up, say good morning, repeat your script as confidently as you can, and take a sigh of relief afterwards when you did not make a mistake. You did everything you were told and therefore nothing can go wrong. Or can it? Spoiler alert, it definitely will at some point or another.

I stood there bewildered as the Master asked me a plethora of questions. Not only did I simply not have the answers, but I also could not even provide him with an inkling to where we might find the answers. My inner monologue was melting down as I tried to explain that I did not have information to answer the questions, and my instructions included everything I had given to him. In my head, I thought surely this would be enough; he could not be upset for me not having instructions. I was wrong, he definitely could be, and he was.

Let us fast forward through the part of eye rolls, yelling, and a banged fist on the desk. I just kept thinking repeatedly how this could have happened because I followed my instructions exactly.

I get back to the office, and our Student Program Director, Ashley happened to walk by our desks to do her usual check-up on us. She then gave me some of the best advice I have ever gotten. “You have to change your perspective from ‘I hope they don’t yell’ to ‘they are going to yell, and I will not feel bad about it if I did nothing wrong.’”

That was a fundamental change in perspective. Instead of hoping that they will not yell at you, you have to accept that they could just be having a bad day, and taking their frustration out on anyone, and perhaps a student is the easiest. Every time you speak in court and no one yells – that will be an incredible win.

This advice was about more than just somebody yelling at you in Court. What we already know is that negative feedback is a learning experience. Of course, we love it when busy lawyers take time out of their day to tell us that we did a good job on their assignment. They do not always have time to do this, so you might not hear from them at all. What I took away from this conversation with Ashley was quite simply, if there is no negative reaction, you are doing just fine. Now when I hear nothing, that radio silence tells me that what I did was probably fine, and I am probably doing fine. Regardless of what the task is, whether it is speaking in court, drafting a mediation memorandum, a statement of claim or defence, or merely assembling a motion record, if you gave it all your effort and no one comes looking for you to make changes, you are doing a great job.

The pressure to impress can weigh heavy on your mind and can cause a lot of stress, but learning how to read the interactions you do have, is fundamental to managing your own stress. It also never hurts to have a Student Director like Ashley Faust to run to after an experience like this.

P.S. Do yourself a favour, on your first trip to court and wear waterproof mascara.

by Jennifer

P.P.S. from a senior lawyer’s perspective on Masters ‘schooling’ a student. 

It is gratifying to know that some things never change. Students being grilled by some Masters is a tradition and part of the development of a litigator.  I especially enjoyed being in Masters motions court when I had a few years under my belt watching a Master school a student.

Did you read the Rule which is the basis of the motion?
Do you have the Rules with you today? 
Did you read my recent decision in John Doe v Jane Doe?
Maybe you better call your principal and suggest he come to court to deal with this.

And all the more seasoned lawyers smiling as they went on. Eventually, the Student usually obtained the order or was told what to do to get the order when the Student returned.

Wednesday 10 July 2019

Mediation Toolkit for Beginners

At McCague Borlack, students are given a checklist of experiences and tasks that the firm wants us to experience. One item on the list is to attend a mediation.

"We are only six weeks into our summer term and I have already had the chance to attend two mediations!"

The mediations I attended could not have been more different. The simple fact is that one case was ready to reach an agreement, and the other one was not. While the outcomes of these mediations were different, I found myself reaching for similar things. Based on my (limited) experience, here is my mediation toolkit for beginners:

File Material

At the beginning of the mediations I attended, each party had the opportunity to make opening statements. Having all of the file material available allowed the lawyer to check particular facts raised by the opposing party.

Laptop/Pen and Paper

The mediator’s role is to keep parties talking. To do this, they go between parties delivering messages and offers. The offers are often broken down, line by line, and are delivered quickly by the mediator. A laptop or pen and paper are important to take down these numbers and keep track of offers throughout the day.


