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.