Wednesday, 7 February 2018

The Transition from Articling Student to Lawyer

Throughout my articles, I have experienced the ebb and flow of the litigation process. Some weeks, the workload can be quite intense, and other weeks are more manageable. Nevertheless, this experience has increased my competency with respect to working independently while maintaining high work quality.

I have started to feel less like a student & more like a
bona fide lawyer. 
This transition, however,
is not without its hiccups.

This expanding independence demands a greater degree of responsibility, especially in litigation, to ensure all tasks are completed on schedule and within the time allocated by the supervising lawyer. In the past few months, the work I have been assigned has been more encompassing of the whole litigation process and has forced me to develop good habits in order to stay on track.

Through this pedagogical process, I have developed some wisdom that I would like to share.

Effective Communication between the student and supervising lawyer is imperative. If you are in doubt with respect to instructions, a quick email is best in order to avoid time and delay. If further information is needed, let the supervising lawyer know in order to avoid “wild goose chases”. It is also good practice to verify with the supervising lawyer the scope of the task and next steps if needed.

Availability - In case a file assigned to you needs urgent consideration, it is best to check your work email even during your downtime. It is rare but, in fact, has happened a few times throughout my articles and, therefore, I was able to assist the lawyer in time.

Stay Ahead of the Deadlines - It is good practice to finish drafting a document early in order to have time to review it before passing it to the supervising lawyer, submitting it to the court or other counsel. It is easy to miss typos.

Utilize Your Strengths - Are you a morning person? Or do you have more energy in the afternoon? In my experience, it is prudent to schedule your tasks when you are most effective at doing them. This will ensure that you finish on time and efficiently.

Keep Track of File Progress - Articling students and lawyers have a lot of responsibility with respect to their files. It is, thus, a good idea to periodically check your active files and make sure that everything is moving along at a good pace.

These strategies have allowed me to better understand and adapt to being a lawyer. McCague Borlack LLP has provided me with a great deal of training for this transition. Accordingly, this allowed me to understand the scope of increasingly complex tasks that I have been assigned and has encouraged further professional development for myself with respect to the practice of law.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Benchmarking at the halfway point...

I am a big fan of “review points”. While it is always good practice to look forward, it is equally important to learn from our past experiences in order to grow and improve. What better time to benchmark than at the halfway point of our articles?

In our first week of orientation back in August, there was a definite sense of nervous excitement. What would our day-to-day schedule look like? What kind of work would we be trusted with? What feedback would we receive? One lawyer imparted this advice to us “take advantage of as many opportunities as possible, and make as many mistakes as possible!” Well, I may be extrapolating on that last part, but undoubtedly our mistakes helped us to learn as much as our successes in these last five months.

With that in mind, here are some tips on what is often
overlooked in the “smaller details” category and if given
proper attention can go a long way to ensuring success...

Never Under-Estimate Professionalism

This tip is applicable to both clients and opposing counsel that we deal with on a daily basis and, equally important, with the lawyers and staff at the firm. The work that you receive comes from lawyers at the firm, and while much of the work does come from “The List”, creating working relationships with lawyers and staff ensures that you become their “go-to” when they have a quick assignment and know they can rely on you to get it done. It is good practice to treat every meeting, both internal and external, as a professional obligation that you must be on time for. Following this small tip can help you foster better relationships with your co-workers and in turn help build a positive reputation.

Pay Attention to Detail

This is a lesson I learned personally after drafting a discovery report to the client that did not include page numbers. I was told, in no uncertain terms, I should not draft any document that does not include page numbers. Although it may seem like a small detail, if any document you draft makes it into a trial brief that will be relied upon by the court, the ease of reference that page numbers provide may help both the jury and judge understand exactly what sentence on what page you are referring to, increasing, even slightly, your likelihood of success. Don’t believe me? I personally saw this in action at a discovery I recently attended. It would have saved all parties a lot of time (and client money) if pages had been numbered in the documents that were included in opposing counsel’s Affidavit of Documents. Instead, a lot of time was spent flipping through 60 pages of documents to determine what report opposing counsel was referring to. Never forget page numbers.

On a similar note, it is imperative to review every correspondence and court document alike to ensure that the font type and size are the same, the spacing is consistent, and spelling mistakes non-existent. It is hard enough to formulate a legal argument without holes that opposing counsel can take advantage of, we do not need to give them any other reason to challenge our credibility or competence.

