Monday 15 November 2021

Articling: Expectation vs. Reality

image from pexel

When I was a law student, I was constantly bombarded by fear-mongering stories about articling. “Articling will be the hardest ten months of your life!” “Don’t expect to have a social life.” “So and so at X firm said they worked 70 hours a week… have fun!” I was terrified to start articling.

"When everyone warns you to prepare for the worst, that’s exactly what you do."

But I’m happy to tell future articling students that three months into the term, my fears have not materialized. Work-life balance does not have to be a dream when articling at McCague Borlack. Here has been my experience so far...

Expectation 1: You must meet and surpass insane billable targets.

Reality: Yes, I work hard, but the work does not consume my life.

Articling is hard work, there is no doubt about it. We are fresh out of law school and think we know things when in reality, law school prepares you very little for real-life practice. As Ashley, our Student Director put it during orientation week, “this isn’t summer camp.” There will be evenings and weekends where we all have to put in extra hours to meet an urgent deadline or get caught up after a busy week. But we are not expected to slave away at all hours of the day to excel. The billable target for articling students is reasonable and conducive to learning a ton without feeling the need to burn ourselves out to keep up. In addition, we are encouraged to take our allotted vacation days and to prioritize our well-being.

Expectation 2: You will compete with the other students to get hired back.

Reality: Nobody is competing – all the articling students can succeed, and not at the expense of anyone else.

Many firms hire more students than they plan to retain as associates, which can result in fierce competition between the students to secure an associate position. MB’s approach is conducive to a collaborative and collegial environment – they only hire as many students as they would be willing to hire back as associates. The firm believes in investing in the students for the long haul. This means that every student can shine and excel, and not at the expense of anyone else. It’s a great feeling to be part of an articling team that is supportive of one another. We applaud each others’ successes and we have each others' backs.

Expectation 3: Articling will feel overwhelming and isolating.

Reality: Although everyone has moments of feeling overwhelmed, there are endless sources of support.

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed at times in any job. What sets my articling experience at MB apart is the level of support I have received thus far. There are so many people who I can turn to when I feel confused or overwhelmed. This includes the other students, our Student Director, my articling principal, or one of the many lawyers who have encouraged us to reach out whenever and wherever we need it. Even while working remotely, I am never more than a phone call away from someone willing to help. Everyone at the firm wants the students to succeed.

Expectation 4: Articling work will only be menial tasks and research.

Reality: Articling work is diverse, meaningful, and interesting.

Within a month of starting, I had taken the lead on a small claims file, drafted an initial opinion, attended a mediation and an examination for discovery, had communications with a client, and more. At three months into the term, that list has grown much longer. All the work we do as students at MB is substantial and meaningful. We are given a lot of responsibility which allows us to gain a vast amount of knowledge within a short time frame. I can’t believe how far I’ve come in only three months, and I can’t wait to see where I’ll be by June!

Starting articling is a daunting prospect, especially with all the fear-mongering law students are subject to. But with the right firm backing you, articling can be a fun, challenging and rewarding experience. It certainly has been for me!

Monday 25 October 2021

The Big Jump: The voyage from law student to lawyer

Image from pixabay -  edited by web manager

As someone who had an entire career before law school, I believe I had a robust tool kit going into articling. I was familiar with deadlines and multitasking and felt that articling wouldn’t be as challenging as rumoured. I was wrong. Even seasoned business professionals will struggle during articles. Of course, the tool kit was helpful, however, I question whether law school adequately prepares you for the actual work you will be doing.

Like my fellow students, I can prioritize my time effectively and complete tasks. 

"The struggle is knowing what to do, how to do it and how long each task will take." 

For example, when asked to summarize productions, I allocated five hours. It took me almost 15! (Productions are all the material provided by the Plaintiff – including medical notes, insurance documents, receipts etc.) This miscalculation meant my other tasks kept piling up. This made me reflect on the steep learning curve.

How is it that I felt so unprepared for articling? Why didn’t I learn how to do any of these things in law school? Shouldn’t law school teach you the law and how to lawyer? Including, and this is from a litigation standpoint, how to write factums, motions, damages briefs, affidavits of documents, etc.? Of course, for every area of law, there are different forms, processes, etc., that need to be followed. Shouldn’t law school touch on these? For example, I took Real Estate law; however, I have no idea what systems to use or how to use them should I pursue a career in real estate law. That isn’t a reflection on the professor. He only has so much time to teach us. That is a reflection on the law school experience as a whole. Wouldn’t practicum courses covering docketing, litigation forms and procedures (like motions, affidavits etc.), and technology used in law be far more impactful than making business law mandatory?

In order to whole-heartedly swear an oath to be the best lawyers we can be, we need to fully understand what’s being asked of us. How would you recommend law school better prepare its students for the actual practice of law?

Currently, the responsibility of training lands squarely on the law firms hiring these students. Luckily, McCague is a remarkable organization that puts a ton of resources into training its students. We have mentors, an open-door policy (aka call anytime), and a group of students who work together. I do not doubt that my articling experience will prepare me for becoming a strong litigator. I wonder how other students will fare if they don’t have the same support?

My advice to other students is to take any practical courses you can to gain hands-on experience. That is my one regret.

I welcome feedback from other students, firms and even law schools. Perhaps together, we can make a difference for future law students so that their learning curve won’t be as steep.

Monday 4 October 2021

How does articling compare to law school?

During law school, I always wondered what the differences would be between being a law student and articling. Below are my observations so far:

There’s a lot of talk in law school about workload during articling. My experience is that it varies. It’s not as bad as the rumours many of us have heard; just like with school, there are ebbs and flows.