As a law student, and now a summer student, I spend a lot of time reading, writing and analyzing problems. During mediation, I had to access a skill I have not practiced regularly since high school – math! As mentioned above, offers are often broken down. The addition is simple enough, but once you bring in the post-judgment interest rate, a calculator is necessary. The lawyers I shadowed had sophisticated Excel spreadsheets that did the calculations automatically. I will be sure to include something similar in my intermediate toolkit!


One of the mediations I attended was scheduled for 10 am to 4 pm. While it did not take the whole day, there was a considerable amount of time waiting for the mediator to return from speaking with the other party. This time is a great opportunity to speak with the lawyer about their strategy and to get to know your client.

An Appetite

When I arrived at my first mediation, I was pleasantly surprised by all of the food! I quickly forgot about the lunch I had packed as I eyed the sandwiches, lasagna, salads, and a mountain of Timbits.

I am looking forward to checking the next item off the experience list and building my next toolkit!

by Sarah D.

Tuesday 25 June 2019

Weird Projects, Field Trips & RAAAPTORS!

After orientation, an email that came through for me on the file assignment list was ambiguously phrased,  “Who in Toronto wants to take on a weird project?” A thrill of both anticipation and slight apprehension ran through me. This sounded like a challenge, which only made me more excited as I collected my pen and notebook to discuss the file with the assigning partner. We chatted about the matter, which turned out to be a research assignment pertaining to an overseas John Doe who had fraudulently stolen a client’s funds through online hacking.

I was asked to determine the best way to move forward in order to recover our client’s losses and was given wide latitude in ascertaining what that might be.

This freely given trust and responsibility were exactly why I had admired MB’s student program. Excited, I sped back to my desk. Time to research!

Week 2: Spontaneous Field Trips

My first field trip was a contested motion in Superior Court, where I watched the negotiation process unfold between two lawyers outside the courtroom in a bid to save their client's costs by settling the matter early. In law school, we learn more theoretical and black letter law concepts, and therefore it was interesting to see how the law operates on an everyday, practical basis. Before this, I didn’t realize how much of a legal outcome relies on pragmatic and measured negotiation prior to actually speaking in front of a judge.

Then later an email came in off the list requesting that a student partakes in an examination for discovery. So I spent the next two days observing a multi-faceted examination where various parties were questioned by many different sets of counsel. I was responsible for transcribing all of the evidence and returned to the office with a deepened understanding of effective examination strategies. I also got to prepare undertakings charts based on my notes for all the parties who were examined! In-depth involvement in files such as this allows you to feel like, even as a summer student, you are doing practical and valuable work on a file.

Summer Students 2019: Jennifer and Chelsea 
Week 3: Accomplishments

On Monday, the whole firm celebrated the recent Raptor’s NBA Championship win! We had been told the week before to wear our favourite Raptor’s regalia to work, and a firm-wide email was sent out encouraging everyone to go see the parade. There was also a viewing party complete with pizza in one of our boardrooms, and everyone at the firm came together to enjoy the wave of excitement that was sweeping Canada.

The energy in the city carried me through the rest of the day, and I speedily started preparing motion materials for my previous John Doe assignment. The assigning Partner had wholeheartedly agreed with my recommendations for further action and told me to prepare a novel motion that our firm had never fully brought before. Again, the same familiar frisson of excitement tinged with a sliver of self-doubt; Can I do this? Did I really get my research right earlier?

The answers to the above questions are yes! I have just submitted my draft motion materials, and am looking forward to moving the file along further and keeping up with its future developments. Being involved with strategic decisions and taking charge of the next steps for the forward movement of a file is a heady feeling for a student who has just finished her second year of law school. I am excited for more opportunities to expand my capabilities in the future with MB!

by Chelsea D.

Thursday 6 June 2019

What to expect during orientation week

I was both excited and extremely nervous to begin my first day of work at McCague Borlack.

The night before, the usual first day of school jitters began to start:

"I hope the other students are nice! Should I pack a lunch?
Is it okay if I wear the same outfit as I wore at my interview?"