Photo by Sasint   http://www.pixartasia.comProper Service is Everything

On every motion I have appeared on or observed if the parties and non-parties were properly served, the motion was granted. While this may not always be the easiest, it sure makes shorter motions run more smoothly In contrast, when parties have been served by mail or courier, both I and my colleagues have witnessed motions adjourned and/or dismissed due to improper service.

Learning how to count the days needed to serve documents, such as a Notice of Motion or Confirmation of Motion, has also been a frequent subject of discussion amongst our articling group. Is it 10 days? Is it 7? If it is more than 7 but less than 14, do holidays and weekends count? The best people to ask these questions are often the assistants – they have lots of practice of ensuring that their lawyer does not miss deadlines and will quickly tell you if your calculations may cost you your motion.

There has definitely been a steep learning curve over the last five months, but our mistakes and questions have helped us to learn. Hopefully, our mistakes will help us to impart some “wisdom” onto the next generation of articling students (who will undoubtedly learn them all over again)!

Monday, 15 January 2018

Holiday Cheer: Work Hard, Play Hard

Throughout my articling experience, I’ve learned how adversarial litigation can truly be.  Often times you are faced with dealing with difficult people and situations. Working with people really is an art; it is a lot more difficult than one may think. Circumstances arise where you have to determine the appropriate way to handle opposing counsel, whether in court or trying to contact them to discuss something as simple as providing their undertakings (which should have been done weeks ago). The stress involved when working in an adversarial and competitive environment is not to be underestimated. As famously quoted in the movie Mean Girls:

"I wish we could all get along like we used to in middle school...
I wish I could bake a cake filled with rainbows and smiles
and everyone would eat and be happy..."

And guess what? That is exactly what we did! During the holidays, the students had a break from the adversarial environment that goes hand in hand with the practice of law and instead brought the competition in-firm by competing in a cookie decorating contest. I won’t lie, some lawyers joined in as well!

The articling students were given one hour to decorate two Christmas cookies each. The firm members were then sent pictures of each cookie and asked to vote on which one was their favourite. After the votes were tallied, the winner was revealed in a firm-wide email. I won’t say who won because the contest was not about winning but rather about having fun. However, what I will say is… I won. And if that isn’t true, well how would you know? This is my blog.

All jokes aside, getting the opportunity to have some in-office fun in the midst of our busy work schedules is a great reminder that if you work hard, you should play hard too.

Although the holidays have passed, I’d like to share with you the cookies my talented colleagues and I decorated (if you are wondering, I am the one who could not wait to take the picture before eating one of my cookies).

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

The Team: A Shout-Out to Support Staff

The lawyers and articling students at McCague Borlack (MB) were recently asked to provide annual reviews for support staff. This exercise made me think of all the different people that have helped me during the time that I have been here.

As lawyers will likely tell you, law school does not accurately reflect the actual practice of law. There is a steep learning curve as you figure out the ins and outs of this new profession.
image compliments of pixabay

When I first started working at MB, I felt like I knew absolutely nothing about practicing law. Sure, I had learned legal principles in school and I felt I had a basic understanding of different areas of law. However, when I first started, I quickly realized I knew nothing about the day-to-day operations of a law firm. Today, I no longer feel completely like a fish out of water, and the support staff that we were asked to review are a big part of the reason why.

As an articling student, you expect to learn a lot from the lawyers you work with, and you do. But you also learn and receive a lot of support from their assistants, the law clerks, and other office staff.

Everything I have done while working at MB has been a new experience. For example, serving people with pleadings and drafting the corresponding affidavits of service, booking motions, and making undertaking charts were all things that I had never done. These are also things that the very experienced staff at MB have done many times before.

As I was asked to do each of these things, I reached out to assistants, clerks and other staff for help. They were all so kind, helping me whenever I required support in a specific area. I learned that, depending on the task, these are the people I should be reaching out to first. These individuals have a significant amount of knowledge and they are always willing to share. I also realized how big their roles are at MB and the importance of teamwork in the legal profession.

I have been able to see firsthand how a team takes carriage of a file, and how it belongs to more people than just the assigned lawyer.

While working here, I have been able to observe how closely everyone works together. I have seen how lawyers and assistants work together on files and, more often than not, how assistants know as much about files as the lawyer assigned to them. The same applies to law clerks, who often work on files from beginning to end. I have been able to see firsthand how a team takes carriage of a file, and how it belongs to more people than just the assigned lawyer.

