Monday, 29 July 2013

My day at mediation...

One of the perks of working at a litigation boutique is that you are exposed to a broad range of litigation topics. I have found that one of the main perks of being at McCague Borlack specifically is that if there is an area you are interested in, all you have to do is find a lawyer who does that type of work, advise them of your interest, and they’ll find a way to get you actively involved in a file. I was interested in learning about professional liability so I spoke to a few lawyers in that practice group and one of them invited me to assist on one of their files.

"Any time you are given an opportunity to see your work put into action, you take it!"

After meeting with the lawyer and receiving a quick rundown of the file (we were defending one of the named defendants – an insurance broker), he asked me to take a stab at writing the first draft of the mediation brief. One of the thrilling and challenging parts of being a student is that you have to be able to quickly review a file and identify the parties, and get up to speed on the legal issues and what the firm’s position is on liability and damages – writing the mediation brief was no different. After finalizing the first draft, I submitted my work and got great feedback from the lawyer, which is always a relief when taking on a new task! I was then invited to attend at the mediation to observe, which I quickly accepted as I had yet to attend one this summer. Besides any time you are given an opportunity to see your work put into action, you take it!

We arrived at the reporting office and met with the client, who is an adjuster for an insurance company. After the mediator outlined the process, each party proceeded to state their positions and then everyone retreated into separate rooms to consult with their clients. Throughout the day, the mediator went back and forth between the rooms, speaking with the various parties (about their concerns and interests) and trying to facilitate an amicable settlement.

On its face, a mediation seems like a lot of sitting around and waiting. However, I found that if you use the time wisely you can learn a lot from observing and talking to the people involved. The lawyer who took me to the mediation was great. I did not feel like I was there to simply watch; he actively involved me in discussions with the client regarding our legal position and strategy for dealing with opposing counsel. Our client was also very friendly. We talked throughout the day and she answered many of my questions about the litigation process from the insurer’s perspective and I told her about my experience as a student – my first official act of client development!

One of the biggest advantages of being an MB summer student is having the opportunity to attend with lawyers at discoveries, mediations and court appearances (or as we refer to them, “field trips”). Not only do you get a feel for what it is like to be a litigator but you get to observe a variety of styles. After a few field trips, you quickly realize that there is a lot to being a lawyer that you do not learn in law school. While it is imperative to know the law and your file, you must also be able to persuasively communicate your objectives and effectively deal with a variety of (often conflicting) personalities.

Our file did not end up settling at mediation (the various parties couldn’t agree on liability apportionment) , and was thus deemed a “failed mediation”, however for me - the day was a great success!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

A typical* day...

I am now halfway through my summer student experience at MB and it’s amazing to think about how far I have come, and how much I have learnt and experienced in such a short period of time. At the beginning, I had no idea what to expect, what a typical day would look like, or even what type of work I would be doing as an MB summer student. Now that I have a bit of insight into this (7 week’s worth!), I thought it would be helpful to share what a ‘typical’ (*although I quickly realized there is no such thing) day for an MB summer student day looks like by offering a glimpse into one of my recent days…

"The responsibility is real, the subject matter is interesting, and you learn something new every day."

Monday, July 15, 2013


9:00 AM

After a beautiful weekend, I return to the office to begin a brand new week. With my coffee in hand, the first thing I do, (after asking everyone I run into how their weekend was), is check my work email and open Elite (the firm’s electronic docketing program). After replying to some internal emails, I review my To-Do list, prioritize the most urgent and complicated tasks first and start working away! (FYI – good time management skills are essential for survival as a summer student!)

9:30 AM – 1:00 PM

My first assignment is to Draft a Statement of Defence and Cross Claim in a personal injury action. After clarifying instructions with the assigning lawyer, I’m feeling confident. I know all the relevant facts and parties that need to be included, so I’m ready to start writing. Once completed, I give it a final proof for spelling and grammar and I’m happy with the finished product, so I send it off to the assigning lawyer for review. The rest of my morning is spent drafting a settlement offer, drafting a notice of discontinuance and speaking with the court office regarding an upcoming appearance.