On Monday morning at 9 a.m., all the students were greeted by our student director, Ashley. Thanks to her smiling face and approachable manner, our nerves began to slowly fade away. At McCague Borlack, the students receive a full week of comprehensive training. Each day consisted of seminars on legal topics and learning skills that would teach us “how to McCague” such as docketing and binding court materials.


On Monday, we all sat in the boardroom which would become our home for the week. Ashley took time to introduce the summer program and outlined what we could expect for the summer. At lunch, we went on a food court tour of the Toronto building with the Articling students (I guess I didn’t need to pack a lunch after all!). The day ended with learning some legal office skills and a firm tour.


Having had our first day under our belt, on Tuesday morning we all came in a little more relaxed. The morning was spent learning how to docket. This was a task that seemed a little overwhelming at first but turned out to be a very user-friendly system. We also had our first legal seminars covering topics such as subrogation, and how to run a small claims court file. We were lucky to have partners come and give us tips and tricks for dealing with files of this nature.

Wednesday morning was picture day! Having spent Tuesday evening practising their best Zoolander poses, all the students came in looking glamorous and ready for their pictures. In the afternoon we had a representative from Westlaw visit. She taught us tips and tricks for making the most of Westlaw resources. I learned a lot, I had no idea that you could highlight and save information straight into a PDF from Westlaw!

Thursday morning we received a tour of the Great Library at Osgoode Hall. The library facilitates legal research to lawyers, by providing an extensive collection of books and online resources. The library itself is beautiful, walking around we felt as though we might actually be at Hogwarts. Not only does the building have an amazing legal history, but the building is also an active courthouse. It was very exciting to see seasoned lawyers roaming the halls in their robes, hopefully foreshadowing our future as litigators.

Friday - Our last day of training had finally arrived! We had received so much information over the week and yet felt that we still had so much more to learn. We had a visit from Howard Borlack, who officially welcomed us to the firm. He told us stories of his journey from law student to named partner, highlighting that the learning doesn’t stop once you leave the law school classrooms. He also encouraged us from now on to think of McCague Borlack as our firm and to take pride that this is the first step of our legal career.

Orientation week was a great way to settle into the firm. We all cannot wait to get our first assignment once the list starts moving on Monday.

by Olivia

Monday 8 April 2019

Time-stamped: A true day in the life...

Time to start my workday!

Wait! Don’t worry, I choose to be here this early. One of the biggest advantages of working at McCague Borlack is the work-day flexibility. It goes without saying that students must be present during business hours, but otherwise, our time is not micromanaged by lawyers. As long as we meet our deadlines, we make our own schedule. Some students come in around 9:00 a.m., but I personally prefer early mornings: my head is clearer, the office is quieter, and the line at Starbucks is shorter.

I start my day by checking my “to-do” list. Most students make the habit of recording their assignments in an excel sheet in order to keep track of their deadlines. I skim columns for any limitation periods and client guidelines: there’s a motion that needs to be confirmed by 2:00 p.m. tomorrow and four days left to submit an initial report. These will need to get done first.

Ideally, I’d sit at my desk and focus on one assignment at a time; however, seldom do my days go uninterrupted. Usually, I stop my work for one of two reasons: receipt of a new assignment or correspondence from an external source (such as a client or opposing counsel). I hear my email chime go off, and it’s a conflict check… with an interesting legal problem! In addition to list and walk-in assignments, McCague Borlack encourages its students to pursue their curiosity. I quickly reply to the lawyer to express interest in the file and then go back to my initial report.

The mail has arrived, and I notice that I have a fax from plaintiff’s counsel indicating that they maintain their refusals, and agreed to my undertakings motion for any time in the last two weeks of June. This means I can finally requisition my motion date and make final amendments to the motion record. There is a lot of work involved, but thankfully we have a wonderful support system that helps the students save time (and the clients save money). Without skipping a beat, our assistant requisitions the date and our very own office services prints and binds the motion record.

