Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Summer Student Application Tips

With the deadline for summer student applications fast approaching in many Toronto firms, here are some tips from someone who knows what firms are looking for, MB’s student coordinator, Ashley Faust.

Personalizing the cover letter to the firm...

It’s About the Right Fit

Firms are looking for a good fit. Sure your 1L grades matter, but they are not everything. It’s not just about someone who can do the work well, but about finding people who will also be happy at the firm. MB in particular hires with the hope that you will stay as an associate (all of you; the students are not in competition for limited associate positions). The best way to show that you know what you are applying for is not to make mistakes in your cover letter. That means if, like MB, the firm does not offer rotations, you shouldn’t be referring to them in your cover letter. Personalizing the cover letter to the firm, even a little, shows you’ve thought about whether you want to work there and mentioning that you spoke to someone at the firm or read their website or blog shows you cared enough to put in the research time.


Fit also comes down to personality. Firms are not all looking for the same thing and there will be some places that you will be happier than others. At MB, students get “litigation immersion” which Ashley described as a “sink or swim environment with all the life preservers and assistance you need to succeed”. In many ways, you are treated like a lawyer from day one and you will learn fast. Does the application suggest you could thrive in this program? Do your past jobs show you are a hard worker or a self-starter? Do you seem like you can work well in a team with the other students? Where reference letters are required or optional, these can help too.

Areas of Interest

Make sure the firm does what you are interested in. Not all firms do everything. MB does litigation, so if you aren’t inclined towards this, you might prefer a full-service firm with a wider variety of practice areas to try. When applying to a boutique, it’s ok if you have done things that show an interest in other areas of law. That said, your application should show some interest in that firm’s area. For litigation, there are a lot of ways to show interest, whether that is working at a clinic, mooting, or taking relevant classes.

Don’t Shy Away From What Makes You Interesting

Include the interesting things about you. Even if your application is not the strongest, the firm may meet with you just to meet a former professional ukulele player. At the very least, it will give you something to talk about in an interview.

2016 Summer Students have left the building...

The 2016 Summer Students are gone, but only until articles - they are all coming back next fall! They have left us with some final words of (new found) wisdom...
  1. Best thing about your summer at MB
  2. Best piece of advice given this summer
  3. Best field trip/and or assignment
  4. What you wish you'd known at the beginning of the summer term
  5. Best place for lunch

T o r o n t o 

Mark Borgo
  1. The people.
  2. Work in as many practices areas as possible.
  3. Attending a motion to strike.
  4. The Rules of Civil Procedure.
Melissa Parravano
  1. The culture and the people.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  3. Working on small claims matters.
  4. Civ Pro!
  5. Fresh West
Emily Kostandoff
  1. Working in a professional and stimulating work environment to solve client problems. No in-school simulation can replicate what it is like out here in the real world – you truly learn most by doing.
  2. Seek advice and be inquisitive.
  3. Attended a motion for summary judgment. I was the one who had drafted these documents for the moving party. It was exciting to see my work product in the hands of the motions judge.
  4. I would have been happy to know about just how varied my summer term would be. Each day brings new challenges, which keeps me engaged and interested in the work I have been assigned. 
Gabriela Caracas
  1. Being able to apply what I learned at school and meeting great people
  2. Stay organized and prioritize.
  3. Discoveries and drafting the ED report.
  4. Lawyers have different styles and preferences on how to complete an assignment.
Michelle Legault
  1. Meeting a great group of students and being able to learn the ropes of litigation together.
  2. Always seek clarification about something if you are unsure – don’t be afraid to ask questions!
  3. Research on regulatory offences and quasi-criminal work.
  4. Everyone will have a different way of doing things – don’t assume that there is one right way only.
  5. Crave or Picnic – I can’t decide!
Taskeen Abdul-Rawoof
  1. The friendly and supportive people at MB made my summer experience enjoyable and I learned a lot under the lawyers' mentorship and guidance.  
  2. To ensure the lawyers are happy with your work product and to save time, ask questions regarding their preferences or the scope of the assignment (formatting, length, the amount of time to be spent on the assignment, asking for precedents, etc.)
  3. A pre-trial for a case that was highly publicized in the media, and for which I worked on  several related research assignments.
  4. How varied the work would be and that there is no 'one' way of doing things. This was a perfect opportunity to learn from different lawyers, and get confidence in developing our own style.
  5. The burrito bowls at FreshWest are great! 

