Wednesday 30 December 2020

Things I Didn’t Expect to Like about Articling

images credited to pexels mentatdgt & talal hakim (edits added by Nancy Plante)

There is no doubt that articling is a challenging experience. As the common downsides are well-known, I will shine a light on some of the (perhaps unconventional) experiences I have enjoyed so far.

Gaining knowledge on random topics

I enjoy learning about random things I would not have taken the initiative to learn on my own. For example, I love surprising my friends and family with explanations on why water towers don’t freeze in the winter or how various pieces of construction equipment work. 

"It is fun to learn about the workings of everyday things
we normally don’t think about."

Meeting new people

It has been great getting to know everyone at the firm. On top of that, while working on different matters, I have had the opportunity to get to know people I would not have had the chance to meet otherwise. I appreciate every time someone gives me a glimpse into their life. Learning about lifestyles that are different from my own, and the challenges that other people face helps me to broaden my perspective.

Learning about health and medicine

Since starting my articles, I have also learned about a) which bones make up which part of the body, b) what certain medications are and what they are used for, c) what some medical procedures and conditions are, and more. Although this information isn’t “legal” in nature, it has been interesting to learn about health and the human body in general. Also, learning about various health conditions makes me appreciate my own good health!

Learning, asking questions and making mistakes

One of the best things about articling is that no one expects you to know precisely what you are doing right away. It is okay to sometimes make a mistake knowing that there will be someone there to catch it. This ensures it is a true learning experience. Also, I appreciate being encouraged to ask questions and not feel judged for it!

Sydney M.

Thursday 12 November 2020

Articling with the Added Bonus of a Pandemic

Needless to say, this year has been a tad wonky. In January, the 2020 law school graduates anticipated a relatively exciting year. We were about to graduate, write our bar exams, and by the end of June, we would be free to celebrate our accomplishments until our articles began.

In actuality, we – like many other students – spent the tail end of the winter semester trying to focus on school while balancing the anxiety and uncertainty that came along with this pandemic. Classes and final exams were online, and social and family gatherings came to a screeching halt. After clicking submit on my final law school exam, I anticipated a very overwhelming sense of relief – law school was finally done! But it was perhaps the most anticlimactic end of a degree, since we could not celebrate with friends, family, classmates, or our schools.

Promptly, the next hurdle came flying our way: bar exams. Could we still write them? Would it be postponed until we were already articling? A lot of uncertainty unfolded in the first few weeks, but then finally, a plan. We were now writing the exams from home. Every student nervously signed up for a time slot to write the exam, choosing our own date of freedom. My last exam came and went. Thrilled to be done, but after these exams loomed over my existence for until early August – it was another anticlimactic end to another grand accomplishment.

Before we knew it, articling was here. With our safety in mind, our firm decided to have us commence our articles from home. This came as a relief, but also spearheaded fresh nerves. Most of my personal nerves came from the concern of how to learn, and produce valuable work from home. After almost two months of working from home, I can confidently say our firm has not let COVID-19 impact our learning or the excitement of articling. I have narrowed down a few tips that have certainly helped me learn how to be a good articling student from home.

1. Call the assigning lawyer with your questions

Assuming I am not the only one, calling a lawyer can feel daunting and stressful. “They’re very busy people, I don’t want to bother them and embarrass myself with what is probably a silly question.” Throw these thoughts out of a metaphorical window. With everyone working from home, I have found all lawyers, assistants, and clerks to be much happier, and free to take a phone call. Not only will you get better instructions over the phone, but it gives you a chance to have a social interaction, and build working relationships. 

"Every phone call you make is an opportunity to learn better, and invite social conversation into your day – which we all need, so try opting for a phone call more often."

2. Use precedents as a tool to produce better work

The single most important thing I have learned is about how to use precedents. Every single document you receive from a lawyer as a precedent should be copied into a folder on your desktop. Do not stop at one precedent per assignment. Meaning, if you come across four initial reports, save all of those initial reports. Precedents are exceptionally useful tools for any junior. They are the starting point when you don’t know how to begin a task. They give you an idea not only of what the style of the document is but also the substance. Having a variety of precedents will allow you to see how one task varies depending on the facts of every case, better allowing you to see what information is relevant for what you are working on. Equally important, being able to review the work of lawyers is one of the strongest resources you have to elevate your critical thinking and the quality of work you produce.