1:15 PM

Lunch! Time to grab a quick bite in the PATH (for full orientation to the PATH, please refer to my colleague’s past blog!). I head down with a couple of other students to refuel and see how everyone’s Monday is going so far. We chat about recent attendances at small claims court, settlement conferences and how delicious Tim Horton’s Chili is.

2:00 PM

After lunch, I come back to my desk. “ASSISTANCE REQUIRED!” reads the RE: line in email that just came into the summer student’s collective email. I’m next on the rotation list, so I send a quick reply email to the lawyer letting her know I am on my way to her office to get instructions. The assignment turns out to be exciting – attend at Newmarket Superior Court for Trial Scheduling Court tomorrow morning. I note this in my calendar, and go back to work. (Post-Appearance note: I got to make submissions before a judge and was successful in resisting opposing counsel’s attempt to set the matter down for trial!)

3:00 – 6:30 PM

The rest of my day is spent doing various tasks for my own Small Claims Court files that I am handling. I respond to emails from clients and adjusters, take telephone calls from opposing counsel, and draft a couple letters to the court. This is the reality of the work you get as a summer student at McCague Borlack. The responsibility is real, the subject matter is interesting, and you learn something new every day. Of course, there is supervision and guidance from great mentors at every step of the way, but for the most part, ‘carriage of the file’ means you (the student) are running the file.

7:00 PM

Summerlicious. Need I say more? I finalize my dockets and log off my computer, joining the summer students as we head off to Far Niente just down the street. The collegiality of the summer students transcends the walls of the office and I’m grateful to be part of a team that enjoys spending time together outside of work.

What I’ve come to learn in 7 (very eventful!) weeks at McCague Borlack LLP is that the transition from law school to the practice of law is challenging and at the same time highly rewarding if one has the right guidance and exposure. Although no two days are exactly the same, what does remain consistent at McCague Borlack LLP is the collaborative environment, the support from the lawyers (and fellow students!), and that fact that you can expect to get real, hands-on exposure to exciting cases and the litigation process.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Half-Time Recap!

I started just over a month ago with the Ottawa office of MB and I have just over a month left. Yikes! Where did the time go? So I thought this would be a perfect time to provide my half–time commentary on how things are going from the perspective of a student (me!), and my game plan to conquer the second half of my summer with MB.

It seems like just yesterday when I was gearing up and excited for orientation. I wouldn’t consider myself the best athlete – okay, maybe not an athlete at all – but I was ready to begin and hit the ground running.

"You’ll experience a rush when you find that perfect case that matches the fact scenario that you’re dealing with."


Right out of the gate, I couldn’t believe that I was working directly with partners and senior counsel. Of course, I felt intimidated at first. While I would consider myself to be a naturally confident person, I was hoping for a few practice runs before being thrown in with the big leagues. However, I have quickly realized that, despite the wealth of knowledge and experience possessed by these individuals, at the end of the day, we are all on the same team. I just have to trust my abilities and put my best foot forward.

There will, of course be days where you feel that you’ve had a solid performance and not once was the red pen used for corrections busted out for you. You’ll even experience a rush when you find that perfect case that matches the fact scenario that you’re dealing with. There will also be days where two cups of coffee and three drafts later, you wish you could have shined a bit brighter. I guess after all, as students, we’re hardest on ourselves. However, I’ve learned that if you keep yourself benched, you won’t learn from the sidelines. This is the benefit of being a student at MB, you get out there quickly and you’re given considerable opportunities to explore what areas of the law you like and what areas you may grow to like. In addition, just like my colleagues have reiterated, there is tons of support and direction provided to you by people at MB, including the associates, assistants and law clerks. People are always willing to provide guidance and tips on how to tackle what can sometimes feel like a daunting task.

Finally, as one of the two students in Ottawa, I feel like it’s my duty to represent my hometown turf and shed light on my specific experience as a student in the Ottawa office of MB. I’ve experienced impromptu pizza parties, where the lawyers, assistants and students will have their lunch in the boardroom to break some cheesy bread together and discuss non-work related things. I’ve also been able to form strong bonds with the same lawyers I get to work with day in and day out.