O t t a w a 

Jessica Margeit
  1. The people!
  2. Ask lots of questions, you’re here to learn.
  3. I had the opportunity to go to a settlement conference on my own.
  4. Take it all in because 12 weeks go by fast!
  5. Bier Markt
Alexander Steffan
  1. Having opportunities, that I would never have thought possible for a summer student, to tackle files “hands on”
  2. Do not rush anything. The focus is rather on accuracy and correctness, rather than speed. The more you do a task the faster you get at it.
  3. Having the opportunity to go to an Examination for Discovery, and observe the process in action.
  4. One word: Precedents.
  5. Pretty much anywhere on Sparks Street. It’s only one block away!

Friday, 12 August 2016

They can't teach you this in law school: Litigation as a vocation

In law school, one learns the law. We learn the black letter legal principles, strategies, and the art of legal analysis. Specifically, law students learn how to examine a particular set of facts, apply the common law, and come up with a determination of the potential and likely outcomes. However, what law school does not teach you is the vocational aspect of litigation practice. Not surprisingly, since the beginning of my summer with McCague Borlack, I have had many opportunities to learn the ‘ins and outs’ of litigation; things you simply can't learn in a classroom.

There is a significant amount of strategy involved in the litigation process that is fact specific...

One learns best by doing, for example:
  1. There is a significant amount of strategy involved in the litigation process that is fact specific, and therefore is tailored to each individual case. Based on my observation of the senior lawyers, this process has almost become muscle memory to them and has given me a goal to strive for.
  1. In my first week, I was given the incredibly daunting task of analyzing a file with thousands of documents on short notice. Through the assistance of the lead lawyer and support staff, I was shown efficient tricks of the trade in order to effectively tackle and complete this task prior to its due date.
  1. The first time I had to write a Statement of Defence, it seemed like it would be easy enough, right? Well, not quite... Drafting a legal document involves more than just knowledge of the law and excellent proofreading skills. You also need to understand the strategy of how the pleading is written and what should be included. My mentor reviewed my first attempt, and  discussed with me what strategy she thought to take. This method taught me how to examine particular facts beyond legal liability, and to approach each case individually.
compliments of freedigitalphotos - basketman

They don't teach you this in law school.

During my time here at the firm, I have been fortunate to have been given tasks that involve knowing more than just the Rules of Civil Procedure and the law. Through the valuable feedback of my mentors and the “hands on” nature of my work, I have learned a great deal about the process of litigation, and this mentorship has been invaluable to my evolving legal skill set.

However, one thing is certain, I still have a lot to learn.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Reality Check: With OCIs around the corner...

I thought I would take the time to write a blog that touches on my OCI experience and give you a glimpse of reality now that I am midway through the summer. I still get chills reminiscing about all of the stress and excitement during the summer and fall of 2015.

I wanted an experience where I was able to work hands-on with files and gain exposure to different areas of law.

During applications for OCIs, I read, for what seemed like days, about all of the opportunities that firms are willing to offer their summers students. I learned very quickly from past summer students that not all of these touted opportunities are a reality. Many students spoke of doing one single task for the entire summer, whether it was endless research or summarizing records all day long. I did not want this to happen to me. I wanted an experience where I was able to work hands-on with files and gain exposure to different areas of law. Without sending caution to the wind, I spoke further with some students who expressed their array of learning experiences at one firm, in particular, McCague Borlack, and I thought to myself, 'this firm sounds like a perfect fit for me!'

Needleless to say, after 7.5 weeks I can confirm that the student experience and opportunities that MB promotes for its summer students, is bang on. In less than two months, not only have I had the opportunity to work closely with partners on files, but I have also had carriage of my own small claims court files and even became published! How is this possible in only 7.5 weeks? The key is the firm’s teamwork mentality; working closely with lawyers has given me the opportunity to have real responsibility. The firm really does promote a “learn through experience” environment.

Throughout the summer I have been assigned an assortment of tasks, some with tight deadlines and some with deadlines that will outlive my summer here. I have been able to attend court proceedings and watch my work be put into action. I’ve even performed some delivery law, which provides students with the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the court system.

The atmosphere at McCague Borlack definitely centres on training students and giving us the tools we need to prepare for articling. I can see why MB prides themselves on the work quality of their young lawyers since they are not only shown the ropes but also given the opportunity to test them out.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Sherlock Holmes of the Legal Profession

As law students, we learn the importance of research in the legal field. Law school is designed to teach us to think like lawyers and equip us to learn and adapt to the ever-changing common law. As such, Principles of Legal Research is one of the mandatory classes law students must take in their first year of law school. We learn about the many legal research resources. The websites. The books. The famous McGill Guide.

...research is a key aspect of practicing law.