Rather than having “exam crunches,” the articling equivalent is receiving a large assignment with a short turnaround time. Some assignments require me to devote a lot of time over several days while balancing other assignments as they come up. Other assignments may not require more than a 15-minute phone call to complete.

"Like law school, your articling workload will require you to work slightly more than an average 9 to 5 day."

But if it gets in the way of the important things in life you may need to work on time management strategies.

The other factor that may affect workload is that you’re often doing something for the first time. In law school, however, with at least 3+ years of school under your belt, you’ll know how to study for an exam and write a paper.

For me, the biggest adjustment between articling and law school is scheduling. As hard as you try to stick to a schedule, it is impossible to perfectly schedule your days during articling.

In law school, students receive a syllabus on day 1, which allows you to plan your day-to-day for the semester.

As an articling student, when you receive an assignment, you get a deadline and can work from there. The challenge is, as you work and plan to meet that deadline, you may (and I have) receive rush assignments that a lawyer would like done for the same or next day. Obviously, you need to stop what you’re doing and work on that rush assignment, but this comes at the expense of your schedule.

The way I get around this is by scheduling my deadlines earlier than what the lawyer asked for and being honest with the assigning lawyer about my scheduling constraints upfront.

At law school, there is a lot of support: friends, classmates, upper-year students, Professors, academic advisors, Deans, dedicated support staff, etc. Though they mostly have different titles, there is a lot of support available while working as an articling student too. For questions and concerns that come up, I’ll reach out to any of the following people: my articling colleagues, our Student Director, my firm-assigned mentor, junior associates, lawyers I have previously worked for and of course, the assigning lawyer.

Overall, while there are some differences, my law school experience prepared me well, and I’ve been enjoying my time as an Articling Student! It’s been a wonderful learning experience. Every day brings a new and exciting opportunity.

Monday 27 September 2021

Articling is no joke

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this, but articling is no joke. At MB, we are assigned real client work with actual deadlines. Plus, we are given work on a variety of client files and must learn to prioritize, multi-task, and schedule our own time well. We also must learn to track and record our time by entering our dockets in the firm’s accounting system. We are allowed to ask questions, but we must figure out the right questions to ask. We must also be team players in order to work well within the articling student group and with many different lawyers and personalities. 

This holds especially true in today’s climate, while we’re still in the middle of a pandemic. Luckily, MB provides robust training!

"While work from home didn’t come without its challenges, I’ve slowly grown accustomed to it over the past (almost) two months of articling and can now confidently say I enjoy it."

Here’s what a typical day in the life of a work from home articling student looks like for me:

9:15 - 10:15 a.m.: I attended a team meeting with all articling students.

The articling students meet virtually twice a week with the Student Director, Ashley, on a meeting we call Zoom 7. This meeting gives us the chance to discuss our assignments, receive firm updates and ask any questions. We also discuss our “roses and thorns” each meeting; sharing the good and not-so-good experiences articling has brought us.

10:30 - 1:00 p.m.: I attended my first examination for discovery!

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into an examination, but I was ready to diligently take notes and learn. I enjoyed watching the different styles of lawyers as they cross-examined witnesses. McCague Borlack encourages articling students to go on “field trips” so that we can get real-life experience of what being a lawyer and carrying your own files is like. Since I learn the most from actually doing rather than listening, I was grateful for this experience and look forward to accompanying lawyers again in the future.

1:00 - 1:30 p.m.: I took a quick lunch and coffee break.

Coffee is a non-negotiable work-from-home necessity.

1:30 - 4:00 p.m.: I checked my to-do list and planned the rest of my day.

I find that I’m most productive when I have a clear list of what needs to be accomplished and what my goals are for the day and week. I had an Affidavit of Documents due later in the week, so I started drafting it after calling the assigning lawyer to get some clarifying instructions. Lawyers at McCague Borlack are always happy to chat and answer any questions you have on a matter. Even though it can be daunting at times, I’ve learned picking up the phone and making a call is more effective than e-mailing back and forth.

4:00 - 6:30 p.m.: Switching gears and winding down.

By this point, I made considerable progress on the Affidavit of Documents I was working on. I switched gears and started working on a research memorandum I had due in the next couple of days. Legal research can be tricky, but luckily, we had WestLaw training during orientation and access to many resources to help us!

By 6:30, I started winding down for the day. 

No two days are the same, but this is what a typical day of articling looks like! I’m excited to continue learning and developing new skills as the articling term progresses.

Friday 10 September 2021

Virtual Social Events

In approaching a potentially virtual articling term here at the firm, you may wonder how we manage to get to know each other? 

 Even in these strange and restrictive times, we still managed to eke out some face-to-face contact with one another. 

To get us organized, our Student Director, Ashley, created a schedule and assigned a different student each month to arrange an event for us on the first Thursday of the month. For obvious reasons, there is no requirement that the event be in-person. 

The first month, Ashley organized a virtual charcuterie and mixology class. See Ashna's blog below.

This month, Paul organized a Jackbox Games night. For those unfamiliar, these are a suite of web games where you log in with your phone and compete with others in various trivia-based games. 

Some of us keeners -- that were able -- met up in person, and the others joined via Zoom. 
(Shout-out to Tess who came from Ottawa.)

Zohaib generously hosted and put out an awesome spread. 

Lots of fun was had by all and many laughs were shared (along with a bottle of wine or two).

Ashley deserves credit for her expertise in selecting the right people for a student team. So, for those prospective students interviewing with the firm, rest assured that you will find yourself within a group of people who just seem to gel. Also be assured that despite the virtual world we are living in, camaraderie is alive and well. 