As for my game plan to conquer the second half of the summer and things I’ve learned along the way, here it is: first, don’t forget to breathe; second, remain confident and; third, always be game for everything that’s thrown at you. Yes, admittedly, this is a very simple strategy, yet not only have I learned tons with this mentality, but I’ve also had fun along the way!

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Life in T.O.

Five weeks in, and I have already attended a variety of motions, examinations for discovery, etc., and what’s really exciting, soon I’ll be conducting my own settlement conference for a small claims court trial. To think two months ago I didn’t even know what a settlement conference was!

"I want to share my tips on living and working in downtown Toronto as a law student."

While I could go on about all the fantastic things happening in the office, for this blog, I want to share my tips on living and working in downtown Toronto as a law student.

Transportation
MB students are frequently asked to attend court or meetings all over the city. While some are within walking distance, many are not (especially with small claims matters). Thus, a good understanding of the city’s transit system (TTC) is integral to any student’s success.

The TTC is the most convenient and cost-effective way to get from point A to point B for both work and play. I had to adjourn a settlement conference at the Toronto Small Claims Court, located near Sheppard station (there’s a purple line now?) from our office at King & York. Got there--using the subway--in just 20 minutes! With buses, streetcars and subways operating 19+ hours a day, the subway has become my preferred method of transportation (along with approx. 1 million people daily). However, it is not perfect (a.k.a. delays) so, it is important, especially for us students, to always give ourselves extra time to get to where you need to be. Take it from me – arriving early and catching up on some reading is MUCH better than running late and having to apologize to the judge and/or partner for being late…

Eating Out
When it comes to food, Toronto takes the cake (and the curry, the burgers, and the sushi…) But finding your go-to restaurants takes some investigation. Luckily for me, when I first started at MB, the exiting articling students took us summer students on a culinary tour of the surrounding food courts and restaurants to point out some of their favorite lunch spots (FYI - I.Q., Aroma, Thai Express, and Sandwich Box). So getting restaurant advice from fellow students and/or Toronto natives about where to eat is the way to go! I also recommend a weekly dose of “Eat Street” on the Food Network to keep up to date on the current food trends.

Getting Around Underground
Toronto has this fantastic underground tunnel system that links its downtown core together which provides access to most of the main downtown buildings, shops, and restaurants! However, it also gets confusing, because it covers a lot of ground without the traditional street markers. So if (or when) you get lost in the PATH, it is important not to panic. Everything only looks the same. Remember this: if you need to reorient yourself, just exit the PATH to the street level until you get your bearings.


I prefer the left side.
The PATH is great to dodge the heat (it’s air conditioned) and rain—these features are incredibly helpful for avoiding wet court documents (true story when getting to the 393 University Courthouse), and sweat marks on your brand new suit when its 35 + degrees (not a true story, but I still like to avoid it)! So embrace the PATH and use it to your advantage!

I’ve found the best thing about Toronto is that it is always a unique experience. Just be flexible and willing to learn quickly in order to handle all the curveballs. And that is just like being a student! So keep calm and carry on!

Friday, 5 July 2013

Just down the hall...

If you’ve been following the blog you’ll know my colleagues in Toronto have already discussed the terror that consumes you on your first day of orientation as a summer student and the relief you feel when you discover (a) the supportive environment of MB and (b) that the other students are just as terrified. However, as the first Ottawa summer student to have the opportunity to contribute, I wanted to share some aspects of the experience that are specific to this end of the hallway.

"We were told repeatedly to think of Ottawa as ‘just down the hall’ from Toronto..."

The other Ottawa student and I arrived in Toronto along with nine Toronto students for orientation. Feeling overwhelmed (and outnumbered) we nervously tried to make a lasting impression in the short time we had. We were pleasantly surprised at the warm reception we received. Instead of being considered temporary visitors, we were welcomed as any other member of the team. We were told repeatedly to think of Ottawa as ‘just down the hall’ from Toronto – a five hour drive down the hall, but down the hall nonetheless. Excited, nervous, and a little skeptical we returned to Ottawa with these sentiments for our first day on the job. We learned quickly however that in the age of technology with everything available at our fingertips, down the hall may in fact be closer than it seems.