3. Be specific in asking for feedback

Every time I submit an assignment, I make sure to ask for edits, feedback, or revisions. You will not learn effectively if you don’t find out what you have done wrong. Every time you get feedback – as unforgiving as it may feel at times – you are learning. Luckily, the lawyers at our firm are great teachers and are courteous in giving us helpful feedback, which is exactly what we, as articling students, need.

4. Articling student group chats

One of the best resources you have are your fellow students. Although it would be ideal to be in one place together, our student group chat has actually allowed those of us in the Toronto office to work closely with the students in our Ottawa office. 

"My first step whenever I have a question is to canvas the other students through our group chat."

It is more than likely one of them has faced the issue before. Not only are your fellow students a resource, but maintaining a close relationship with them helps ease some of the isolation that can come from working remotely.

Get a cat!

They make excellent office buddies and are great at listening to your ideas.

by Jennifer I.

Thursday 14 May 2020

Articling during COVID-19

When I started my articles, I never thought we would be working during a global pandemic, but here we are.

As of March 2020, millions of Canadians have left their offices for their apartment, condo or house as we all practice social distancing and work together to fight against the spread of COVID-19.

"For many of us, working from the comfort of our own homes sounded appealing, but for some, this came with new challenges (as it has for me)."

My partner and I chose an apartment in the downtown core of Ottawa so we could be within walking distance to our offices. We specifically chose proximity to our workplaces over a larger living space; a decision I now regret, having been at home 24/7 for nearly 8 weeks. But, I digress.

Here are some tips that helped me adapt to working from home:

Keep a regular routine.

The transition to working from home necessarily means a disruption in our regular routines. But it is important that we establish a regular routine as quickly as possible and stick to it. I am using the app Fabulous: Self Care, which has helped me build the perfect routine, ensuring I stay productive. There are many other apps out there like this one.

Stay connected.

One of the many things that makes McCague Borlack great is its people. When working from home, you lose out on keeping up with your coworkers not only in a social capacity (like water-cooler chats) but also when it comes to work. I find that emailing a lawyer to schedule a telephone call is a helpful way to stay connected and create a platform where you can discuss any questions or problems you have come across while working on your files. Our office also regularly schedules social Zoom calls where we play games or just talk for a while. These are just some of the ways that we can help stay connected to the rest of the team, both socially and professionally.

Set up your home office.

As you can imagine, I did not have a home office before COVID-19. Our space only allows for one small desk in our living room, which was used by my partner who is a software developer. However, we both quickly realized that we do not need a “typical” office space to be productive at home. Instead, we need a consistent and comfortable space. This may be sitting at the same spot at your dining table by a window or at your kitchen island.

Coordinate with others who share your space.

Both my partner and I are now working from home and sharing the same spaces (our apartment is only two rooms). With this comes some challenges, i.e. both being on a call at the same time and not being able to hear our colleagues. To avoid this problem, each morning my partner and I briefly discuss our schedules for the day so we can coordinate around each other’s calls and meetings in advance. The last thing that you want is for your partner, child or pet to find themselves on record during your virtual examination for discovery.

Keep busy.

Working from home does not mean that all of the rules are out the window. During these unprecedented times, your employer will be very appreciative if they know they can still rely on you to get the job done. Also, do not forget that articling is all about learning. The learning should not stop because your work location has changed.

Stay in tune with yourself.

I know I just said that we need to keep working hard, but we should also recognize that times are different. Social distancing from your colleagues, friends and family, only going out in public when it is absolutely necessary, and the blurring of the boundaries between work life and home life can all take a toll on our mental health. For some, acknowledging that times are different is the first step to becoming healthier people. I found that partaking in hobbies (baking and playing piano), exercising daily, and staying connected with friends and family online are all ways to cope with feeling trapped and being surrounded by so much uncertainty. If we take the time to check in with ourselves and listen to our needs, we will be happier and more productive in everything we do.