With that said, I am very much looking forward to our October social event.

Conner S.

Friday 27 August 2021

So what has the first few weeks of articling been like?

Approximately three weeks ago, I, along with six other students began our articles. In short, so far, my experience has been beyond what I could have imagined articling was going to be like, especially “working from home.”

But, let’s backtrack to the night before my first day. As I prepared my outfit for the next morning, I felt both a sense of nervousness and excitement. After all, tomorrow was going to be a big day. I was finally going to be able to start work!

 I remembered the utter joy I felt when I received the phone call at 5:00 pm sharp on the last day of OCI recruitment and was offered a position to work at MB. 

After meeting so many members of the firm and learning about all the interesting work students would be able to do, I couldn’t wait to begin, and now, the time was finally here!

As excited as I was, I also felt a bit nervous. There were so many thoughts that crossed my mind. What will it be like to learn how to practice law, especially away from the office? Will I miss out on the learning experience due to not being able to be in-person and seeing my colleagues? Will I be able to stay motivated working from home? What if I make mistakes on an assignment? Am I even capable of all this? Unlike school, which is what I have been familiar with all my life, for the first time now I would be working on real client files. Hence, there was added nervousness.

Approximately three weeks in now and much to my surprise, none of my earlier concerns have factored into my incredible experience so far. From the very first day of articling, our comprehensive orientation prepared us very well by educating us on the substantive practice areas of the firm, as well as the administrative "know-how" of litigation. In addition, our orientation was thoughtfully planned in a way where we not only covered substantive material but also got the opportunity to socialize and “e-meet” other members of the MB team - all through Zoom of course. Who said Zoom could only be used for serious meetings? Thanks to Zoom, I really enjoyed our charcuterie board-making and mixology event where we channelled our culinary skills while sharing some great laughs with lawyers from across all five office locations.

Although our articles have begun remotely, I am grateful for all the efforts made to simulate an in-person experience. For example, every time we receive a new assignment or have questions about an assignment, we are encouraged to simply call the lawyer and have a discussion instead of writing a lengthy message over e-mail. Initially, the thought of calling a lawyer felt nothing short of daunting. However, now, this has become my go-to and truly feels most similar to hopping in their office for a quick chat. I have also found video-chatting with other students while we work on our assignments as a great way to overcome the “work from home” blues. This way, I feel I have company and can unmute my microphone to ask my colleagues any questions I have, just as I would if we were in the office together. Clearly, not being in-person is only as much of a barrier as we let it become.

All in all, to describe my first few weeks of articling, it is similar to a child growing up learning how to navigate the world. I feel likewise as I am learning how to navigate the fascinating world of litigation. There are many challenges and a steep learning curve, which is both rewarding but also challenging. What helps, however, is that I do not feel alone. I feel happy to have such an incredible support system in the other six students (shout-out to our WhatsApp group), and also the large variety of resources available to us.

In the weeks to come, I look forward to learning the ins-outs of litigation, and most important of all, enjoying the ride!

Thursday 5 August 2021

Summer Student's End of Term - Lesson's Learned

As the 12-week summer student program comes to an end this week, I have been reflecting on how much I’ve learned in what feels like such a short amount of time. There were hundreds of questions I had when I first began 12 weeks ago. 

"Here are some of those questions and I'll share what I learned along the way."

How many hours should I be spending on each assignment?

One of the most perplexing concepts to me was calculating what was a reasonable amount of time to spend on each assignment. What I quickly came to realize is that every assignment is very different. While the first time around I was slower to finish or underestimated how much time the assignment would take, but I picked up things along the way. My longest assignment was summarizing a Plaintiff’s Affidavit of Documents production of 6,000+ pages, which took me multiple days to complete. My shortest assignment was drafting a consent which took me 15 minutes to draft. I quickly learned which type of assignments require longer turnaround times to complete, and my fellow students were a great reference to turn to. Many times, one of the other students had a similar assignment and I asked them approximately how long it took them to complete. This helped me plan my own calendar in terms of due dates.

How will I organize my assignment list?

This is one of those things where there is no “right” method but there sure can be wrong ones. How to organize an assignment list is a very personal preference. For myself, the outlook calendar works best, I simply drag and drop the email assignment into my calendar. I can then track the due dates and instructions all in one spot. Other students have mentioned their different methods, such as using excel spreadsheets or a personal agenda. There is no wrong way as long as it tracks everything one is assigned including due dates and has the ability to find potential conflicts with other assignments.

How often will I be speaking with the lawyers at the firm?

I quickly came to realize how friendly and collegial McCague Borlack is when I had many phone calls during my first week. Any lawyer who assigned me work would reach out with a quick phone call or zoom call to walk me through the assignment, answer any questions I may have, and just have a quick chat about how I was finding my first weeks in the program. While initially the thought of speaking to lawyers on such an often and casual basis was daunting, I quickly realized, by simply reaching out, they are more than happy to lend a helping hand and walk me through any difficulties.

How will feedback be provided to me?

So, I hand in my first assignment, and all I can think of is how will the lawyer respond? Typically, 'no response' can be a good response, it usually means the work was acceptable and so there was no feedback needed to be given. Other lawyers sent a quick email of thanks, clarifying that the completed work was satisfactory. Other times, lawyers would email or call with changes required, or they sent an assignment back with edits and track changes on the document. Either of these methods has one thing in common: the intention was for me to learn. Through every mistake made on an assignment, I was taught the correct way of doing things. It’s a learning process, and not everyone gets it right the first time, nor does anyone expect me to get it right on the first try. When receiving feedback, implementing the changes was paramount but learning for future assignments and practice was just as important.