Working in the MB Ottawa office allows students to have the benefit of a small firm experience with the support and opportunities of a large firm. This close integration whether achieved through email, phone or videoconference allows me to receive (what I think is) the best of both worlds. I have been able to work in varying areas of law (employment, medical malpractice and administrative law to name a few), and for various MB lawyers (both in Toronto and Ottawa), while enjoying the close knit interactions of a small firm.

Aside from this, Ottawa as a city provides a unique and charming summer experience to its students. Admittedly some of us succumbed to this allure a few weeks ago when we stepped out for a quick lunch as just outside our offices the streets were bursting with people enjoying the annual rib fest. There is something incredibly endearing about seeing hundreds of people dressed to the tee in their suits, all draping themselves with paper napkins to dig into a rack of ribs. It is a city that has managed to find a commendable balance between the work hard and play hard philosophy.

It is clear that whether in Toronto or Ottawa, MB offers its students with a unique learning experience. Not only in the type of work it offers but in the unified approach it takes to dealing with both offices. While they both have distinct features the overarching theme remains that we are part of the larger MB network. Knowing this, provides me as a student, with the comforting thought that I have that much more support, guidance and opportunities available to me.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

My first... solo court appearance

In my second week at MB, an associate asked the students who had access to a car and could assist with a job. Having met the qualifications for such a job, I set off for the associate’s office with pen and paper in hand (NOTE – to all incoming students, a pen and paper is your friend, never leave your office without it!) Thoughts raced through my mind of what it could be, was it a rush delivery of a document? Did he forget to put his dog outside and needed me to rush home to do so? Whatever it was that needed to be done, I was game.

"I, a summer student with less than a month’s experience, am going to court to adjourn a trial?"

Once I arrived at his office, the associate said he needed me to appear in court to adjourn a trial date in a quasi-criminal matter at Provincial Offences Court. With an air of youthful confidence I gave him a quick “sure, no problem!” My mood quickly turned though as soon as I left his office and, admittedly, I may have let out an audible “oh $#!+, what have I gotten myself into?” Feelings of excitement, nerves, doubt and dread all clouded my mind. I, a summer student with less than a month’s experience, am going to court to adjourn a trial? Just last week I learned how to properly spell ‘subrogation’ and finally figured out the office phones and now they wanted me to appear solo before the court? Despite his assurances that I would do great and that he would help me prepare, I still had reservations on how the whole situation would play out.

In the days leading up to my court appearance, the associate worked closely with me providing file details, tips on how to conduct myself at the hearing and even a quasi script that I could follow! The night before and morning of my appearance were spent admittedly with butterflies in my stomach. After reviewing my notes and, in an effort to be “inspired”, watching Gregory Peck give closing arguments in To Kill A Mockingbird (thinking that is exactly how I will look in my appearance), I set off for court. After getting lost (more than once) and asking for directions (more than once) I arrived at the St. Catharines' Courthouse.

Not only did my experience involve an appearance, it also involved me entering into brief negotiations with the prosecutor. I really got the full experience with this assignment! Finally, my name was called by the prosecutor; I made my way to the front of the court room and made my submissions before the Judge. I am happy to report that the request to adjourn the trial was approved. While not exactly “Gregory Peck-esque” in my delivery, I felt prepared and confident. Sometimes, as a student, the best learning experiences are the ones where you are forced to challenge yourself. Needless to say, I arrived back at the office feeling invigorated and refreshed at the thought of completing my first court appearance and regaled my fellow students with tales of conquering court rooms.

My first appearance in court was most definitely exciting and gave me a feel for what it is like to be part of the MB Team. Also it made me realize being a McCague Borlack LLP student is truly a “litigation 101” learning experience. If this is how it feels for every first, then I cannot wait for the next one to come along!