Monday 18 December 2023

Learn while making a difference

picture courtesy of pixel

When I told a friend that I would be articling at a full-service litigation firm in the heart of Toronto, he did not hesitate to respond with “Enjoy standing behind the photocopier all day!” While that may be many people’s perception of what students do in firms like MB, here it could not be further from the truth. 

 My very first assignment, 30 minutes into articling, involved communication with multiple parties in the process of drafting a Statement of Claim. 

While nervous at first, I knew the detailed training I received was more than sufficient but more importantly that help is ALWAYS one phone call away (or within a few feet).

Fast forward to today, and looking back at that moment, I can clearly see how many different skills I learned in such a short time. Even though it's only been a few months, I’ve had a chance to be involved in and observe multiple court proceedings including pre-trials, Examinations for Discovery and even Trials, one all the way in London, almost 200 kilometres away from my desk.

On any given day, I may walk into the office with my morning coffee and draft claims where we represent the plaintiff. Then after lunch, I shift gears and now I’m drafting documents or preparing for proceedings where we represent the defendant. This diversity makes it possible to learn not just the craft of litigation but to experience both sides of it without the need to change seats! It also makes it possible to learn by doing in a more effective manner. It feels kind of like being a double agent because when I write a defense, I can not only refer to all our resources but also what I was thinking when I was drafting a Statement of Claim and vice versa. Something only possible in this setting.

All of this is while the work is meaningful. Coming from the legal aid clinical environment, I was used to seeing the impact of my work both in the form of the matters proceeding and the direct impact it had on clients. While there is a learning curve with literally anything a student does, the lawyers are more than happy to go the extra mile by letting the student do the tasks and be a part of the process. Making students a part of the file allows us to see how certain actions taken lead to the next steps. We can also see the different paths a particular case can go with the benefit of the context I got from being involved in its previous stages.

A benefit of being a student in this environment is there is plenty of room for self-reflection. I remember how long it took me to draft my first Statement of Claim versus how much faster I am today. That said, I still need to figure out where they keep the photocopier because I’ve been too busy becoming a litigator!

Tuesday 12 December 2023

In Hallowed Halls: Selecting a Jury

image from pixel

One of the largest courtrooms I’ve seen. A large, vaulted roof. There must have been eight rows of three long pews. 24 in all. Each one was filled from end to end with people, to the point where they lined up along the back wall as well. In total, there were likely around 150 people in that room. Sitting in the back, I recognized 90% of them, if not more. Why?
Because today was jury selection. And before jury selection, we prepared for everyone.
In the week before the fateful day, I had been assigned a new and interesting task. One of the files was heading toward a jury trial and didn’t seem like it was going to settle. To prepare, I had to find out everything I could about the potential jurors. I needed to create a list that the lawyers could use to determine which jurors they wanted and which they did not.

The first step was going to the Courthouse and getting the jury list. They kept it short and sweet; all I had was the potential jurors’ name and a “listed occupation” (which ranged from “student” to “government”). In short, not much to go on.

So, I spent two days looking through the list. LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, or good old-fashioned Google. Really, anywhere I thought they could be. With some names, I found nothing. Maybe an author with the same name who wrote a book on advanced mathematics in the 1970s. Maybe a genealogical family history with the same name. Nothing substantial.

But with other names, there was much more to learn. One individual ran a 10K in under 25 minutes. Another individual sued five different parties in the span of three years. A third individual actually practiced law for several years in another province before moving to Ontario and somehow still made it onto the list of potential jurors. That was certainly a surprise when I found it. It was an interesting assignment, not only trying to identify the right person but also trying to determine what could be important and what would be extraneous.

What I truly was not prepared for, though, was what happened the next morning. I went in early, but instead of heading to the firm, I went to the Courthouse to join the lawyers there. On that day, the jury selection room, despite its size, was filled to the brim with people. Walking in, I saw someone I recognized, but I could not remember where I recognized them from. Then I recognized another. And another. Until I realized they were not people I knew but forgot about; they were the jurors that I had researched and reviewed. It truly is an odd feeling to recognize people who would never recognize you.