Once you begin your own journey into the summer and articling programs, you will have many other questions. My advice is to breathe, trust in yourself and your ability to learn and grow, and never be afraid to reach out for help or clarification. You too will be surprised how much you can learn in one summer.

by Anita Z.  

Tuesday 3 August 2021

A Day (or Six) of Discoveries

image from pixabay -  coffee bean

In July, I had the opportunity to attend six days of Discoveries on a product liability file where millions of dollars were in dispute. Discovery is a court-mandated fact-finding process where lawyers question experts, witnesses, and parties to the litigation. For those six days, it was my job to take copious notes while the lawyers for the plaintiff and eight defendants questioned a new product expert or manufacturer each day.

The lawyer for the plaintiff would be the first to ask questions, followed by the other eight. 

"Watching that many lawyers for six straight days displayed the different types of interviewing styles."

Some were very methodical and did not like the witness to veer off topic when answering, while others were game to go down tangents and rabbit holes. Some were super friendly, and one took a more adversarial approach. All were very effective and showed me I can find the style that best suits me.

The questions showed me that you can never assume anything, no matter how small or seemingly obvious the detail. Evidence needs to be built on the record layer-by-layer so that there are no gaps or inconsistencies. For instance, in this case, we needed to know if one of the defendants had read the warning labels that come wrapped around a product in a certain year. But the first question cannot just be, did you read the warning labels? Maybe it was once their job to unpack the product, but maybe they did not work at the company until the year after the product in question arrived at the warehouse.

First, the witness would be asked, about their work history. This showed us where they were in a given year, and if they were in the department or job that would have put them in contact with the parts at the time we cared about. Then they would be asked about their responsibilities in the role, to see if they actually had contact with the part. Next, they would be asked about how the product was packaged. We knew that they came in boxes of six, but the witness would need to describe that, so we would know if his recollections were accurate. Then they would be asked about the packaging, what was on it, if it was removed from the sleeve that contained the warnings when sold, and on and on. After getting all their recollections on record, the lawyer would bring a photo of the warning up as final confirmation from the witness that they had seen it. This whole line of questioning could take 2-3 hours, just to find out if they had seen the warnings. But this way, we knew they were in the right place at the right time, and it was confirmed by both oral testimony and evidence.

As a note-taker, you’re also playing an essential role. Not only are you recording the evidence, but you are also in charge of tracking undertakings. Undertakings are requests for information and documents from one lawyer to another. They can range from contact information for a witness to company reports and specifications. It is very likely that you will be asked to draft a chart of all the undertakings, so it is essential you listen for the words, “council, can I get an undertaking for…” because that is your cue. I learned quickly that just because you request it, does not mean you’ll get it. Usually, when an undertaking is requested, council will respond with “best efforts” – meaning they will do their best to produce it. But sometimes, they will refuse and explain on record why they are doing so. It is also your job to record these responses.

If you have the opportunity to attend multiple days of discoveries, I highly recommend you take it. A one-day attendance gives you an idea of what Discovery is. But attending multiple days shows you how evidence is gathered, how strategies change as information evolves, and all that time working with one lawyer is a great relationship-building opportunity.

Monday 26 July 2021

Incoming articling students: What to expect during virtual orientation week


As the short summer term is quickly coming to a close, the incoming articling students are just a few weeks away from beginning their term. While Ontarian's are starting to experience some sense of normalcy as the province reopens, much of the working world is still virtual. The incoming articling students have the likely prospect of returning to the office at some point in their term. However, like myself and my fellow summer students, they will still have the experience of a virtual orientation week. This article highlights this summer’s orientation week to give all future students a rough understanding of what to expect.

This summer, Ashley Faust, the Director of the student program, organized and facilitated a 5-day orientation training in the first week of our summer term. Each day, we had between four and five training sessions, each led by a different lawyer of the firm.

The sessions ranged from substantive topics relevant to the firm’s common practice areas to topics relevant to daily firm administration. 

Substantive topics included:

  • the ABCs of civil litigation, 
  • managing a file including interactions with clients, 
  • insurance law 101, 
  • subrogation, and 
  • accident benefits. 
Conversely, the firm admin topics taught us

  • how to docket, 
  • run a small claims court file, 
  • be a good junior, 
  • an effective researcher, and 
  • be efficient in file management.
Ashley did a great job of balancing the schedule, such that we often alternated between substantive sessions and firm admin sessions. This was helpful in keeping me focused and engaged (since sitting in front of a computer screen for hours can be exhausting in itself).

As the sessions were led by different lawyers at the firm, this allowed us to meet some of our new colleagues and put faces to the names that we would soon see frequently. I appreciated this opportunity having been completely virtual this summer. Without it, it would have been incredibly daunting to start working without really knowing anybody.

During orientation, we did not have access to a firm email account, therefore, no work was assigned during the entire week. This allowed us to ease into the summer term and focus on what we were learning without any added distractions.

Ashley ran a final session each day to catch up on any content not covered in full. At this time, the students could also ask for clarification on anything covered that day. This checkpoint gave us confidence that no question would be left unanswered. (Note: we also maintained a similar checkpoint throughout the remainder of the summer).

By far, the highlight of the orientation week was our Brownie Bake Bonanza. Ashley provided her famous recipe, and one afternoon, we baked together over Zoom. While the brownies were in the oven, we joined in another Zoom call with many of the firm’s lawyers for a virtual meet and greet.

All in all, the orientation week was effective in preparing us to start our summer experience. It was also a great way to meet the faces we would be working with.

Pro-tip for incoming articling students: scroll down and read the rest of the blogs! 

by Rebecca F.

