Friday, 23 June 2017

Through the Looking Glass: The Reality of Working at a Litigation Law Firm

Almost any lawyer or summer law student will tell you that practicing law is very different than studying the law. I developed an interest in advocacy from my experiences in law school – among them, participating in moots and working in a legal clinic – but the truth is that I, like most law students, only had a vague idea of what the litigation process is really like. So, as I finish my fifth week at McCague Borlack, I find myself reflecting on the similarities and differences between theory and practice:

At one of the mediations I attended, I had the pleasure of hearing my research mentioned briefly.

Field Trips

In law school, you spend most of your time either in class or at the library poring over books. But this summer I have had the opportunity to attend examinations for discovery, mediations, motions, and other pre-trial appointments, which has easily been one of the most exciting aspects of being a summer student. Not only do you get a front-row seat to watch brilliant lawyers advocate for their respective clients, you also get to witness different strategies, techniques and styles of the different lawyers you have worked with – all of which is a huge learning opportunity as an aspiring litigator.

At one of the mediations I attended, I had the pleasure of hearing my research mentioned briefly. It was a very small part of the case, but a huge moment for me as a summer student!

The Human Element

In school, it can be easy to detach yourself when reading cases in class - especially when it’s an ancient tort case about ginger beer and a snail. At a law firm, however, it is very engaging to know that the file you are working on will have real life implications for a number of people. Nowhere has this been more apparent than at my first mediation where I heard our client and the opposing side speak passionately about their positions – something that a law textbook cannot offer.

This “human element” is a motivating factor which has helped all of us summer students do our best work.

Substantive Work

In law school, students focus on theory – but at a law firm, you have the chance to actually create legal documents. This summer has already been a huge learning experience. I could never have imagined that I, as a summer student, would have the opportunity to draft affidavits, pleadings, motions, and other documents that are part of the litigation process. Even more surprising is how much autonomy the firm gives us while working. This, paired with the guidance and feedback provided to the summer students, has allowed us to learn at an astounding pace.


In law school the first year is a real bonding experience – after the blood, sweat, and tears of 1L it’s hard not to feel close to those who have shared the same experience. Luckily, as a summer student, I’ve experienced the same comradery through the joint excitement, and even uncertainty, that I’ve shared with my fellow summer students.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Learning to Walk

One of the articling students affectionately calls us “baby lawyers”...

One of my fears during the recruitment process was that my summer and articling experiences wouldn’t prepare me for life post-call-to-the-bar. During OCIs, McCague Borlack LLP stood out from other firms. The promise of responsibility, opportunity, and support in the summer student program was backed up by endorsements from previous students and junior associates.

This was important to me because the thought of being a litigator, with full carriage of files, is intimidating. I want to be as prepared as possible for when that day comes, and the way to do that is to practice and learn as much as I can in the meantime.

Baby Steps

One of the articling students affectionately calls us “baby lawyers”, and now I understand what she means. We are baby lawyers—learning basic skills while being in an immersive and supportive environment. In the last 8 days, I have learned to crawl, and in some respects, I am already walking.

There is No “Typical” Day

There is no such thing as a typical day in the office. You never know what’s going to come through The List, or to you, personally. I realized this on my second day, when I had grand plans to sink my teeth into a very interesting file, but dropped everything to draft, serve, and file something urgent, instead.

Since then, no two days have been the same. In the last eight days, I have:
  • Drafted motion materials
  • Researched and drafted an article about legal developments in a niche area of law
  • Updated a lawyer on a file
  • Put together a book of authorities--and learned that there are designated colours for covers in the Rules of Civil Procedure. If you don’t believe me, see Rule 4.07
  • Attended arbitration and observed a cross-examination
  • Received file carriage of a small claims file
Parting Thoughts

I currently have examinations for discovery, motions, and mediations lined up, and who knows what The List will bring tomorrow. I’ve come a long way since my first day and first assignment, and I look forward to reflecting on my progress at the end of the summer. It might be too soon to tell, but I think my summer experience is preparing me well for articling, and eventually, life post-call.

Karolina I.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Team Player

The most common advice I received since entering law school has been to be a team player. The phrase “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link”, became more cliché every time I heard it. I knew that teamwork would be important, but I had no idea how valuable cooperation and comradery would become.

Asking questions is imperative to producing quality work efficiently...

The seven of us students, five in Toronto and two in Ottawa, began our first-day meeting in a boardroom. “Good morning”, we all echoed. Our team had met after months of anticipation. Together we learned about docketing, motions, research and everything else we need to know in order to successfully “McCague”. Lawyers entered and left our progressively less nervous boardroom to teach us new lessons - leaving us with knowledge, wisdom, and mostly, lots to think about. I learned quickly that the team I envisioned was composed of more than the summer students battling the tasks thrown our way. Everyone at the firm has a different, but important role, we rely on each other and succeed together.