This left me sitting in the Courtroom during jury selection, watching the process alongside 150 other potential jurors, Lawyers, Court Staff and the Judge. For each juror, the Registrar would spin an old wooden box with the name of each juror inside. He would then pull a name, read it out, and the juror would approach. For the most part, it was oddly like bingo.

At the start, the Registrar did this six times, with six jurors at the front of the Courtroom. Each was asked if they were available for the length of the trial. Most gave reasons to be excused. Some had prepaid vacations. Others had labour contracts they were required to fill; participating in the trial would cause economic hardship. Two older individuals were concerned about sickness and their ability to pay sufficient attention; they were dismissed on compassionate grounds.

Eventually, six jurors were in the jury box. At this time, the Lawyers looked them over and started exercising their peremptory challenges, dismissing jurors that they believed would not weigh in their favour. And so, the cycle continued. Jurors were called; some gave excuses and were dismissed, while others were dismissed by peremptory challenges.

It took 41 jurors to finalize the six jurors and two alternates for the trial. 150 jurors were called, 41 were excused, eight were selected, and in the end, six participated in the trial.

by Max G.

Wednesday 13 September 2023

A Recipe for Success: The Similar Challenges of Articling and Starting Law School

image adapted from pexel

As I began my journey as an articling student, I quickly realized that all the same feelings I had when starting 1L came back to hit me like a brick wall. The excitement of starting a new chapter in my life, the nerves associated with the what-ifs and of course, the unrelenting sense of existential dread wondering if I really have what it takes to be a lawyer.

"These were only a handful of the many emotions I felt during both these new beginnings."

The best word of advice I can give to those finishing law school is that the transition to practice isn’t exactly going to be smooth sailing. But remember– you made it this far already– which likely means that you already have all that is needed in your figurative “legal kitchen cabinet” to whip up a recipe for success.

Here’s what you’ll need…

Two Cups of Organization and Adaptation

In law school, you quickly get into the habit of staying on top of your readings, going to class and creating summaries for exams. As an articling student, you will need that same level of routine and organization. You’ll have to get into a pattern of checking in with the next steps for files, docketing your time, answering emails, etc. or else you’ll feel scrambled. Remember those growing pains with the first few weeks of adjusting to life as a law student, well, the same thing is going to happen when you start articling. You’ll get into the swing of things in no time but expect the unexpected. You never know when an urgent assignment will force you out of your element just like a professor cold calling you in class. This will be no problem if you add a bit of adaptability into the mix. 

 Equal Parts Trying New Things and Learning How to Fail

The bread and butter at MB is insurance defence but there is a whole bunch of other work that comes through the door. Test the waters because this is the time to figure out where you want to focus your practice in the future. Who knows, you may end up loving an area of law you never had a taste of just like that one class in school you put into your schedule because nothing else fit. Don’t be afraid of trying something new because you don’t want to get it “wrong”. Grades are no longer your focus and besides, there is never a perfect answer when it comes to the law anyway. Just do your best, get the easy things right, be reliable and think of how you can add value to advance a file.

A Pinch of Competence and Confidence

As a first-year law student, I remember feeling imposter syndrome. How do I draft a legal memo? What’s a factum? How do I approach my first law school exam? These things become a breeze by the time you complete your studies. You’ll have the same feelings as you start articling; however, the more exposure you get to basic litigation tasks, the more confident and competent you become in knowing how to tackle whatever assignment comes at you.

Garnish With Some Rest and Relaxation

At the end of the day, no recipe is complete if it isn’t made with a little love (or R&R in the case of articling students)!