Stay on top of the ongoing changes in the profession.

Some of them may be here to stay after we return to work and the courts resume their regular operations. The Notices to the Profession are helpful in this regard but there are also plenty of free webinars you can sign up for.

I chose this profession because every day is different from the last. With constant changes in the law and such a steep learning curve, lawyers and licensing candidates learn to adapt and think quickly on their feet. Overcoming COVID-19 is no exception. We got this.
by Brittany R.

Tuesday 14 April 2020

Blurring the lines between home and work: How to keep your productivity level up during COVID-19

Approximately four weeks ago, we had to make an unexpected transition from working full-time at the office to working full-time from home. If you also find it difficult to stay motivated when working from home, I offer these tips that have assisted me in keeping my productivity up and distractions down during this time.

Set up a workstation outside of your bedroom

It can be extremely difficult to be productive when working in a room that you naturally associate with sleeping. Therefore, if you don't have a dedicated home office, create a workstation in a bright area of your living room or kitchen where it will help you stay motivated and focused on completing your work. You don’t have to commit to this space all day – I usually start my day by working in the living room and then I move over to the kitchen island when I start to get too comfortable. Changing your scenery, no matter how minimal the change, can help alleviate any boredom and refresh your concentration.

Continue to manage expectations and foster relationships

Regardless of whether or not you are in the office, ensure you keep your principals and clients updated on any new developments that arise on your files. Re-evaluate and advise the supervising lawyers of any new timelines for completing tasks. Ensure lawyers are made aware of the work you complete and that you’re continuing to take the initiative with new tasks. Revisit your list of deadlines and tasks every Friday – this will assist you in prioritizing your workload for the following week instead of delaying your Monday morning whilst trying to figure out a game plan.

Minimize your distractions and plan breaks

Schedule your workday in blocks of 60 to 90 minutes with a 10 to 15-minute break between each block. During a break, perhaps take a walk around the apartment (maybe squeeze in a few lunges or jumping jacks), play with your pet, or use your phone before getting right back to work in order to hold yourself accountable and reduce having your workday stretched out by distracting yourself for hours at a time with the TV or midday chores. If your phone serves as a distraction, try leaving it in another room.

Stay in contact with your colleagues

Try to replicate the schedule you’re used to having in the office by continuing to organize a time to catch up with your friends from work. All of your co-workers are experiencing the same unknown circumstances you are. By being able to relate to one another, you’ll know you’re not alone and that you have their full support and understanding. This is especially important if you’re "social distancing" on your own and don’t have daily human interaction that may help alleviate your anxiety surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak and your work tasks in general. I am fortunate to be working with a group of students that have meshed perfectly together and offer daily support to one another. We have boosted each other’s morale over the past few weeks through FaceTime calls, sharing memes and videos, and by exchanging show recommendations and new hobbies we’ve taken up.

Stay Active

Staying active can help structure your day, boost your productivity, and keep you sane. Several Instagram fitness accounts are currently offering free live workouts, where hundreds of viewers tune in daily to workout at the same time. Personally, a group of friends and I have kept each other motivated to work out 3-4 times a week by streaming the live workout videos whilst video calling one another over the House Party App. Try to set goals and rewards for yourself (i.e. one snack for every second workout).

Stay home, stay safe, and stay sane!
Alyona K.

Friday 6 March 2020

Taking Inventory: From one Student to Another

image by igor link from pixabay

The MB articling students are officially seven months into our articling term, with only three months left.

"Now is the perfect time for us to reflect on our experiences so far
and take inventory of the things we have learned."

If I were to pass three lessons on to incoming and future summer and articling students, I believe the following advice will have the most impact.

1. Take the time to learn

Remember that we are still students. We are allowed, and expected, to learn, grow, and make mistakes throughout the course of our articling experience. No one is expecting us to know how to do everything perfectly on our first day, or even ten months into articles. Like law school, articling is a learning process where we are invited to explore new things, make mistakes, learn from our mistakes, and try again.