This same kind of team effort can often be seen at MB during “emergency situations”, such as when a file comes in with a looming limitation period. Everyone comes together to ensure that everything is prepared properly and on time. I have seen assistants, clerks, and lawyers step up to roles that they would not typically have in order to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

This teamwork applies to the overall MB structure as well. Despite having offices in four different cities, lawyers in different offices continue to work together. Everyone works and communicates as a team, which allows MB to represent its clients in the best possible way.

By Jessica Margeit

Friday, 17 November 2017

So You Got an OCI Job… Now What?

To all the 2L students who just went through the OCI process...

First of all, congratulations! You made it over yet another hurdle in your legal career. Even if you did not receive an offer on Call Day, you should be proud of all the hard work you put into the process. Preparing an application package, interviewing, and networking with lawyers are skills that everyone in the profession needs to cultivate. And remember there are so many incidents of great lawyers who have experienced similar bumps in the road.

When do I start?

How do I get there?

Will I be ready?

For those who will now be starting at a firm this summer, you likely have some anxiety and many questions. When do I start? How do I get there? Will I be ready? I may not have the answer for every question – or for every firm, for that matter – but here are some things that I thought would be helpful. Some of my comments will be general and others specific to McCague Borlack (or as we call it - “MB”). In either case, I hope you find something to help you out!

  1. Most firms will e-mail or write you in advance about your start date. One of the great things about MB is that we start a little bit later in the summer – usually after the Victoria Day weekend. In my 2L summer, the extra time off between school and work allowed me to travel and catch up on some much-needed rest.
  2. Different firms have different levels of formality when engaging students for the summer. Some firms will send you multi-page contracts to sign, while other firms will simply send a letter confirming your start date and that they are excited to work with you! If you have any questions or concerns, do not be afraid to reach out to the Student Director at your firm. I remember that our own Director was more than happy to answer my questions and help prepare me for my first day!
photo care of pixabay ohurtsov
So, on that note…
  1. Before you start, try a “practice commute” from home to your office. That way, you can see how long it takes you and ensures you arrive on time for your first day. I would also suggest determining in advance what elevator takes you up to your office. Some buildings have multiple banks on different floors (e.g., concourse, main floor), or elevators that only go to certain floors (e.g., odd, even). In-firm interviews are usually such a blur that you sometimes forget these details. For future MB’ers, just remember that we are the second bank of elevators – I’ve made the mistake too many times of going to the first bank and rushing out in a panic before the doors closed!
  2. Last but not least, your first day can be nerve-wracking. You may be at a firm in a different city, or you may not know anyone else from your school who works there. Do not be afraid to spend some time getting to know the other students! They are probably just as nervous as you but also as eager to make friends! I am grateful that the other summer students at MB (now my articling colleagues) were friendly and outgoing from the start.
Good luck! Enjoy the rest of the Fall Semester! You are almost halfway done law school and off to a great start for your next summer.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Let the Games Begin: How Negotiation Competitions prepared me for my First Trial

I am happy to report that I argued my first case in the Small Claims Court and lived to tell the tale! I was representing the plaintiff in a hotly contested matter against an experienced opponent. The deputy judge reserved judgement so while we don’t yet know whether the court ruled in favour of my client, I felt well-prepared for the trial and can’t wait for my next opportunity to appear in court.

I was representing the plaintiff in a hotly contested matter against an experienced opponent.

I write to encourage any law students who may be reading this blog post to get as much advocacy practice as you can while you’re still a student. In my third year of law school, I spent a great deal of time preparing for and participating in national and international negotiation competitions. Along with a partner, I negotiated in front of practicing lawyers, businesspeople, and academics who had volunteered to judge the competitions. The judges were eager to provide feedback which encouraged participants to become better negotiators and advocates. Of course, these are mock negotiations without real clients and real money on the line. As a result, these competitions are an effective place to learn and practice advocacy skills before finding yourself in a real negotiation or, in my case, a real trial. It’s still early in the school year – seek out these opportunities to practice.

Not yet convinced? Think these extra-curricular competitions will eat up too much of your time during 3LOL? I’ve prepared some closing submissions on the matter.

The fact that I had participated in negotiation competitions helped me calm my pre-appearance nerves. I was able to remind myself that I had been in situations before where talented professionals were judging my performance.