In law school, you have deadlines for papers and exams and you will have similar expectations when articling. I remember like it was yesterday the fall of 1L and the rush of due dates for assignments while trying to balance studying for exams. Of course, this was followed by the lull of the second semester. During articling, you will have the same ebbs and flows, so take advantage of the downtime getting ahead on files but also doing things you enjoy. Yes, you need to work hard and meet deadlines because you are setting yourself up for your future career, but you also need to take time for yourself.

As a final thought, just know that you’ll be fine. Think back to how you developed and grew from your first to last year of law school. Similarly (and hopefully), things will get easier as time goes on during your articling experience and you get to learn how the law works in practice.

Friday 14 July 2023

Bringing a Little MSW to the JDs

pictures from pexel

Many people believe that the fields of law and social work are opposites. As a summer student having spent even a short amount of time in a law firm, I can attest that there is in fact a fascinating overlap between the two disciplines. 

Within the tight-knit MSW/JD community, I’ve heard it put this way:
Law is public regulation and social work is public administration. 

I’ve also heard that “An MSW/JD is like a lawyer, except with a soul.” (I’ve chosen to include this because this blog has definitely not seen enough bad lawyer jokes! Wink!)

What I love most about starting in a law firm as an MSW/JD student is being able to look at the law through the social worker’s lens. Social workers learn methods and theories in psychology, psychotherapy, health, behaviour, and human dysfunctions, and apply this expertise through a diverse range of social and client interventions. In essence, social workers are trained to predict and interpret human behaviour, and the stakes can be incredibly high. We’re made to predict whether parents will abuse their children; if persons suffering from addiction are at risk of jeopardizing their sober living facilities; and whether historically violent parolees will re-offend.

There’s a constant mental assessment happening: Is this person a threat? Are they lying to me? How are they going to act when I leave the room? What makes them tick? What keeps them calm? Something doesn’t feel right, but I can’t put my finger on it, and I must make my recommendation today: What level of risk does this person pose to themselves and to others?

The roots of frontline social work and the roots of litigation are very much alike. The question we’re continuously asking ourselves as litigators is: What is the other side going to do next? How will they react to what I’m advancing? What can I do or say that will make them understand me? What can I do or say that will help them feel understood?

Whether your audience is a judge, a jury, or opposing parties, one of the main goals in litigation is to appeal to what moves them and persuade them to your side. Legal strategy is partly a game in psychology, which is why using the social work lens to tap into human drives, patterns, emotions, and shortcomings is a powerful advantage.

While they do seem like polar fields at times, social work and law are, in my view, quite complementary. It will be fascinating to watch how social work influences my perspective on the law, as well as how my peers’ backgrounds shape their own emerging legal practices. As a very new, little fish in a big, lawyer-y pond, I’m fortunate to be finding some comfort in the commonalities between the social work side of me and the litigator-in-training side of me here at McCague Borlack.

As an aside, I wanted to share my favourite books related to the fascinating intersections of psychology and argument…Bringing a little MSW to the JDs, as it were!

  • Predictably Irrational – Dan Ariely
  • The Gift of Fear – Gavin DeBecker
  • Talking To Strangers – Malcolm Gladwell
  • Freakonomics / Think Like a Freak – Steven D Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
  • Thank You for Arguing – Jay Heinrich

By Becka, Concurrent MSW/JD Summer Student

Friday 7 July 2023

Lawyers plan their time…and the law gods laugh!

two images merged from Pexel

During my short stint as a summer student thus far, one thing has become abundantly clear about the legal profession: planning my time is unpredictable. It sounds like an oxymoron; trust me – I know. However, while it may sound paradoxical, the sentiment is true. Even though you may plan your day, working in the legal profession means you must accommodate short-term court deadlines, urgent tasks assigned to you, and time-sensitive client requests.

Challenges with time management are exacerbated when you’re a student because it can be difficult to anticipate how long a task will take. All too often, I will embark on an assignment after having allocated a certain amount of time in my day for the task – only to realize that it took much longer than I anticipated. 

