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.