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!