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!