Friday 5 January 2024

Learning the Ropes: My First Settlement Conference

image from Pexel Mohamed_hassan

As an articling student, you can assume day-to-day carriage of your own small claims court matters. This provides a great opportunity for you to understand the “big picture” of the litigation process by working on a file from start to finish.

One small claims case I was working on involved the defence of a negligence claim brought against a medical professional.

The first step was to prepare a defence. Because the timeline to respond to the Plaintiff’s Claim was approaching, we did not want to risk being noted in default by the court.

Litigation keeps you on your toes by constantly changing your schedule; therefore, it is important to know the timelines outlined in the Rules so you do not miss deadlines. However, it is equally important to be familiar with the SCJ Practice Directions because procedures vary based on where the proceeding will occur. You want to ensure your materials are accepted by the relevant court.

Once this was done, I prepared an initial opinion and budget for the client. At first, I thought this would be a daunting task. I had a general understanding of the standard of care medical professionals are held to; however, I did not go to medical school. How could I decipher medical terminology and procedures? Thankfully, all I needed was my legal background and guidance from the supervising lawyer to draft an opinion regarding exposure on liability and damages. I even took it to another level by recommending the next steps to the client.

The next thing I knew, a settlement conference was scheduled. These are court appearances with all parties where a deputy judge gives an opinion on the claim in an attempt to resolve the matter or at least narrow down the issues.

The day of, I was nervous because I did not know what to expect. What if I was asked something I did not have an answer for? Nonetheless, I felt prepared because I knew the facts of the case and had brief notes on the legal submissions I would make.

At the end of the day, the claim settled! This was a great feeling because it hinged on the legal analysis provided to the client and submitted to the court. Nothing feels better than a deputy judge agreeing with your view of the law. Now, I feel more confident in tackling my next court appearance. Good thing, because I am appearing at another settlement conference at the end of the month.