After training, we received our first assignments, and naturally had lots of questions. We freely turn to each other for input and advice — without which, we would be far more confused and less productive. While we have a great support system amongst ourselves, we save the tougher and substantive questions for the lawyers, especially the ones who gave us the assignments! Initially, I was concerned about asking too many questions, despite being assured that questions are important and encouraged. However, once I spoke one-on-one with more of my colleagues, my concerns disappeared. I learned from various lawyers that asking questions is imperative to producing quality work efficiently. One lawyer told me that it is a waste of time to sit at a desk staring at the screen and waiting for the answers to magically appear. Of course, she was absolutely correct.

While asking questions is encouraged, I, just like everyone else at the firm, still respect my colleagues’ time. Consequently, I try to never ask the same question twice. To accomplish this, I write down all the tips and explanations I am given. I now have a collection of notes with instructions from others pinned on the walls around my desk. By the end of the first day, I created an excel sheet with the instructions I was given for each task. Following the spirit of the firm, which emphasises teamwork, the summer students have decided to put our notes together and create a database with basic guides to our assignments.

The second week is coming to a close and we already have a variety of assignments to complete. The students have all agreed that one of the biggest highlights of our time so far is the diverse set of tasks that we were given. Drafting initial reports, pleadings, motion records, affidavit of documents, and damages briefs are just some of the new things we are working on, and we love it.

Yousef E.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Parting thoughts and final farewells from Toronto Students!

It almost seems inconceivable to say that we are at the end of our articling term. Ten months ago, we all sat in a boardroom on our first day of training, filled with trepidation at what the next months would bring. I think I can speak for all of us in saying that, despite our anxieties, our time spent at McCague Borlack gave us the incredible opportunity to learn and prepare for our future careers as lawyers. As an added bonus, our collective experiences throughout our articling terms have brought us closer together as a group, and helped us become what I am sure will be life-long friends.


As it is time to say goodbye to McCague Borlack (at least for the summer), we hope to leave you with a few parting thoughts before we say our final farewells!


Parting Words: Take every opportunity you can – you only get one chance to learn as an articling student. You’ll never know what you’ll enjoy until you try!

Summer Plans: Enjoying the opportunity to do absolutely nothing.


Parting Words: Work hard. Stay humble.

Summer Plans: Travel and work.


Parting Words: Seek out the work that interests you; don’t wait for it to come to you.

Summer Plans: Work! (Specifically out of our Barrie office this summer!)


Parting Words: Articling is like a rollercoaster; terrifying yet thrilling. Don’t let your fears stop you from enjoying the ride.

Summer Plans: Relax and rejuvenate!


Parting Words: Every day of the articling experience makes the next one more manageable. There’s a steep learning curve but we’ve all made it through.

Summer Plans: Hiking the West Coast Trail in BC and the Kalalau Trail in Kauai, Hawaii


Parting Words: This year has been an incredible learning experience! Greater than I could have imagined.

Summer Plans: Spending the summer at home in B.C.

Thanks for the memories MB!

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Ottawa Articling Students - Personalized :)

The Ottawa Articling Students have had the opportunity to work very closely together (literally-our desks are directly across from each other!). We have had some great times and some challenging times, but we are always willing to bounce ideas off one another and help each other out.

Before we go, we would like to better introduce ourselves and give a little glimpse into our backgrounds and what we like to do for fun in Ottawa.


Growing up…

David is an Ottawa Native. He is born and raised in Orleans, Ontario, a suburb in the East of the City. David grew up in a primarily French household and went to a French high school. However, he is also completely bilingual. Prior to law school, David worked at the Canada Revenue Agency.

In his spare time…

David loves to keep active. As a former competitive hockey player, he enjoys watching his favourite hockey team, the Calgary Flames, and continues to play recreational hockey on a weekly basis. Besides hockey, is favourite sports to watch on television are Football and Baseball, although he has never played either. Go Saints! Go Jays!
David's Dog, Daisy

In the summer, you can find David in the tennis court and on the golf course or spending time with his family, friends or his adorable dog Daisy. David particularly enjoys going to concerts, and music festivals. He truly appreciates live music. Most recently, he saw the Lumineers in concert and was thoroughly impressed!

David decided to go to law school because…

David has always enjoyed problem solving. However, throughout his young life, David gravitated towards the idea of becoming a dentist, an English teacher, an accountant or a paramedic. It was not until the end of his first year of his undergraduate degree at the University of Ottawa, that it occurred to him that he should become a lawyer. David thanks his older cousin for inspiring him to pursue a law degree. After hearing about the interesting experiences his cousin was afforded during his time at law school, David decided to apply and was accepted to the University of Ottawa, and the rest is history!


Growing up…

I am originally from Montreal, but I grew up in Ottawa, where I completed high school, my undergraduate degree, my master’s degree and my Juris Doctor degree. Like David, I am from the suburb of Orleans. In fact, growing up, David and I lived down the street from each other, but had unfortunately never crossed paths until we met at the office!

In my spare time,

Cassandra’s dog, Missy
I enjoy skating on the Rideau Canal and hitting the ski hills in the winter. In the summers, I enjoy working on my golf game and have been taking lessons in the hopes of sharpening my skills. I also enjoy spending time with my dog, Missy, and taking her on walks through the Gatineau Hills.