Today we have a Lunch and Learn seminar. McCague Borlack likes to feed educate their lawyers by providing these information sessions with a nice lunch. I’ve noticed that topics tend to provide updates in the law or provide tidbits for practice. Today’s workshop is about calculating costs and interest, which is a tricky (yet very important) part when drafting pleadings.

Upon returning to my desk, I notice there is an email with a list assignment marked “STATEMENT OF DEFENCE - URGENT”. It’s not my turn on the rotation system, but the student to whom this is assigned does not have the capacity to draft one right this minute. This student isn’t worried though, as she knows the other students have her back.

Although we are all eager to take the assignment, we decide to settle this matter by comparing our “student bucket lists”. Yes, you read right. Although McCague Borlack affords its students a lot of freedom, there is a student coordinator that checks in to ensure we’ve had the best-rounded experience, and this involves keeping track of our work history. According to the bucket list, two students have not yet drafted a statement of defence. This assignment will go to one of them.

My phone rings and it’s a lawyer for whom I drafted a statement of claim. She wants to know if I’m interested in assembling the Affidavit of Documents for the examination of the co-defendant next month. This is a perfect example of how lawyers tend to keep students involved in a file in a significant manner. I inform the lawyer that I’m happy to assist and add the Affidavit of Documents to my to-do list.

At this time, you see people slowly heading for home as the office begins to clear. I don’t have anything pressing at the moment, but I know that I’m attending mediation the following day. As such, I choose to stay a bit longer knowing that I might be out of the office on a field trip. MB Lawyers are big on visual learning and encourage us to go out of the office. In fact, this tendency is so well known, I’ve heard other lawyers comment on it.

It’s the end of the day. Most students are packing up (if they haven’t already left yet). I throw some papers in the shredder, log off my computer, and head home.

by Émilie-Anne P.

Friday 15 March 2019

These are a Few of Our Favorite Things: MB Articling Class of 2019 Highlights

During articling, you’re constantly learning. In law school, the majority of our education focused on theory, but as students-at-law, we are learning about the practice of law and the application of the theory we studied. As our articles get closer to ending, I have been reflecting on how much I’ve learned and also how much I still don’t know.

In order to highlight the variety of experiences our articling class has been privy to, I’ve polled my fellow students to ask them which of their many experiences so far stood out the most. This is what they said:


Favourite assignment:
  • My attendance at a small claims settlement conference.
Why it was my favourite:
  • It was a great way to strengthen my negotiation and oral advocacy skills.
What I learned:
  • It is important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your client’s case and to anticipate the arguments of opposing counsel. I also learned that negotiating is an art form and that negotiation styles develop over time with practice.
What I’ll do differently next time:
  • Use time more efficiently by trying to narrow the issues with counsel beforehand.


Favourite assignment:
  • It’s hard to pick a “favourite” assignment since I’ve received so much good work during my articles. A really cool assignment that comes to mind is a settlement conference I was asked to attend. The pleadings had closed, and I was asked to help negotiate the settlement. Though I sought approval from a lawyer before taking each step, I was given the freedom to develop the negotiation strategy on my own.
Why it was my favourite:
  • The best part was that I could assess damages using any method I wanted, including calling stores across Ontario to ask for their pricing. I was the main contact point with both the client and opposing counsel, which meant I continuously re-evaluated both positions to find a middle ground. The matter eventually settled last year.
What I learned:
  • What made this file interesting was that it was very emotionally charged. In addition to strengthening my advocacy skills, this assignment taught me how to interact with parties in sensitive situations. When the opposing party’s position is personal rather than financial, it’s a lot harder to elicit a compromise.
What I’ll do differently next time:
  • If I could do it all again, I would rehearse my submissions another a dozen more times. I remember my voice trembling as I was speaking to the deputy judge. Nerves make you seem less prepared and less confident in your position (which couldn’t be farther from the truth).