The first half of my time as part of the MB summer program has taught me that what my law school professors have stressed throughout the past three years of my education is correct: research is a key aspect of practicing law.

Yes, I have done research regarding case law, statutes, regulations, the ever-famous Rules of Civil Procedure and how legal principles apply to different cases and situations of fact. However, I did not expect to become the legal Sherlock Holmes.

On more than one occasion, the research I have done as a summer law student involved contacting individual courthouses to determine their own procedures and customs. I have tracked down documents and exhibits. I even determined the date of death of an individual in order to subsequently identify their executor.

These are not the kind of investigations that law school prepared me for. However, they are the kind of assignments that develop the skills required to become the kind of lawyer I hope to become: a resourceful individual who identifies the information needed to successfully represent her clients; an individual capable of finding answers whether they are easily accessible or not.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Approaching The List like Goldilocks

For the summer months, law firms often delegate student work through a rotation list. Each student has a spot on the list that determines who will accept the different assignments in the cycle. Some might be large, others small, but one thing is for certain – sticking to the list ensures that everyone gets a taste of the different work available and that there is coverage for all assignments.

Approaching the lawyers directly allows me to show interest and initiative...

I can remember feeling apprehensive when I first started at McCague Borlack. I was assigned a spot in the middle of the list, meaning that on some days the cycle did not always reach me. I wondered if I would get a chance to work on assignments that were interesting and exciting to me, and what I should do while I was waiting for my name to come up.

Luckily, my mentor and student director encouraged all of the students to actively seek out work from the lawyers. Part of getting the most out of your summer student experience is always looking for the next opportunity to dive into legal work. Approaching the lawyers directly allows me to show interest and initiative, as well as obtain work from those who might not use the rotation list.

Overall, this double-pronged approach ensures that I am comfortable and happy with my spot in the rotation. I never get so bogged down with work that I feel overwhelmed, but I also get steady and interesting work. Kind of like Goldilocks, I have found the spot that is just right for me.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Trust the Process

I entered the Summer Student program with enthusiasm and a hint of trepidation. How will I fare? Will I be able to meet what are no doubt high expectations? These and many other concerns can become all-consuming in and out of the workplace. As law students, each new experience in our legal education brings new stressors, but they also bring opportunity. This blog post is a reminder for me (and perhaps a few readers) to be intentional in my work and to continue to look for opportunities to learn. In short, I’m trying to be mindful.

Exactly what is mindfulness and how can I apply it to my summer experience?

To counteract the stresses of life, we are regularly urged to “be in the moment.” Exactly what is mindfulness and how can I apply it to my summer experience?

Trust the Experts

I believe that it starts with trusting the experts – trusting that many successful lawyers have walked this path and that our mentors are eager to help us make the most of our summer experience.

Trust Ourselves

Then we must learn to trust ourselves – trust that we will work hard, and we will meet expectations. One lawyer I have worked with quite a bit over the last few weeks mentors us Socratically (a teaching style most readers will be familiar with from law school, no doubt). Instead of answering my questions right off the bat, the lawyer will ask me to try to answer my own question. More often than not, I do know the answer. This lawyer’s mentorship style has made me more confident in my own abilities.

Trust the Process

Next, we must trust “the process.” The practice of summering allows us to gain invaluable practical experience as we are mentored and guided while actively engaged in the practice of law. One month into the job and I have carriage of my own files! Along with many other one-off tasks from various assigning lawyers, I will see a file from its infancy through to the investigative stage, onto the pleadings stage, and beyond. Under lawyer supervision, I will communicate directly with clients and opposing counsel to move the files along. It is amazing how quickly we learn by doing.

Finally, we must trust that taking time away from the office to gather interesting experiences is time well spent. Seek out opportunities to shadow lawyers as they conduct examinations for discovery, participate in mediations and settlement conferences, and appear in court. While it is paramount to meet work deadlines, it is often possible to finish your assigned task at the office and still go on a field trip. As my mentor said, soon enough we will have a great deal more responsibility and far less time to spend away from our own files. I have found that by going on these sorts of field trips, I am better able to understand the human aspect of the file. Meeting our clients, the opposing parties, the opposing parties’ counsel, and mediators are always insightful. In what is an adversarial process, we are able to find common ground and build relationships.

When we undergo a transformation – be it training for a marathon, taking a big risk, or beginning a career – it is important to be accountable to the process. We should remember that there are opportunities to learn around every corner. To bring the mantra of mindfulness into the workplace, we need to trust the process, to approach new challenges with intention. Each new experience is helping me build a stronger foundation upon which to build my future law practice.