Tuesday 20 July 2021

Be a Sponge Part 2: What I Learned from my Summer Student Experience

In my last blog, I outlined all the things I planned to do to make the most out of my summer student experience. As promised, in this blog, I will let you know how everything worked out for me, as well as mention other things I learned this summer.

Every assignment is a new opportunity

In my last blog post, I said I would keep an open mind when it comes to new assignments (no matter how daunting they seemed). I am proud to say that I did just that. 

"When I was first assigned to do a report for a marine law file involving multiple jurisdictions, I felt extremely overwhelmed since I had never even heard of marine law before."

When I first started the assignment, the issue felt impossible to solve. However, instead of feeling defeated, I saw it as an opportunity to learn about an area of law that not very many lawyers I know practice. After pushing through the difficult parts and keeping an open mind, I found that I actually enjoyed learning about marine law. Through that experience, not only did I learn things I would have never learned in law school, but I also found a new area of law that is of interest to me.

Small assignments can turn into big assignments

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, when I complete an assignment or attend a field trip, I would ask the lawyer if I can be a part of the next step on the file. Sometimes, I didn’t even need to ask because the lawyer would already assign me the next step on the file. Because of this, what started out as a simple assignment has allowed me to get more involved in the development of a case. For example, after drafting an initial report recommending that we file a claim, I was able to draft the actual claim itself. Because I already had familiarity with the file, the lawyer thought I would be the best person to move the file along. This not only increased my knowledge in the different areas of law but also helped me build connections with different lawyers at the firm.

Ask and you shall receive

Whenever I had an interest in exploring a new practice area, I learned that all I had to do was ask the lawyers if they had any work in those areas. Most of the time, many of them have something I can help them with and are happy to give me assignments that I can work on. This is another way to build connections with the lawyers and gain a broad range of experience in the different practice areas.

Last but not least, your fellow summer students are one of your best resources

I am so grateful to have been able to share this experience with my fellow summer students. Whenever I receive an assignment I have never done before and I feel overwhelmed, I can just quickly shoot a message to the summer student group. Most of the time, someone else has already done it and can send you a precedent and even give you some advice. What would have taken several minutes to figure out has just been solved in a few seconds by a single message. I honestly do not know what I would’ve done without Anita, Alexandria, Rebecca, Winona and our Student Program Director, Ashley. They have been such a valuable resource to me and have made this experience truly amazing.

I am super excited to come back to article next year. I look forward to continuing to be a sponge and soaking in more knowledge and experiences (and sharing them with you again)!

by Dominique M.

Tuesday 13 July 2021

Why I’m scared of the Outlook Chime: Law Student vs. Summer Student

We hear it all the time as students that law school does not prepare you for actually practising law. In my very limited experience, I have found this statement to be mostly true, but not in the ways I was expecting. 

"After almost two months into my summer student experience, here are what I’ve found to be the biggest differences between student life and working as a student within a law firm."

Expect the Unexpected

In school, it is very easy to stick to a routine. Your class schedule is set out in advance, you have roughly the same amount of readings every week, and you know from the beginning of the semester when your assignments are due (at least in theory you’re supposed to). Working in a firm, your days will always look different depending on what’s on your schedule and everything can change in an instant with one email. When I hear the new email chime from outlook I break out in a cold sweat because it could mean that my entire day has been upended by a rush assignment. I even have a minor heart attack when I hear my housemate’s email go off from another room. Despite the panic it induces, I like how my days never look the same and the variety definitely keeps you on your toes.

Assignments Can be Weird

Before I started work, I assumed that all of my assignments would be research memos. While you will definitely have to write memos as a summer student, they are not always the long tedious ordeals that law school can make them out to be. In my experience, lawyers would prefer that they are short and to the point. Similarly, when you’re assigned a research memo the lawyer is normally looking for the answer to a very specific question such as the application of a rule of civil procedure or a very specific fact scenario.

More so than just memos, I’ve found that assignments can range from document summaries to drafting, to things that you wouldn’t normally expect to be assignments. This summer I have internet stalked opposing parties, tried to determine the likelihood of whether a Moose could have been on a highway at a certain time of day and learned about every muscle, tendon and bone found in the knees while reading medical briefs.

Working with Lawyers vs for Professors

Working at a firm sometimes no news is good news. When you submit an assignment and don’t hear anything back that most often means that the lawyer was happy, and you don’t need to do any revisions. When you do get your work sent back it is often completely marked up in red. While this can be demoralizing at times, I have found having this opportunity to go back and edit has been extremely beneficial for improving my drafting skills. In law school, you have one chance to submit an assignment and you hope you get it right on the first try. At a firm because there is always a client on the other side of every assignment you take on you have to get it right but it’s ok if it takes a couple of tries to get there.

Finally, I have found that there is more collaboration at a firm than law school. Even senior lawyers can have questions and it’s encouraged to reach out firm wide to see who has any insights. It has been so helpful having a group of other summer students that you can bounce ideas off of and ask questions. Even if we’re all working on different assignments, chances are someone has already worked on something similar all you have to do is ask!

Tuesday 6 July 2021

Getting through the nerves of the OCI process

image from pixabay

Preparing and participating for recruit is no easy task. From perfecting your resume to practicing interviewing in your mirror, there is a lot of nerves, excitement, and learning involved. When I was going through the recruit, I spent a lot of time worrying about what was going to happen. 

Once it was over, I realized how much stress I unnecessarily caused myself. 

Here are my insights on how to have a successful and stress-free recruitment.

Application Materials

When it comes to preparing your cover letter and resume, make certain they capture not only the experiences you have had but also the skills you have gained. You must find a balance between providing enough information on your application materials for firms to have a sense of the highlights you bring, but not too much information to the point that it is over-cluttered. What is the point of interviews if you have nothing further to talk about?