Favourite assignment:
  • Student support on a summary judgement motion. This included conducting research and helping draft the Brief of Authorities and Cost Outline
Why it was my favourite:
  • It was super rewarding seeing my research being used in legal documents and discussed in court. I had heard so much about summary judgement motions in law school, so it was such a great experience finally seeing one in action. I also loved seeing the different oral advocacy styles of counsel.
What I learned:
  • Real-life litigation is even more exciting than a moot court. Good advocates can have completely different styles.


Favourite assignment:
  • I have a few favourites, and one of them is something I’m doing now: helping a lawyer prepare for trial.
Why it was my favourite:
  • I helped draft the pre-trial memo for this file, so when it began heading to trial, I was excited to get a glimpse into the process. Putting together the trial brief is a satisfying process on its own, but I enjoy preparing for the performative aspects even more. I mooted competitively in law school, both at the trial and appellate levels. I’ve also taken improv classes for fun. Taking the first crack at drafting the opening/closing and examinations is not only fun, but it’s also incredibly instructive on persuasive advocacy and evidence.
What I learned:
  • While we’re still in the midst of things, I’ve already learned to expect nothing but prepare for everything. While I tried to organize my workload around this assignment, I didn’t realize preparing for trial would be this all-encompassing. I have a number of other large projects, including a small claims trial that will take place shortly after this trial. Time-sensitive assignments can and do come up when you least expect them. I will be moving everything forward with these two trials at the forefront. A trial is the “final act” of a file, and as they say, ‘the show must go on’.


Favourite assignment:
  • Drafting the initial opinion for a subrogated fire loss claim.
Why it was my favourite:
  • It’s interesting, challenging, and I learned a lot in the process. Initial opinions to clients are an important step in the litigation process, even though they exist outside of the court process. Initial opinions are the first opportunity we have to demonstrate an early mastery of the facts leading to our client’s loss and chart a way forward for its resolution.
What I learned:
  • I found the assignment challenging because I have a long way to go before I master litigation strategy! Luckily, I was able to review some sample plans for similar cases and work closely with the partner in developing the opinion.
What I’ll do differently next time:
  • If I knew then what I know now, I would definitely consult more litigation plans, looking at the different strategies we’ve used as a firm to be successful in winning cases like this. I was very happy to draft and revise the entire opinion, discussing it with an Associate and a Partner along the way. Ultimately I got to see a final product that was predominantly my work going to our client, and I learned a ton along the way.


Favourite assignment:
  • My favourite assignments so far have been drafting mediation briefs.
Why it was my favourite:
  •  Drafting a mediation brief gave me the opportunity to exercise written advocacy.


Favourite assignment:
  • My favourite assignment during articling was being given my own small claims file.
Why it was my favourite:
  • It was my favourite for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that it was completely nerve-wracking. In most other tasks I am assigned, I am not the head point of contact on the file. Having that responsibility was a challenge and an opportunity that I welcomed and only made me better. All of my actions carried a different weight compared to other assignments because it was my name that was being attached to it. It also provided a great foundation from which to build off of and I felt it really took me to another level in terms of my confidence and aptitude.
What I learned:
  • Aside from the bigger events like preparing for a settlement conference, I also learned about the finer details such as communicating with the client and other parties. I learned how to manage expectations and confidently give my opinion on the status of the matter. These behind-the-scenes communications are every bit as essential, and they’re not something I was always privy to. Additionally, I learned when it comes to pleadings to ensure that you are thorough and cover all possible angles of your case and leave no stone left unturned.
What I’ll do differently next time:
  • The next time I am given my own file I will be better equipped to hit the ground running. I wouldn’t necessarily do things very differently as new cases also come with fresh issues and nuances, but I would definitely have fewer questions regarding the process and how to navigate it. 


