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!