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.

Monday, 25 September 2017

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year… No, Not the Holidays!

The Ontario bar exam is a stressful time for law students. It’s a massive commitment and getting through all the material can be a challenge. Before I started studying for the bar exam, I called all my friends who wrote the exam in previous years to see if they had any study tips that would help me pass. I even searched Google to see if there were any blogs on the topic. I was really looking for anything that would alleviate the stress of the unknown prior to diving straight into thousands of pages of material. I was surprised to find that there weren’t many *blogs on the subject and decided I should write something to help those who will be writing in the future.

... once you are done highlighting your books, they will look like a piece of art.

Organizing your time is one of the most important aspects to prepare for the exam. I suggest you break up your materials into smaller chunks to make them more manageable and to create a sense of direction. I personally found that 50-pages per day was a reasonable goal and it allowed me to take a few days off before writing. Unlike some of my peers, I decided to read through the weekends and bank my days-off to do practice tests and relax in the days leading up to the exam. Regardless of your study choices, I suggest you leave the last day to prepare snacks and relax. Nothing is gained by cramming the night before a seven-hour exam.

Use Highlighters
Highlighters are your friends! With so many pages to read everything starts looking the same. Nothing puts me to sleep more than reading about corporate taxation and insolvency. That being said, the act of highlighting and using bright colours will help keep you awake and will give you something to do during those less than exciting chapters, whatever they may be for you.

I personally only used three colours: yellow, blue, and green; yellow was to highlight anything I thought was important, blue for all legislation, and green for dates. No matter what colours you choose, I would suggest using only three or four colours maximum. Even though highlighting keeps you awake, you don’t want to become distracted by drawing during your study time. Plus, too many colours on a page will be hard to decipher on exam day. Most importantly, be consistent and use the same colour-coding strategy throughout. Nothing is more stressful than not understanding your own technique when you need to the most.

Trust me, once you are done highlighting your books, they will look like a piece of art. You will not want to abandon your materials after the exam or relinquish them to the LSUC proctors.

Below are more tips for tackling the bar exam from my fellow articling students:

Make a reading schedule with enough time for practice tests and revision of difficult concepts. Also, make sure you have a good index; a good index is crucial! While reading the materials, try to search for the terms in the index to ensure it is comprehensive and add terms that are missing. Personally, making time to go through as many practice tests as I could, assisted me in preparing more than reading the materials several times.

The bar exam is expensive. On top of buying the LSUC materials, you’re going to spend a lot of money buying an index, binding the materials, travelling to the testing site, etc. Your goal is to write and pass the exam on the first try, so spend the money on a commercial index. That way you don’t waste valuable time making one yourself or with a study group.

Set a realistic study schedule and stick to it. Maintaining a study schedule made the process manageable and allowed for zero guilt when enjoying some hours, a day, or even a weekend off from studying.

I used colour coding highlighting for cases, statutes, and dates. Also, I found it useful to tab the chapters with the chapter names to become familiar with the content in each chapter. Don’t forget to read professional ethics multiple times and make sure to get loottsssss of sleep (8-10 hours per night). Last but not least, start studying early.

Time yourself while taking practice exams. This will help you learn how to use your index so you are comfortable on the big day. Oh and be sure to bring lots of snacks, but make sure they aren’t too noisy or else the proctors will be all over you.

I started studying right away. Getting a head start on my studies helped me feel prepared and more at ease once it came time to write the exams. Also, four words: chocolate covered coffee beans.

Good luck!

p.s. Previous MB Blog Reference: *Tips For the Bar Exam

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Articling: A Snapshot

Articling is a training period where we can learn, ask questions, and explore areas that pique our interests. It is important to use this ten month period to absorb as much possible and develop strategies to become competent lawyers.

... we also have the opportunity to seek out work in areas of interest ...


In order to get a varied experience, students receive a bulk of their assignments off the List. The List is a rotation system that determines the order in which students respond to work. This system ensures we get exposure to different types of assignments and avoid staying in our comfort zones. However, we also have the opportunity to seek out work in areas of interest. As a result, we get a truly comprehensive experience.

Field Trips

Students are consistently approached by lawyers asking whether they would like to attend motions, discoveries, settlement conferences, and mediations. These out-of-office experiences are truly valuable since they allow us to observe theory in practice. It is also a great chance to ask the lawyer attending with you any questions you may have about what you observe, in addition to picking up tips on how to develop your own style.


At the start of the articling term, each student was assigned a mentor. Lawyers are committed to helping us grow and become better lawyers. They have an open-door policy and welcome us to ask questions, chat about our experiences, and give us feedback. Although we are encouraged to ask questions, it is important to respect our mentors’ time. Therefore, we write down their explanations and instructions. These meetings with our mentors are a great time to reflect on our strengths, weaknesses, and work together to make our articling term as productive as possible.

Although it has only been two weeks into our articling term, we have already received several tasks we have never been exposed to before. I have had the opportunity to conduct research on an interesting area of law, draft a productions brief and an initial report, and communicate directly with clients. We are excited to see what the next nine months have in store for us. Each day presents new opportunities to develop valuable skills, paving the way for us to become better lawyers.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Summer Student 2018 Positions - Deadline August 21, 2017

The application process...

We participate in the Toronto on-campus interview (OCI) process for summer student recruitment, and then hire our articling students from our pool of summer students. The relevant dates are set by the Law Society of Upper Canada. See details on our student How to Apply page.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Summer Student in Motion (Court)

My interest in litigation was first sparked by my experiences mooting in law school. So, this summer when I was asked if I would like to personally go to court to bring a motion I was very excited to have the opportunity to experience the “real thing”. In this blog entry, I wanted to highlight some of the takeaways of what was one of the most exciting parts of my summer experience.

Unlike what you see on TV, litigators do not spend all of their time in court.

Putting Pen to Paper
Unlike what you see on TV, litigators do not spend all of their time in court. In fact, some of the most interesting aspects of the litigation process involve formulating arguments and drafting legal documents. So, before I could bring the motion I had the opportunity to actually draft it. Being able to draft the materials I would be submitting to the court was also a very helpful way to prepare.

Getting Ready: Mentorship and Self-Prep
The lawyer supervising me on this task sat down with me to answer my questions and go over what had happened on the file to date, and what I should expect when I went to court. He very kindly answered my dozen or so questions about everything from court decorum to what floor the courtroom would be on.

Even after all of that preparation, I still woke up early on the day to go over all of my materials, make sure I knew where all my documents were located in my binder, and prepare responses to the list of possible questions I’d be asked. I also printed off all of the possible legislation I could be drilled-on.
The Big Moment
I arrived early to court and waited for the courtroom to be unlocked, then I filled out the requisite forms and waited for my turn. I was glad that I had participated in so many moots in school because it definitely helped tame my nerves!

When it was my turn to speak I answered the Master’s questions and gave my reasons where necessary. Court, it turns out, at least at this level, was less about the Master trying to trick you with difficult questions (like in moot court) than it was about the Master trying to figure out why you were there. I was still very happy I had spent (so much) time preparing for questions because it made me feel poised and confident!

In the end, our order was signed and I was left with an amazing experience! I can’t wait until the next time I’m able to step-up to the podium!