2. No one expects perfection

That brings me to the second lesson I have learned which is Рas clich̩ as it may sound Рeach mistake we make is a learning opportunity. This phrase is particularly applicable during summering and articling terms.

When we aim for perfection and put our best efforts into each task we are assigned, it is hard to not feel defeated when a lawyer takes a red pen to it. Likewise, when we get busy, it is easier to click “accept all changes” than to actually go through the document, learn what was changed, and ask why. However, much more is gained from taking the time to review our errors and reflect on the constructive criticism we receive. When we take this time, we create an opportunity for ourselves to do better next time by applying what we learned from our past to our future. With practice, we start seeing less of that red pen and more “good job”s.

3. You are smart and capable

Finally, and perhaps most important, be prepared to discover that you are smarter and more capable than you think. As a summer and articling student, you will face a steep learning curve, confronting new tasks that you have never before considered, let alone have the first idea of how to approach. This feeling can be daunting.

At times at McCague Borlack, I have felt like the lawyers have more faith in me than I have in myself. For example, on occasion, I have been tasked with assignments that, at first, I feel like I have no business completing. But with the right resources and mentoring, I learned that I am actually more capable than I thought, which inspires me to approach the next daunting task with more confidence.

These three things are easy to know, but much more difficult to keep top-of-mind during summering and articling. We are busy and often put pressure on ourselves to excel. I strongly believe that these three tips would have served me well throughout my summer term and articles, both in terms of my well-being and work-product, had I been more alert to them all along.

In passing them on, I hope they will be helpful to you as you embark on yours!

by Carly J.

Wednesday 29 January 2020

'Twas the Motion before Christmas

I received an assignment to prepare materials for an Undertakings motion and set the oral argument for before the new year. I was in contact with the scheduling office for the first week of December trying to set a date. The court was closed from December 25th until the new year, which made the beginning of December even busier for the scheduling office.

"Just my luck... December 24th was the only free date available
for oral argument before the new year."

Tip 1: During the holiday season, book your motion date early.

It was a 10-minute walk from our office to the Toronto Civil Motions Court, where the Toronto Superior Court motions take place. The streets were almost empty as if the city had been evacuated and I didn’t get the memo. I arrived at the court 20 minutes early and verified that our matter was on the list. I entered the courtroom, signed in, and sat in the back row to review the written motion.

Tip 2: Arrive early in case your matter is not on the list.

At exactly 10:00 AM, we heard a knock on the door. The clerk opened the door and everyone in the room stood up. The Master entered the courtroom. Everyone bowed to the Master. The Master sat down. Then, everyone else in the courtroom sat down. The clerk said, “court is now session”. I suddenly felt butterflies in my stomach… I guess you could call it motion sickness.

Our matter was 6th on the list, which meant that I had the opportunity to observe other matters being heard before mine and learn what the Master’s “style” was. The first matter was argued by an articling student. The Master asked him what Rule he was relying on from the Rules of Civil Procedure. The articling student had it memorized, which gave the Master a big smile, and he chuckled. The Master said he was testing him because he’s an articling student.

Tip 3: Know your Rules of Civil Procedure.

Knowing that the Master could test me on my Rules, I quickly double-checked the Rules that I was relying on for the motion that I was arguing.

Tip 4: Watch the matters before you to see the types of questions the Master may ask.

The Master called for our matter. I stood up and went up to the podium. There was something thrilling about standing behind the podium, prepared to defend my case and be challenged about it. It also felt familiar and comfortable. Perhaps my law school mooting experiences actually help me in real life. Shocker. I stood waiting for the Master to finish writing from the prior matter. Then, he looked up at me. It was my turn.

During my motion preparation, I drafted a script that outlined my argument, making sure I brought up the relevant facts. However, I ended up making my submissions without looking at my script because I was asked questions by the Master. Since I had reviewed the written motion a number of times, I was able to quickly come up with a counter-argument.

Tip 4: Know your material.

After I requested costs, the Master took about one minute to write the endorsement. That one minute felt like twenty! Then, he signed our Order. We got what we needed. A Christmas miracle, indeed.

