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.