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!

Monday, 31 July 2017

Critical... Thinking Allowed

Remember in elementary school when your teacher taught you that every student learns best through a specific teaching style? Some students were visual learners, some auditory learners, some kinesthetic learners, and so on. Of course, I was stubborn and didn’t believe in this sort of thing so I declared myself to be a “just show me how to find the answer” type of learner. Yeah, I was that kid. Years later, as a summer student, the concept of teaching styles has become relevant once again – but this time I can appreciate the lesson.

The concept of teaching styles has become relevant once again....

At McCague Borlack, we students are given a diverse set of assignments, most of which we didn’t have a chance to experience in law school. Fortunately, we have a team of lawyers who are happy to help us continuously improve our work. Naturally, each lawyer has their own teaching style and preferred method to show us how we can increase the quality of our work. Here are some of the teaching styles that we have experienced so far:

The Socratic Method:

Whenever I felt uncertain about a task, I would ask the assigning lawyer for clarification. Below is an example of how this conversation would go with a Socratic mentor:

Me: “In this letter I’m drafting, should I include XYZ?”

Lawyer: “Do you think the letter would benefit from XYZ?”

Me: “Well here are the benefits of adding XYZ.”

Lawyer: “Are there any drawbacks?”

Me: “I don’t think so.”

Lawyer: *Smiles*

Although this exchange may seem odd, the Socratic Method allows students to work through any issues on their own. Consequently, we develop a more comprehensive understanding of the subject matter than if we were just given the solution.

This method has helped build confidence in my work and has shown me that I already have the answers to most of my questions. But if I am still unsure, a lawyer will review my work when I am finished to ensure that we have a good product.

Thinking Out Loud

When it comes to editing our work, some lawyers sit down with us and walk through the needed changes. The lawyers utilizing this method begin by explaining why certain parts of a document should be revised. Then, they “think out load” so that I can understand the thought process that helped them generate their solution. This method allows students to understand exactly why specific changes were made and what key points should be applied to the completion of the next assignment.

Track Changes

Sometimes the work I produce has minor errors so the revisions don’t require a long explanation. It can be a case where there is just a better way to phrase what needs to be said, or the structure of the document should be modified for clarity. Since these changes are simpler and easy for the lawyers to identify, they will use Microsoft Word’s “track changes” feature while they make their revisions. This method provides a visual comparison between my original draft and the revised version. It also requires me to analyze the changes to come to my own conclusions as to why the changes were made. However, if I can’t figure out why a particular change was made I can always get clarification from the assigning lawyer. There is certainly an art to drafting documents. By reviewing other lawyers’ completed product, I am able to better understand where to set the bar for my own progress.


Mistakes are part of the learning curve. The lawyers are happy to mentor the students and help us understand how we can continue to improve our work. And we appreciate it, no matter the style.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Can You Keep a Secret?

How was work? What did you do today? Did you get any interesting files?

I stare at my parents blankly, as my mind races to find an acceptable answer that adequately balances my obligation to protect the firm’s sensitive information and the need to appease my family’s boundless interest in my budding legal career.

   ...discussing work
the office...

On one hand, I completely understand their curiosity. After all, they have been emotionally and financially invested in my journey to get called to the bar since the moment I picked up my first LSAT prep book.

Nonetheless, I am restricted by section 3.3-1 of the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Rules of Professional Conduct, which prohibits lawyers from discussing their files unless authorized under certain circumstances. The commentary extrapolates on this rule by advising against “shop talk” with others and suggesting that gossip is unbecoming of the legal profession, even if a client is not specifically identified during the conversation.

Fine, I would respond. I met with some lawyers. We discussed a file. I drafted some documents. It was clear from their defeated expressions that my answer left something to be desired.

So, I decided to meet with Theresa Hartley, a partner at McCague Borlack LLP, who graciously made time to speak with me about client confidentiality. With hopes of shining a small light on one of the grayest areas of law, I used my conversation with Theresa to create some helpful tips to keep in mind when discussing work outside the office:

Never mention a client by name.
It almost goes without saying that identifying your clients to others breaches confidentiality. Even if the client is a large, renowned corporation that presumably retains several other lawyers on all sorts of different matters, you should never name drop in a conversation outside of work.

Use General and Vague Descriptors when discussing your work.
You should never describe a client in such a way that they are identifiable. This guideline is also applicable to the fact patterns in your file, as describing a situation in enough detail can inadvertently reveal a client’s identity.

Be Discrete with your conversations.

You should never cite “it’s public record” as an excuse to openly discuss files with anyone. Clients appreciate our discretion when handling their cases. Also, be selective as to where your work-related conversations take place. If you are surrounded by many people (like in an elevator or the food court), the conversation should stop. This guideline should be kept in mind for those who choose to work while commuting on the bus or subway; you never know which of your fellow passengers are looking over your shoulder (and into your business!).

Firm-Client Confidentiality. 
It’s usually acceptable to discuss files with other co-workers at the firm. In fact, many lawyers will describe cases to their peers when developing a legal strategy. The privileged relationship typically exists between the client and the other legal professionals at the firm. However, there is one important caveat to keep in mind: when the file has a confidentiality screen. A screen is usually established when there are conflicts of interest or if there exists an incentive to keep the media at bay. If ever assigned to such a file, you should refrain from discussing with those who do not have access.

Be Professional when conversing about encounters with opposing counsel.
It’s typically acceptable to tell others if you’ve met a certain “famous” (or infamous) lawyer, provided that not a single detail of the related file is mentioned. That said, be mindful in your stories about others. It’s unbecoming if you are criticizing counsel on a personal level (i.e. he’s a jerk; he got really cranky and started yelling), as opposed to politely commenting on their strategy (i.e. I felt that our client did not respond to his abrasiveness).
Remember – every situation is different. Trust your instincts, and use your judgment. As Theresa said to me, “if you’re unsure, ask!” Client confidentiality is fundamental to our profession and is not something to brush aside for the sake of a good “after work” story to tell family & friends.

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.