"As someone who thrives on scheduling every minute of her day, changing my game plan to accommodate my evolving workload has been an uncomfortable reality."

But challenging as it may be, adapting to this more versatile approach when planning my time has been a fantastic learning opportunity.
  1. Ask for input from lawyers on how much time to allocate. Being a lawyer means having experience completing a variety of different tasks. They likely have a good understanding of how long a certain task may take. Of course, it will take a student much longer than an experienced lawyer to do most things, but this can certainly offer a great jumping-off point.

  2. Communicate your capacity when negotiating deadlines. Don’t overbook yourself! Otherwise, your work product may suffer. It’s important to communicate with the assigning lawyer when you have a lot of work on your plate. If you jam-pack your schedule with deadlines without leaving time to accommodate longer-than-anticipated tasks or last-minute requests, you might be setting yourself up to fail. It’s important to advocate for yourself and be realistic when you agree to a deadline so that you have no problem meeting it.

  3. Allow for more of a buffer than you think. Think something will only take you 3 hours? Great, reserve 5! Best case, it doesn’t take that long, and you’ve freed up some time in your schedule to get started on other tasks. Worst case, it’s taken you a bit longer than anticipated, but you budgeted your time with enough flexibility to cope with the unexpected! Win-win! Of course, it doesn’t always work out quite as perfectly as this, but adding in some buffer time has helped me immensely.

  4. Roll with the punches! While it’s always helpful to have a plan to maximize your time, understanding that you may need to move things around at the last minute and improvise with your time is also important. Realizing that your schedule is subject to change can help set realistic goals and expectations for managing your time and helps to prevent panic down the road when you need to pivot unexpectedly.

Don’t get me wrong with this last item; I’m definitely still a planner! But this more flexible approach when scheduling my task list has given me more confidence in managing my time! 

Thursday 29 June 2023

Toronto: A City of Commuters

Picture taken by Liza

My family, like many others, made the decision to move out of Toronto and to the last stop on the Lakeshore East GO Train line: Oshawa. Four years later, I return to Toronto as a commuting summer student. Here is what I have learned, and if you are a prospective student thinking about commuting to the city every day for work, this is what you can expect a typical day to look like!

I wake up at 6AM daily, but I arrive at my desk at MB just before 9AM. So, what do I do in those three hours between getting up and starting work? I am WORKING. 

"A travelling student is a student who never stops learning." 

This is my typical schedule:

Picture taken by Liza

6:00 AM:
Feed the cat. Complete my mandatory playtime shift (otherwise my furry boss may get cranky).

6:20 AM: Brush teeth, get dressed, eat breakfast, and make lunch.

7:00 AM: Out the door! On my drive, I like to listen to my favourite podcasts (my favourite one at the moment is a podcast about abandoned/ extinct amusement parks and why they closed down).

7:25 AM: Arrive at the GO Station and find parking in time to catch the 7:30 train. I have quickly learned that trains are the emptiest on Mondays and Fridays. I leave my house early the rest of the week because it can get PACKED on that train, and the further I have to park, the more likely I will miss my train! On the train, I will check and respond to my personal emails, solidify my after-work plans, then watch a documentary that will wake me up for the day. I am registered to take the MPRE in August, so I will also listen to MPRE lessons or do practice quizzes.

8:30 AM: Arrive at Union. I am finding my way around the never-ending station and can confidently find the exits closest to MB.

Picture taken by Liza

8:45 AM:
Arrive at MB. Walking provides an opportunity to check out the PATH on my way to work, which means I can pinpoint exactly where I want to go for my break (one day, I may even know how to fully navigate the infamous PATH)!

5:00 – 6:00 PM: Wrap up work for the day. The time I finish usually varies, and I do my best to finish 15 minutes ahead of the next scheduled GO Train.

6:00 PM: A couple times a week, I will walk to a nearby yoga studio. It really takes your mind off the impending crowded GO Train I will have to catch home.