Favourite assignment:
  • My favourite assignment was to bring an application under the Repair and Storage Liens Act for the return of an article that was improperly seized.
Why it was my favourite:
  • It was my favourite assignment because at the time I was unfamiliar with the legislation and it was a chance to explore an area of law that I hadn’t yet experienced.
What I learned:
  • I had the opportunity to communicate back and forth with the client and the insured throughout the completion of the application which was a great learning experience.


Even writing this blog post was a learning experience. What I learned from interviewing my fellow students is that we have all had diverse and varied experiences. I’ve been lucky enough to try some of the “favourite assignments” listed above, but some I still haven’t. There’s still a lot to look forward to. The great thing about this profession is I don’t think we’ll ever stop learning.
by Jessica M.

Thursday 28 February 2019

Why Litigation Boutique?

Last November, I had the opportunity to participate in the OCI recruitment process for the second time, and from the other side of the table. In just 3 short, but also very long days, I shared my articling experience with, what felt like 100, candidates. By the end, I realized (a) I can talk someone’s ears off, and (b) many people were surprised to hear how exciting and diverse our litigation practice and specifically, our insurance defence work could be. Our firm can provide any aspiring litigator with excellent hands-on experience—and very early on in their career.

Litigation Experience

"Every file we work on teaches us about some aspect of the litigation process." 

As a Summer Student, I learned about the nuts and bolts of this process by assisting with examinations for discovery, motion materials, research, and mediations. As an Articling Student, I gained more insight into the life of a claim from the beginning; by participating in client intake, drafting pleadings, preparing for discoveries, mediations, pre-trials, and even trial. This gave me the “big picture” perspective of what it is we do. As I gain more experience with the process, I feel more comfortable with the idea of working as a litigation lawyer after articling ends.

While it’s not always realistic to see a single file from beginning to end during an articling term, small claims files can and do provide that opportunity and at MB, Articling Students have carriage of small claims files. These files provide a great learning opportunity for drafting, settlement discussions, and if it comes to it, trial. We are also learning to be the main contact for our clients by briefing them on the status of the case, and if necessary, preparing them for trial.

Diverse Work

Many just think of motor vehicle accidents and slip and fall injuries when they think of insurance defence, but insurance defence work can actually be incredibly diverse. In addition to commercial litigation, I’ve already had a chance to work in the following areas of law, all surprisingly under the heading of insurance defence:

• Employment law (employee & management-side) 
• Criminal law
• Coverage
• Professional Negligence
• Administrative law
• Human rights law
• Cannabis law
• Contract law
• Product Liability
• Environmental law
• Property loss
• Privacy law

While having diverse work makes for an interesting articling experience, it also tests your knowledge of litigation procedure and helps you develop the skills you need to be an effective litigator. For example, property loss assignments have taught me the invaluable skill of quantifying and proving damages—which is necessary for productive settlement discussions for any claim. Criminal law taught me to think on my feet and feel comfortable in a courtroom—because court appearances are frequent. Employment law taught me to anticipate and negotiate risk.

Additionally, our plaintiff and subrogation practices expose us to other skills that are necessary to be an effective advocate. This can be in the areas of product liability, construction, cyber and privacy, shareholder disputes, and estate litigation, to name a few.

Opportunities for Growth

The legalization of recreational cannabis is currently a hot topic in many industries, including insurance, and we’ve been receiving a lot of work in this area. As a result, I’ve assisted on property loss, risk management, and employment assignments all related to this topic. I don’t know what the next big thing will be or what the future holds, but I am excited to find out.

by Karolina I.

Thursday 14 February 2019

The Fantastic Five

In honour of our 5th month of articling, I have taken 5 Topics and for each, I’ve compiled a list of 5 tips to provide insight into our experience thus far.

I. Ways We Receive Work

  1. The list - A lawyer can send an email to the articling students and whoever is next on “The List” gets the assignment.