Proof-reading is very important. Ask a friend, a parent, anyone you can find to read over your materials. Spelling mistakes and grammatical errors looks like you put little effort into your application, which can be a negative factor when it comes to having your application compared to hundreds of others.

OCI/In firm Interview

So, you scored the interview(s). That is so exciting! Make sure to research the firms you will be interviewing with. Look at what areas of law they practice, their recent cases, and watch out for any buzzwords the firm uses frequently across their websites. Buzzwords can give a good inclination of what the firm finds very important.

A good way I found to practice interviewing was practicing with a friend. My roommate and I practiced interviewing each other, and the first couple times I could not get through the whole 17 minutes without feeling awkward and laughing. But if you can get through the awkwardness of doing a serious interview in front of your friend, you will be a pro by the time the real thing comes around.

An interviewer may ask about one of your past work experiences or an extra-curricular you participated in. This is an opportunity for you to tell a story, starting from an experience you had, a skill you developed, and how that will transfer into the work you hope to do for the firm. Do not just restate what you have already written down in your submission materials because they have already read that!

Bring questions for the interviewers. While they are interviewing you, you are equally as much interviewing them! My OCI interviewers left up to half the allotted interview time just for me to ask them questions. This is a great opportunity to show what research you have done on the firm, and what you would like further information on. Do not ask any questions that a quick look on their website could have answered.

Pep Talk

At the end of the day, always make sure to be yourself! It can be too easy to get caught up with imposter syndrome and to think you need to act like someone you are not, just to come off as cool, calm and collected. The problem is that interviewers can see right through it. They want to get to know the real you, so let that person shine on through! The right firm for you will be the one where the real you can be appreciated and accepted.

Something that helped me with managing stress during the OCI process was refraining from speaking about it to my friends in law school. As tempting as it is to run to others and compare who got interviews where, it is important to be mindful that the process is different for everyone. By refraining from speaking about it, when my friends and I were hanging out we were truly just having a good time and there were no stressful conversations about the latest OCI news. Of course the day after call day when everything cooled down a bit, everyone told each other the mix of news. But by refraining from these conversations during the midst of recruit, we were all able to balance our stress to a manageable level without feeling pressured or compared further by our surrounding classmates.

I wish all the incoming 2L’s the best of luck in the 2021-2022 recruit, and hope it is a memorable and fun experience to look back on as one of the milestones of law school.

Wednesday 30 June 2021

Motions in Motion: The Journey from First Assignment to Final Product

For my first assignment, I was asked to prepare materials for a Motion to Strike. I felt ready. I took Civil Procedure in my second year of law school, and I had my “Rules of Civil Procedure” blue book handy.

Side note: During these pandemic times, I’ve decided to communicate by phone vs. email as much as possible to build connections within the firm. It is nerve wracking calling up a senior lawyer, but it saves emailing back and forth. 

"I also found a phone call often turns into a friendly chat, and I’m given interesting facts on the file."

So for my first assignment, I gave the assigning lawyer a call. After taking copious notes during the call, I felt like I had all the information I needed. So I opened a word document to get started and immediately realized I didn’t know where to begin. I had never done a Motion to Strike, and what was an equitable set-off?

I realized my first step should have been to ask for a precedent. So I reached out to the assigning lawyer, and to the firm lawyers’ email group. Finally, for this very niche issue, I also turned to WestLaw. I found a few motions to strike an equitable set-off and the accompanying factums of both the plaintiff and the defendant. Reading both sides of the arguments gave me ideas on what to argue in my own factum and how to craft and anticipate the opposing side’s response.

My second step was to read the rules which also provides the most relevant caselaw, and I found a case to use in my factum. The Index was also helpful because it is like a little cheat sheet that compiles everything I need about the topic in one place. It’s basically CTRL-F for books.

After reading the rules, I pulled out my “Annual Survey, Forms, and Other Materials” book. This provided the format and language of all the civil court documents. Sure, I could have Googled it but then I would need to know the exact terms to search for.

After all this research, I could finally start drafting. It took a couple drafts back and forth with the assigning lawyer to get it right, but when I did, it was rewarding!

A few weeks later, I received another assignment to draft default judgment materials. Although it was a vastly different subject than my first motion, the experience of doing just one made starting this next one much easier. I read the rules, checked my book of forms to see what a default judgment looked like, and started writing.

I gave it a final once-over and it was *chef’s kiss* good in my humble opinion. I sent it off to the assigning lawyer. I moved on to another task, riding that high of finishing an assignment ahead of time.

*Ping* - A few hours later an email comes in from the assigning lawyer – great job he says! But, one problem, it is a small claims file, so it needs to be on their forms.

I laughed out loud at myself while reading the email. During orientation, more than one lawyer told us an error students often make is missing the jurisdiction of the matter which changes the forms and requirements needed. At that time, I promised myself I would always check jurisdiction and not make that mistake.

And remembering the other advice from my mentors, summer is a time to learn, I decided not sweat it.

So I quickly went and searched the forms and rules of small claims court (which are also in the blue book). Fortunately, most of the work I had done was still necessary, so I made my edits and submitted my changes.

One thing I do know is lessons stick better when I’ve learned from a mistake, so I won’t do that again. (I hope ;)

Tuesday 22 June 2021

A Zoom Day in the Life of a Summer Student

Starting a new job in the midst of a global pandemic in a virtual “work” world was daunting. How would I be productive or form relationships with colleagues while working from home?

"To give you a feel for how it’s going, here is my
"virtual” work day in the life of a summer student."