Arguing your first motion may seem daunting at first, but it can be an exciting and enjoyable experience. The key is preparation. Since my first motion, I’ve argued four more motions and have felt more comfortable and excited to attend every time. The motion records have become quicker to draft, it’s almost second nature. Having argued a motion, I appreciate the significance of what I’m including. I look forward to the motions that the future will bring for me… but hopefully not on Christmas Eve.
by Anisha B.

Thursday 9 January 2020

Meal Prep Tips for Lunches at Work

One of the biggest adjustments from law school to articling for me was not having long breaks to go home and make lunch. On many occasions during the first few of weeks of articling, I bought lunch in the path. It was nice; there was an endless number of options to choose from, and it was a great opportunity to explore the world outside the office. There are, however, two major drawbacks to buying lunch – especially in the financial district: it’s expensive, and it’s not the healthiest choice.

The concept of meal prep (preparing multiple meals at one time for later consumption throughout the week) has become increasingly popular for busy people who do not have time to cook something fresh each day. Preparing lunches for the work week helps you cut down on the time you spend preparing lunches for work (and dinners for when you get home).

"Preparing food at home is healthier and less expensive than eating out."

You don’t have to go crazy preparing every single meal in advance, but adding some meal prep to your weekly routine could free up some of your precious time, and save some of your hard-earned money.

Here are a couple of easy recipes that (in my opinion) taste delicious, are relatively healthy, and are pretty easy to make:

Toasted Sesame Honey Teriyaki Ginger Salmon

Picture by Wow_Pho on pixabay


  • 750 grams raw salmon (skin removed)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil*
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar*
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce (add extra soy sauce if desired)
  • 2 tablespoons honey (add extra honey if desired)
  • 2 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons freshly chopped ginger
  • 1 large red Thai chili pepper (remove seeds for less heat)
  • 1-2 tablespoons toasted or raw sesame seeds
  • 4 green onions, sliced (2 for recipe, 2 for garnish)
*Can substitute 1/4 cup teriyaki sauce if desired

  • Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  • Slice salmon into preferred portions.
  • In a large bowl or baking dish, combine olive oil, sesame oil and rice vinegar (or teriyaki sauce), brown sugar, soy sauce, honey, garlic, ginger, chili pepper, sesame seeds and whisk well until combined.
  • Add salmon to the dish and coat well with sauce or place everything in a Ziploc bag, then refrigerate and marinate for 30 minutes.
  • Set your oven rack to the second-highest position in your oven and preheat the broiler in your oven.
  • Remove salmon with kitchen tongs and place directly on the baking sheet. 
  • Reserve the remaining marinade. 
  • Place directly under the broiler. Cook for 5-6 minutes, depending on the salmon’s thickness, then remove and coat with reserved marinade (you can flip the salmon before coating if desired). Return salmon to the oven for an additional 5-6 minutes until opaque and flakes easily with a fork.
  • Remember to keep an eye on your salmon and remove it if it looks like it is overcooking.
  • Remove from the baking sheet with a spatula and serve immediately, with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds and green onions as desired.
Fragrant Turkey Burgers


  • 2 pounds ground turkey
  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 3 bunches fresh thyme sprigs (equal amount as rosemary)
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon sumac (can substitute fresh lemon zest if desired)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ground pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 6 to 8 hamburger buns*
  • Pick leaves off of rosemary and thyme sprigs. Chop rosemary leaves until about the size of the thyme leaves.
  • In a large bowl, combine ground turkey, chopped rosemary, thyme, garlic powder, sumac (or lemon zest), salt, pepper, egg, and mix to combine evenly.
  • Form eight 1/4 lb patties or six 1/3 lb patties.*
  • Heat vegetable oil in a large pan over medium heat. When oil is shimmering or sufficiently hot, add patties to the pan and cook for 5-6 minutes. Flip patties and cook for an additional 5-6 minutes, or until cooked throughout.
  • Serve patties on buns with desired toppings and condiments. These burgers go great with a little sriracha sauce and Gouda cheese!
Happy cooking (and eating)!
by Ryan S