7:25 PM: Catch the GO Train home. I will watch movies or TV shows on the train, I have found many new favourites this way.

8:25 PM: Drive home while listening to music or chatting with a friend on the phone.

9:30 PM: Go to bed to do it all over again tomorrow!

As you can see, the commute is strenuous and takes up a big chunk of my day. However, I get a LOT done on my commute, and it has taught me how to practically manage my time and how to effectively adapt to my surroundings so that they will never be a barrier to what I want to get done! If I am late for yoga or the train, they will go on without me. This kind of pressure has allowed me to find the self-discipline I need to meet the timelines I have set for myself in both my professional and personal life. So, if you are thinking of commuting, do it. You may be surprised at what you learn about yourself!

Wednesday 21 June 2023

Whose side are you on, anyway? – Getting exposure to Plaintiff and Defence work

Images combined from Pexel.

It’s been just over three weeks since our summer student experience at MB began, and I’m happy to say I’ve enjoyed every minute! Ashley told us during orientation that the work was going to fully immerse us in the civil litigation process, and that couldn’t be more accurate. In the first few weeks of the summer, I’ve had a wide range of assignments, including drafting a statement of defence, a mediation brief, and preparing a damages brief. While taking on so much responsibility this early has been daunting, it’s been a great learning experience, and I’m already starting to feel more confident.

"I was introduced to a type of claim that was entirely new to me: subrogation." 

Subrogation is a process that allows an insurer to recover the money it has paid to its insured by initiating a legal action in the name of the insured against a third party who is responsible for the loss. Subrogation claims can span several areas, including flood or fire damage and faulty/improper construction, to name a few. One of the exciting aspects of subrogation claims is that the firm gets to represent the plaintiff. This means that in addition to the vast array of defence work, as students, we also get to see first-hand what it’s like to advance and manage a claim on behalf of the plaintiff. Not only does this keep the work fresh and exciting, but it will be extremely valuable in developing us into well-rounded litigators.

I’m incredibly excited to see what the rest of the summer has in store!

Thursday 15 June 2023

Avoid tipping the scales of justice

Everyone warned me about maintaining a good work-life balance when entering a career in law. How easy it can be to get so caught up that you dive in and don’t realize when you have lost that balance. I am lucky to work at a firm that wants its students and lawyers to have a life outside of work. But admittedly, I can see myself falling into the trap of loving work so much that it becomes my hobby.

So, with my whopping two weeks of summer student experience, I'm here to tell all you readers the one way I found to make sure I didn’t get lost in my work.

“I use my colleague’s interests as a way to get out and try new things.”

In my case, the opportunity rolled through my inbox in early January. One of the firm associates started a McCague Borlack team for the Baycrest Ride for Brain Health. At the time, I had accepted a summer student position and only knew one other person at the firm, a fellow student. The idea of meeting a bunch of my future colleagues (and superiors) was a bit daunting. However, my comfort spaces were always in a gym or volunteering so how bad could a charity bike ride go?

The plot thickened when deciding on the course route (25, 50, or 75km). I decided to throw myself in and signed up for the 75K. Because how, as a former high-level athlete, could I sign up for the shortest distance? (Editor’s note: Angela was a Pro Basketball player in Denmark!) I wasn’t sure if I was shooting myself in the foot, but my family tends to live by the saying ‘go big or stay home’.

This new goal added a ton of fun training on my own throughout the remainder of the school semester and before I knew it, I was starting at the firm. I still hadn’t met anyone I would be riding with but every night after work, I would hop on my bike to train. I looked forward to the upcoming event itself and meeting everyone, but my daily training was still fun and exciting. I was motivated to do well at the event, and the training didn’t involve factum writing or drafting documents (not that I don’t love those as well).

On the day of the event, I got on my bike with my water bottle and emergency granola bar and got cycling! I had a ton of fun getting to bike on the DVP (closed for riders only!) and was contributing to a great cause, and at the end getting to meet a few more colleagues! 