I decided to go to law school because…

Like David, I enjoy solving problems and I have always had a curiosity about the law, generally. I planned my career trajectory early, as I decided to become a lawyer in the twelfth grade. Therefore, most of my university choices were geared towards reaching this goal. Now I am about two months away from accomplishing what I set out to do in grade twelve and I couldn’t be more excited to start my career as a lawyer!

Friday, 31 March 2017

My Experiences at Settlement Conferences

During my time in Law School, I took several negotiation and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) classes. In these classes, we experimented with different types of negotiating styles and strategies. Throughout my articles with MB, I have had the opportunity to apply what I learned in school to real-world scenarios and to further develop them in the context of settlement conferences. Accordingly, here are the top five lessons I have learned:

Managing client expectations can be critical....

Know your File

Knowing the ins and outs of your file will allow you to take part in meaningful discussions in order to possibly settle the file. Even if the matter doesn’t settle, I have found that knowing your file well will allow you to ask the right questions, enabling you to fill in any gaps of information in the file, which will assist you in the long run.

Put your Money where your Mouth is

The ultimate purpose of a settlement conference is to settle a matter. This will not be possible if one attends without the authority to settle. This is why it is critical for you to attend with settlement authority or with someone who has such authority. Interestingly, Rule 13.02 of the Rules of the Small Claims Court requires the party and their representative (if any) to participate in the conference either by personal attendance or by telephone/video conference.

Manage Expectations

Managing client expectations can be critical to maintaining a positive ongoing relationship with the client. I have found it fruitful to take some time prior to the settlement conference to speak with the client and go over what to expect such as the risks of going to trial and the weaknesses of the case. This discussion can make settlement much more likely to occur. For instance, when discussing the potential issues when enforcing a judgment, a client may prefer $5,000 immediately as opposed to expending further resources to collect $10,000 over a period of time.

Integrative Negotiating

I have found that this method works well for me and has led me to obtain successful results. This form of negotiating refers to uncovering the deeper interests/stakes of the parties so as to allow for a more meaningful discussion. The famous “orange” example demonstrates this model of negotiating. Specifically, two individuals are fighting over an orange. As a form of resolution, the two individuals simply split the orange in half. On the surface, this appears to be a fair deal. However, if the parties had taken the time to uncover their true interests, they would have realized that one of them only wanted the orange peel for its zest and the other wanted the orange for its juice. Had the parties employed this method they would have each gotten 100% of what they wanted rather than just 50%.

Live to Fight Another Day

I have found that sometimes a file is simply not ready to be settled. Perhaps all necessary documentation has not been exchanged or another issue has come up such as the spoliation of evidence. Therefore, rather than attempting to force settlement and risking an unfavourable settlement, it may be a better idea to obtain consent of the parties and adjourn the matter to a later date.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Assisting on a Jury Trial: A Quick Reference Guide

A month into the articling term, I was asked to assist on a three-week jury trial alongside a partner and an associate at the firm. To assist future students, I have prepared a quick reference guide that I hope will prove beneficial.

...create a reference binder for yourself of all the key documents...

Master the Background Material

To ensure you are able to assist in the best manner possible, learn the case from both a plaintiff and defence perspective. An excellent starting point is reading (and re-reading) the pre-trial memorandums prepared by both plaintiff and defence counsel. It is important to understand not only the difference of opinions of the law but also the factual details in dispute. Facts matter.

After this, create a reference binder for yourself of all the key documents, including the pre-trial memorandums, expert reports, memorandums and summaries that have been prepared by you or your colleagues. So when receiving instructions from the partner or associate, you will have quick access to key documents in order to be ready for any inquiry posed by them.

On-Call 24/7 for Each Day of the Trial

The nature of a trial means that unanticipated tasks will need to be completed before the trial commences for the day, while the trial is being held, and after the trial convenes for the day.

The partner and associate will undoubtedly be preparing well before the trial’s start-time of that day and may need assistance with the preparation of documents, or assistance with the witnesses who will be testifying later that day. As such it is imperative that you are physically accessible to assist them before they leave for the day.

Moreover, as the trial progresses throughout the day, unanticipated issues may arise. The partner or associate may take a few moments during a break to email you a quick research task. It is important that you are available, efficient, and effective during these small windows of opportunity.

When the trial convenes for the day, again be on-hand to assist the lawyer as they prepare for the following day of trial. This may include, researching points of law, drafting submissions, and preparing other court documents that will be used during the trial.

Observe & Learn

While assisting, ask the partner and/or associate, which days would be best for you to attend and observe the trial. This will allow you witness not only a part of your work come to life, but also the strong advocacy from both plaintiff and defence counsel, their interactions with the jury, and equally important, their exchanges with the trial judge.

Fortunately, I was able to witness the opening statements by the partner from our firm, as well as the senior opposing counsel, where each took a different strategic approach when addressing the jury. I also witnessed a contentious cross-examination of the plaintiff, whereby, part of the background factual research I conducted earlier in the day was used to effectively cross-examine the witness.

After three fast-paced weeks, the jury came back with a verdict in our favour!