7:00am –Early bird gets the worm! I set my alarm early to give my brain time to wake up. (Caveat: I hit snooze two times before getting out of bed!)

7:30am – Workout First – to give me the push I need to get through the day and free up my evenings. This usually consists of a 30-minute cycling class on my Peloton bike (Fave = Kendall Toole).

8:30am – Breakfast - the most important meal of the day!

9:00am – Work start - First I check email for new assignments. Then, I review my excel spreadsheet where I track assignments and due dates. I call this document “my bible” as it is crucial in keeping me on track.

9:15am – Call with Student Director - Three times per week, the summer students participate in a Zoom call with the Student Director. We chat about how the week is going, what assignments we’re working on, and ask any questions, all in a comfortable setting. Without these weekly check-ins, we could go days without seeing each other. We all enjoy this checkpoint for the social interactions and to get perspectives on any tough assignments.

9:45am – 12:30pm – Time to get busy! – Today, I start off by working on an affidavit of documents for a subrogation file. I submitted it yesterday, and was asked to make some revisions to it and finalize the document for sending to opposing counsel. Once finished, I switched gears onto an accident benefits file to prepare a summary of the client’s documentation.

12:30 – 1:00pm Lunch Break

1:00pm – Call with a Lawyer - I had expressed an interest in working in family law, so an associate called to discuss an assignment. The lawyer gave me an overview of the custody dispute and asked that I research the caselaw on parents obtaining custody of their children in a scenario specific to the case at hand, and then write up my findings in a memorandum.

1:30 – 5:00pm – Productivity Zoom Call – Because staying focused after lunch can be difficult, the students all join in on a Zoom call while working independently. The idea is to keep the video on but microphones muted. This keeps us on track with our assignments and minimizes afternoon breaks. Plus someone is easily accessible to bounce ideas off of or ask questions that come up while we work (which can be frequent). Not only does this with productivity, it also provides some social interaction that would normally be available when working in an office.

During this time, I finish and submit the document summary for the accident benefits file that I was working on this morning. Then I switch gears and work on a research assignment for a professional negligence file.

To end the productivity call, we have a final chat about work assignments, any last questions, and then share a final laugh before going our separate ways. Calls like this have built the group’s camaraderie during our virtual experience. The silver lining of this virtual experience is that the Toronto students have had a lot of interaction with the Ottawa students, which we likely would not have had if it wasn’t for Zoom.

5:00 – 6:00pm – End of Day - As a lighthearted and easy way to end my day on a high note, I write this blog. Then, with nothing else pressing to finish for today, I submit my daily dockets and log off.

Evening Activity! – I met one of my fellow students (also in the GTA) in person for a coffee for the first time! Although, we wish the rest of our student group could join us, we look forward to the end of the Pandemic so we can all meet in person.

11:00pm – Bedtime
by Rebecca F.

Monday 14 June 2021

“Be a sponge.” How I plan to make the most of my summer student experience

Starting a new job as a summer student was a bit intimidating for me. In unfamiliar situations, it is easier for me to stick with what I already know. However, if I want to make the most of my summer student experience, I know I have to step outside of my comfort zone and be open to new experiences.

During orientation week, one phrase the Director of Student Programs said that stuck was “be a sponge”. 

"As summer students, we will be hit with a lot of information
every day and it is our job to soak it up."

My goal is to absorb and learn as much as possible during this summer. The following is my plan on how to do this.

See every assignment as a new opportunity

My very first assignment involved drafting a defence for a Small Claims Court file that involved construction work. At first the task seemed very daunting because the documents I had to review were filled with construction lingo I had never heard before. However, I approached the assignment with an open mind and started working away. I probably had to Google every other word in the documents, but at the end of the day I not only learned how to draft a defence, but I also now know what an “overdig” is and what it’s for.

Ask if I can be part of the next step on a file

When I complete an assignment for a file or attend a field trip, I am going to ask the lawyer if I can be part of the next step on the file. For example, after attending an examination for discovery, I will ask if I can make an undertakings chart or do the discovery report. This will be a great way to stay involved in a file and build connections with different lawyers at the firm.

Ask for assignments in unfamiliar practice areas

I have never taken a class in employment law, so I asked to be kept in mind if anyone had an employment law file that they needed help with. I will continue to do this throughout the summer and sample all the different practice areas. This is a great way for me to learn which practice areas I may want to potentially specialize in later on in my career.

Reach out to all lawyers regardless of what location they are in

Although the firm has offices in Toronto, London, Barrie, Kitchener, and Ottawa, because all of our work is virtual, it is easier than ever to get assignments from lawyers at every office. Because of this, I could attend an examination for discovery in London, a mediation in Ottawa, and a pre-trial in Toronto all in one week! I am definitely using this to my advantage (COVID-19 silver lining!)

This is my time to be intellectually curious, ask questions and take advantage of every opportunity. I’ll report back in my next blog how this worked for me!

Wednesday 9 June 2021

I wish I had paid more attention in Civ Pro (and other thoughts)

Starting as a summer student made me realize just how much I did not know. There are new office protocols, a new computer system to learn, going on your first field trip and not understanding anything that was said. One of the biggest things I have learned so far is that the rules of civil procedure are not like long division; you will have to use them in everyday life (as a litigator) and they are actually important. After almost two full weeks on the job here are some of my other biggest takeaways:

Always ask for a precedent even if you don’t think you need one.
Different lawyers may have different expectations or even preferences when it comes to formatting.

"It’s always better to just ask than to finish an assignment
and find out it’s not what the lawyer wanted."