  2. Conflict Checks - Monitor & respond to a conflict check involving an area of law or a set of facts that you are interested in. There are always some unique files that catch my eye.  (p.s. this is a great one!)

  3. Personal Touch - reaching out to lawyers personally. As a student, you may enjoy working with specific people and/or in certain areas of law. You can simply walk over to a lawyer’s office and ask them if they have any work that you can assist with. It’s as easy as it sounds.
  4. Trading - Depending on availability and whether certain students prefer to work on specific tasks, you can trade jobs with fellow articling students.

  5. Student Liaison - Ashley Faust is the Student Liaison at McCague Borlack and she checks in with the students to make sure we experience as much as possible. If there is something you want to do but haven’t yet, let her know and she will set you up! Two of my favourite attendances so far, including arguing contested costs hearing, were arranged by Ashley.
II. Events to look forward to
  1. Orientation! - Honestly, the amount of times I refer to the material that was provided to us during orientation week is unbelievable. McCague offers articling students the opportunity to increase their knowledge exponentially within that first single week.

  2. The Christmas party! - Don’t forget that the articling students are responsible for entertaining the audience during the Christmas party. We thoroughly enjoyed preparing for our skit and (we think) the audience enjoyed watching it just as much.

  3. Christmas in January - Christmas party round 2? Almost. McCague Borlack hosts a Christmas in January event for clients and all members of the firm. It’s a great opportunity to get to know everyone better and have a chance to put a face to a name of a client you have been corresponding with through email for the past few months.

  4. Practice Group Seminars - We have a number of practice groups at McCague Borlack. Recently the Transportation Law practice group put together a lunch and learn. This is another great opportunity for students to meet with clients, draft papers on specific areas of the law and even present on them!

  5. After work socializing - It’s easy to plan social events among the students. Whether it’s a simple dinner at a restaurant or going to an escape room, the students are able to spend plenty of time together outside of work.
 III. Ways to learn
  1. The library - Most of us use the internet for almost everything. I don’t blame us. But what if I told you that someone has already collected knowledge on the topic you’re researching, compiled it into a book, and that very same book found its way onto a shelf at McCague? The best place to start when researching or simply learning about a new topic is in your firm’s library!

  2. Litigator - Of course, the internet is helpful too. At McCague, we have access to Westlaw’s database including a resource called “Litigator”. The best part of Litigator is that you can find pleadings and other material filed with the court in previous actions. These templates are useful tools and you can learn what to include, or avoid when drafting your own materials.

  3. Asking questions - I’m sure this has been mentioned many times in previous blogs, but that is because it is so important! The collective amount of knowledge in the heads of everyone at the firm is huge. If you are stuck, ask around, there are many willing teachers.

  4. Not asking questions - Yes that’s right. Part of learning is understanding how to independently find answers in an efficient manner. Of course, don’t hesitate to ask questions in urgent situations or once you have exhausted your other resources. However, the exercise of finding an answer is a learning experience in itself.

  5. This Student Blog - We aren’t the first set of students at the firm and we won’t be the last. The blog has captured the experiences of the students who were in our exact position previously. It might have the answer you’re looking for!
IV. Things to Remember for your motion for leave to amend a Statement of Claim
  1. Attach the amended Statement of Claim to your draft Order
  2. A staple remover;
  3. A mini stapler;
  4. There is a Staples right beside the Toronto Courthouse;
  5. Thank the associate who you ran into in the courtroom that helped you fix your draft Order minutes before the motion… thanks, Marla!
V. My Articling Bucket List
  1. To argue a contested motion;
  2. To settle a small claims file at a settlement conference;
  3. To draft (even more) factums - they are great for working on your persuasive writing skills;
  4. To watch a trial; and
  5. To get hired back!
by Yousef E.

Wednesday 16 January 2019

Preparing for Mediation

Contrary to popular belief, trials don’t happen every day. However, trials are not the only opportunity to flex your litigious muscles. Another forum is mediation. I have been fortunate enough to attend two mediations so far during my articling term and assist in the preparation of two mediation briefs.