 Overall, it was a 10 out of 10 experience! (Editor’s Note: Angela finished in just under 3 hours!) And to get back to the point of this whole piece, I learned about an awesome experience through the firm that made sure I didn’t get too absorbed in my work. While I am not in a position to give advice, seeing as I am as fresh as it gets to working in a law firm, I can say with confidence that one way I will remain a well-rounded individual will be to stay open to opportunities, career or otherwise, that fall in my lap along the way.

by Angela R.

Friday 14 April 2023

Lessons in Life and Law from Coach Ted Lasso

As an articling student, I have been searching for inspiration and guidance in my journey toward becoming a lawyer. Recently, I’ve been keeping up-to-date on the new season of the hit TV series TED LASSO, and so I felt it would be topical for my next blog post to cover the many valuable lessons offered by the show that could be applied to the life of an articling student.

For those who are unfamiliar with the show, Ted Lasso is a feel-good comedy about an American football coach who is hired to manage a struggling English football (soccer) team. Despite having no prior experience with the sport, Ted uses his positive attitude and unconventional coaching methods to inspire his team and turn their fortunes around.

Here are some of the lessons that I, as an articling student, have taken from Ted Lasso:

  1. Embrace positivity and kindness: In the show, Ted is known for his infectious positivity and kindness towards others. He treats everyone with respect and dignity, even in the face of adversity. As an articling student, it can be easy to get caught up in the stress and pressure of the job, but by embracing a positive attitude and showing kindness towards colleagues, clients, and others, we can create a more productive and pleasant work environment.

  2. Be a team player: In Ted Lasso, the success of the team depends on the collective efforts of each member. As an articling student, it's important to remember that we are part of a larger team and that our contributions are valuable. By working collaboratively with others and supporting our colleagues, we can achieve more together than we could individually.

  3. Adapt to change: When Ted is hired to manage a football team, he has to adapt to a new sport and a new culture. As articling students, we may face similar challenges as we navigate new areas of law and work with different clients. By being open-minded and willing to learn, we can adapt to change and thrive in new situations. In the words of Coach Lasso, “Taking on a challenge is a lot like riding a horse... If you’re comfortable while you’re doing it, you’re probably doing it wrong.”

  4. Focus on the bigger picture: Throughout the show, Ted reminds his team that success is not just about winning games, but about being the best version of themselves. As an articling student, it's important to remember that the goal of our work is not just to win cases or impress our colleagues, but to make a positive impact on our clients and society as a whole.

  5. Be a goldfish: In one memorable scene, Ted tells his team to "be a goldfish" and let go of past mistakes and failures. As an articling student, it's easy to dwell on our mistakes and become discouraged. By adopting a goldfish mindset and letting go of past failures, we can focus on the present and future and strive for success.

  6. Be curious, not judgemental: This quote, attributed to Walt Whitman and referenced in the show, reminds us to approach situations with an open mind and without preconceived notions. In Ted Lasso, Ted is always willing to learn and ask questions, even when he's in unfamiliar territory. As an articling student, it's important to approach our work with a sense of curiosity and a willingness to learn from others, rather than jumping to conclusions or making assumptions. By being curious and open-minded, we can gain new perspectives and insights that will help us become better lawyers.

  7. Believe: Ted Lasso is a show that celebrates the power of belief, both in oneself and in others. As an articling student, it's important to have faith in our own abilities and to believe in the potential of our clients and colleagues. To believe that we matter, regardless of what we do or do not achieve. To believe that things can get better. That we can get better. That we will get better. By fostering a culture of belief, we can inspire ourselves and others to achieve great things together, “and can’t nobody rip that apart.”

Overall, Ted Lasso is a show that celebrates positivity, kindness, teamwork, adaptability, resilience, and belief. As articling students, these are all traits that we should strive to embody in our careers. By taking these lessons to heart, we can become better lawyers and, more importantly, better people.

by Matt D.