My negotiation competition experience also allowed me to practice my public speaking skills. I knew that I would be able to express myself clearly and confidently in front of my client, the opposition, and the deputy judge.

Further, these competitions taught me to think on my feet. Particularly during my cross-examinations of defence witnesses and during my closing arguments, I was required to listen carefully and react to answers from witnesses and to questions from the bench. I was glad to have practiced these skills previously.

Although I happened to practice advocacy skills in the context of negotiation competitions, you can acquire and practice these skills in a variety of settings. For instance, many of my fellow articling students participated in moot court competition and will attest to the fact that they benefitted greatly from the opportunity to practice appellate advocacy, public speaking, and other skills in moot court. Many of us also took trial advocacy to prepare for our summer and articling terms at McCague Borlack.

Make the most of your law school experience – seek out opportunities to practice advocacy skills before you begin articling; I’m very glad that I did.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Adieu to Bad Law School Habits

The day-to-day student life is incomparable to that of the real-world work life. So many changes transpire from the instance you graduate law school to settling in as an articling student. You truly enter a different world. Those old school days filled with procrastination, poor diet and sloppy apparel, common for law students and in fact sanctioned within student culture, must be left behind and good habits introduced. Bringing bad habits onwards in life is not only highly detrimental to one’s personal health but also to one’s success as a lawyer.

Bad law school habits to break when graduating law school in order to succeed in the legal world.

Bad Habit #1: Procrastination

Ok, I admit, I was guilty of this one. You bet when I was at home with intentions to complete that 200 page reading for class the next day, I would rationalize the need to get that laundry, cleaning, gym session, etc., in at that time instead. Although the readings would eventually get done (maybe), the consequences of such procrastination were minor, if any, and only affected me personally.

On the other hand, to haul this bad habit forward into the beginnings of your career carries weighty undesirable effects. The quality of your work and efficiency suffers significantly if the task is postponed to a later date. For example, drafting a Discovery Report takes a lot less time and is significantly easier to do right away when all the details are still fresh in your mind. You will organically develop an efficient practice if you commence a task as soon as possible; you eliminate time wasted having to make sense of the notes you jotted down whenever it was that the assigning lawyer was giving you the instructions.

Bad Habit #2: Asking for assignment extensions

Facepalm, I had to extend the deadline for this blog post! Understandably, with urgent tasks perpetually coming in, I had to prioritize and delay my post by a couple of weeks.

This bad habit often presents itself as the aftermath of bad habit #1. Asking for extensions at school is never a good thing as your final mark decreases every day your assignment is late, but, once again, it only affects you personally. Now there are real limitation periods that must be met, and several individuals that trust and depend on you to complete the task by its due date. Prioritize your assignments routinely as they come in to ensure that a deadline is never missed and you won’t have to rely on asking for an extension.

Bad Habit #3: Poor Diet and Dress Code

It is so easy to spot a first-year law student versus a third year in the school hallway. If you see a sharp dressed, not a hair out of place, alert being with healthy snacks and all his/her school supplies in order, high chances that’s a first-year student. If you see a barely awake, yoga/sweatpants wearing, messy hair being with takeout food in hand and asking others to borrow their laptop power cord, high chances that’s a third-year student.

I personally do not have any justification to present for this laxation in appearances and diet but what I can say is that the presentation and attitude students possessed during their first year of law school is the philosophy that is necessary for articling. First, you need healthy and balanced meals to fuel your energy and maintain sharpness for those long days at work. Further, since you are no longer just congregating with other fellow students at school, you need to put in the effort and continually maintain a professional appearance in the likely event you have to meet a client or head to court.

Bad Habit #4: Overspending your loans

Many students don’t think twice before dipping into their OSAP loans or line of credit for whatever thing seemed absolutely necessary at that moment, like getting out of the country and travelling during the summer months. Now those (non)essentials are knocking at your door as it is repayment time.

Articling is already a very stressful time and you do not want to add on to it by financial pressures. Do not continue spending in order to partake in the “lawyer lifestyle”; you do not have that liberty just quite yet as your paychecks have more than one owner. Better yet, identify your repayment obligations and applicable interest rates early on so you are most able to prepare a realistic and workable budget. Having a plan in place will afford you peace of mind and it will be one less distraction during your articling year.

Keep these tips and lifestyle changes in mind while you are at school. As you end your law school journey, try to integrate them into your routine as early as possible to best prepare for articling.

Gabriela C.