In practice, a mediation begins with both sides sitting across from each other at a boardroom table. Counsel for each side is given the opportunity to make opening statements. This is potentially the first and last time a lawyer presents the strengths of their case while highlighting the weaknesses of the other side.

The two sides then move to separate rooms which the mediator
will bounce 
between carrying messages such as offers or concerns.

One thing I learned in preparing for mediation is the compounding nature of a case. Everything in the practice of law builds off of the previous step. Information from the pleadings informs what will be asked at the examination for discovery while the answers and undertakings given at discovery lay the foundation for potential motions and documentary production, and so on and so forth. Preparing a mediation brief gives you the chance to get to know a file in depth and use what is in there to outline the facts and tackle key points at issue. One of the purposes of mediation, especially in Kitchener where mediation is not mandatory, is to try and settle, therefore, it represents a pivotal point in the progression of a matter.

In season 2 of the television show Ozark, the lawyer character had a clever response when being asked why she couldn’t do a certain task. The main character Marty Byrde says “I’m an accountant, I move money around” and the lawyer responded, “I’m a lawyer, I move words around.” Now, is that all there is to one being a lawyer? Of course not. But at a basic level, when trying to be persuasive and convincing, that is sometimes what you are doing. I relished the opportunity the ‘move words around’ when preparing the mediation brief and further develop my ability to frame arguments, which is a learned skill.

As for advice, what should come as no surprise is that my second mediation brief was much better than my first. That is a recurring theme as an articling student. In a general sense, after every task or assignment you complete, you learn something. You may not even realize it right away but the next time you are assigned that task, you will do it better. Even a 1% improvement makes a massive difference in the long run.

It will seem difficult at first but you have to welcome any challenge and treat it as the learning experience it will eventually be.

To quote Bojack Horseman:

It gets easier.
Every day it gets a little easier
But you gotta do it every day – that’s the hard part.
But it does get easier.

by Theomarcus G.

Monday 7 January 2019

Lessons learned at the half-way point

Somehow, it is already the halfway point for us articling students. The amount we have learned in just five months is incredible. Here are my top three lessons learned so far:

It’s important to push yourself outside of your comfort zone…

One of the many reasons we are fortunate as students at McCague Borlack is because our firm practices in a wide variety of different areas of the law. This has allowed me to have countless opportunities to assist lawyers in areas of the law that I had never studied in law school. This was a bit daunting at first, but I quickly began to love it when I was asked to assist with a type of file or task I had never been exposed to before. Similarly, lawyers at the firm have always been nothing but inclusive and encouraging whenever I have expressed an interest in learning more about a particular area of the law. If I had shied away from these opportunities, or not taken the initiative to pursue files I was curious about, I would have missed out on many lessons and positive experiences.

…but it’s important to realize that it’s called “practicing” law for a reason

As articling students, we are innately overachievers and always striving for excellence. As such, it is obviously a tough pill to swallow when you realize you won’t master drafting motion materials, mediation briefs, pleadings, etc on your very first try. Or even your second. It’s important to realize that it’s okay to wobble a bit before you hit your stride. Luckily, everyone at the firm is quick to provide mentorship and share best practices. After a while, you start to realize that practicing law is exactly that – there will always be room for improvement, the law is always evolving, and articling is just the start of a career-long learning process.

… This is why it is important to always be humble, helpful, and respectful.

Legal dramas on TV couldn’t be further from reality. During the first half of my articling, I have had the chance to observe a trial, pretrial conference, and numerous mediations and examinations for discovery. One of the most consistent things I have observed is counsel for each party working together in a respectful and courteous manner to achieve an outcome that is in the best interest of the clients involved in a matter. While it can make for a scintillating television plot, in reality, nothing is gained by treating opposing counsel as an adversary.

I look forward to the lessons the next half of articling will bring.
by Priya C.