At this stage, even seemingly straightforward assignments can be different from what you expected. In my first week, I was assigned to complete a list of undertakings, and assuming I knew exactly what I was doing spent forty-five minutes listing them in bullet points in a word document before realizing that it makes way more sense to have them in a chart form along with page and line numbers. Sometimes lawyers forget that we have no idea what we’re doing and that’s ok you just need to remind them and they’re always happy to clarify.

When to ask questions: the twelve-minute rule.
As a student, we have questions about almost everything. As much as we’re encouraged to reach out when we don’t know what to do there is always the worry that (a) I should already know this and (b) what if the lawyer is busy and I’m bothering them. If you’re not sure when to ask follow the 12-minute rule. If it takes you more than twelve minutes or 0.2 of docketable time to figure something out, then it’s time to ask. Taking any longer is going to waste your time and at that point, it becomes more efficient just to ask.

Docketing: how long is too long?
One question that is asked almost daily in our summer student group chat: “is this task taking me too long?” Nothing induces panic more than a lawyer telling you this assignment should only take you about an hour and then it actually takes you six (an actual research assignment I recently had). Never slash your own hours! It takes however long it takes. Lawyers who have already been practicing for years will obviously be able to finish a task that they have done a hundred times before faster than a student. A student adage is to take the time suggested by the lawyer and then multiply it by their year of call and that will give you a more realistic measure of how long a task should take to complete. At the end of the day, all students are slow and it’s not worth stressing over.

Use the virtual experience to your advance: field trips anyone?
One of the unexpected benefits of starting as a summer student during a pandemic is that working virtually has blurred the lines between geographical offices and exposed us to more areas and avenues for work. Since starting I have completed assignments from our London office, attended an arbitration in Toronto and have an upcoming mediation in Ottawa. While in-person would be a great experience, zoom makes it easier to access and attend more field trips. A virtual summer makes it possible to work with lawyers in any office. There is an added bonus that the Toronto and Ottawa students can work together as a group rather than being divided by geographical office.

Ultimately my main takeaway is that it's ok not to know anything. You learn by doing and sometimes an assignment won’t make any sense until you try your hand at it, and if you are really stuck all you have to do is ask! 

Tuesday 26 January 2021

Tips for Online OCIs and In Firms

The OCI process is daunting in normal years. You’re in the middle of your time in law school and for many, it’s your first substantive dive into the professional legal world. It’s a gauntlet of interviews, phone calls, scheduling, meetings and all the while trying to seem like an employable candidate that stands out from all the other great candidates in the process. 

"Then to top it all off, a pandemic hits and now 
you have to navigate this already complex world virtually."

So what changes? How do you stand out above the rest and showcase yourself in this new environment? I’ll try here to lay out a few tips that can help you be the person that ends up with an offer.

  1. Take the coffee chat online - Asking someone that works at a firm of interest to meet for a coffee is a tried and tested way of getting your foot in the door. It serves as a way to clearly demonstrate your interest, get a real sense of the people in the firm, and ask some of the more in-depth questions that you won’t find on the website. While it’s always nicer to meet with someone in person to start building that connection, our current situation isn’t allowing for that so why not apply that same principle virtually? When you can’t meet face to face, a phone call can help accomplish a lot of the same goals. Here are some tips for when you’re trying to build some rapport with the firm through a call.

    1. Choose wisely. For the uninitiated, there’s always an inclination to go right to the top of the ladder and try and reach out to the perceived decision-makers to show them why you should be their pick. Generally, these are also the busiest people who are least likely to be able to meet with you and likely have much less of a role in the student hiring process then students perceive. Instead, target the firm’s students and or recently called associates, especially people that went to your school. They will be the most likely people to respond to you, they will likely be best positioned to answer most of your questions about the firm’s student program and are usually some of the first people student recruiters ask when looking for opinions on prospective hires.

    2. Don’t bother with zoom or skype. While I could see how prospective students would love a little extra face time, the people you’re looking to contact at the firms are mostly enjoying the casual life through this pandemic, and few will likely be looking forward to donning professional attire just so you can see their smiling faces. If the person you’re looking to contact offers that opportunity then great, but this is definitely a place where a good old-fashioned phone call would be much more appropriate.

    3. If you’re not five minutes early you’re late. Always, always, always be right on time. The people you’re trying to contact are likely in the middle of one of their busiest times of the year and they’ve carved out a piece of their day specifically to help you. The least you could do is make sure you’re on time and ready for the call.

  2. Do your homework. Let’s say you’re short on time and you’re unable to connect with someone from the firm in advance of your interview. Well don’t fear, there’s still a fantastic resource out there that you should absolutely utilize: the firm website. You can learn a lot about your prospective employer from what’s readily available online and come interview time, being able to speak to the firm about specific things they do and how it interests you can do a long way to making yourself stand out from the pack. Potential practice areas and specialties, specifics of the student program and even articles and publications are all great things to look into and note to talk about should the opportunity arise in your interview.

  3. Be ready to have a good time. As someone that has gone through this process already, I get it. How can you think about fun in such a high-pressure situation? This is critical though as the most important thing this interview is about for the firms is determining who you are as a person. If you’ve made it to OCI’s they already think you’re a qualified candidate on paper, now it’s time to show them that you’re great in person too. Generally speaking, when your interviewer has an enjoyable time chatting with you then chances are they’re going to think they would have an enjoyable time working with you and that’s the recipe for getting hired. If you’re going into the process stressed and unnatural, your interviewers will absolutely pick up on that. So take the time to do whatever it is you do to relax, embrace the process and try to have a good time with it!

Follow these steps and you’ll be sure to have success with this year’s unique job search. Best of luck to you all!

Adam O.