Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Top 5 Articling Experiences

My time as a summer student at McCague Borlack last year went by so quickly that I didn't have a chance to reflect on my experiences until it was over. As one co-worker so aptly put it, as a summer student you’re there just long enough to figure out exactly how much you don’t know.

...it feels pretty cool to flash your LSUC card and bypass the security line at the courthouse.

Now we have an entire 10 months for articles and even that is flying by! So, in honour of being almost half-way through, I will reflect on my top 5 experiences thus far (in no particular order).

Motions

Drafting motion materials and arguing a motion yourself gives you the chance to see why it is so important that you know a particular Rule inside and out, research the caselaw, get all your dates in order, and so on. Most importantly, arguing motions gives you a chance to engage in real advocacy and, as a budding litigator, it’s an excellent feeling! Also, it feels pretty cool to flash your LSUC card and bypass the security line at the courthouse.

Client Contact

During my OCI interview with MB, I was promised a hands-on experience and this has proven to be true from the very first day of work. As an articling student, I communicate directly with clients on a daily basis regarding updates, opinions on the file, and of course, instructions. I have found that both co-workers and clients are genuinely interested in my opinion. I’m often asked to assess damages and/or liability and then to discuss it with the client. I've had the opportunity to run lead on files from start to end, and nothing gives you a better idea of what it’s like to be a real lawyer than that.

Firm Events

This year MB celebrates its 20th anniversary with 20 special events, which included a boat cruise for the whole firm. The work environment at MB is always friendly and the cruise was a great opportunity to enjoy time with my co-workers outside of the office. As an articling student, you can quickly get caught up in your work and forget to take the time to enjoy the experience, and the boat cruise allowed us to do just that.

Discoveries

As a summer student, I went on discoveries and enjoyed seeing the process first-hand. However, only now as an articling student with more involvement in files do I have an appreciation of the importance of discoveries. With settlement becoming more common, discoveries play a critical role in assessing liability and damages at an early stage, and has shown me that every question has a purpose. It has also allowed me to observe different styles of questioning (are you in the “catch more flies with honey” camp or the “direct and to the point” camp?) and in turn develop my own style. (I am leaning toward the former.)

Student Group

Lawyers often speak of articling as if it’s war. Articling can be tough and there is definitely a learning curve, but it makes all the difference when you have good people to go through the trenches with. I’m thankful to work with a great group of students. Have an urgent assignment due and need to take yourself out of the work rotation? No problem. Have dinner plans and need a second set of eyes to help review documents so you can leave on time? Someone will be there to help.

To all upcoming articling students: Articling isn't just a tough time that you have to get through; it’s a time to learn a lot, try new things, and enjoy yourself along the way.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Networking for new lawyers

As you know from our previous blogs, articling with McCague Borlack is not a 'desk-job'. Within a week, I attended two trial management conferences, two mediations, a settlement conference and a FSCO prehearing.

When done right, you can create a connection with another person that reflects well on you and the firm...

At each of these outings, I met clients, opposing counsel and their clients, along with judges, arbiters, mediators, and so on. Meeting so many people in the legal industry reinforces to me the necessity of networking - a skill that law schools are only now recognizing the importance of. This is because law schools, traditionally domains of academia, are coming to grips with the notion that law is as much a business as it is a craft.

Networking is connecting

When done right, you can create a connection with another person that reflects well on you and well on the firm you work with. While the term might conjure the thought of forced social interactions, connecting with others professionally is key to succeeding in the business of law.

Here are a few things I have learned so far that are easy to apply:

Always carry a business card

You may be a student now, but you won't be forever. Make sure that people have a way of remembering you. You never know who you will run into down the road!

Attend the events you assisted on

Did you draft the best factum ever? Get that tricky causation issue, or limitation period, under your belt? Then go see it argued by that senior counsel! Senior lawyers are usually more than happy to point out to opposing counsel that you assisted in drafting materials, and down the road that may leave a lasting impression if you are on the other side again.

Be pleasant

This tidbit is perhaps the most important of all. The quality of your work will be ignored if your reputation is that of an aggressive, antagonistic, mean person. It’s a small world, and the legal industry is a smaller circle still. Everyone has a story of THAT counsel - that no one wants to be the subject of.

At MB it is a privilege to call the most pleasant people in the industry our colleagues. From them I've learned anything others may try to accomplish through a yelling match can be better handled by speaking normally and effectively. That doesn't mean we don't take hardline positions, but effective advocacy does not include bullying.

photo from freedigitalphotos.comThe benefit of being a new lawyer, especially at MB, is the opportunity to build your networking skills while connecting with clients and lawyers alike.

And if a novice at first, after a while, I'm sure networking becomes second nature!

Monday, 1 December 2014

Entering the Workforce – A Whole New Learning Experience

This year has been one of the most eye opening years of my life. It is the first time that I have been a full time member of the workforce. It is very different than school and very exciting. In this post I try to address some differences between work and school life that have stood out to me over the past four months.

I've learned more working at MB for four months than I had in my past 2 years of university (no offence, Western).

First, as a student, you are very much on your own. Trying to understand complex concepts and issues in school is usually an individual endeavour. Sure, professors are there, but they can only help you so much. There are also other students, but they are all in the same boat as you. In the working world, there are so many different people that are available to give their assistance. This includes lawyers at all different levels, clerks, assistants, and paralegals. Even outside the firm, librarians at the great library, staff at the court, as well as Judges and Masters are all willing to lend a helping hand and help you succeed.

Second, I have also been very surprised by how much the learning process continues once you enter the work force. On its face, one would assume that more learning would be accomplished at school than work due to the fact that the whole point of school is, of course, education. However, I learn something new at work every day. It also feels like the things I am learning at work are very practical and useful, unlike some of the things learned in a classroom. I can actually see myself becoming better at my job and developing my skills as my articling career progresses. In all, I feel like I've learned more working at MB for four months than I had in my past 2 years of university (no offence, Western).

Third, and this applies more specifically to the legal profession, I cannot believe how different it is to practice law than learn law in a classroom. Of course, theory learned in the classroom is very important. However, all of the things learned in the classroom play such a small role in the litigation process. It is unbelievable how many integral aspects of the day-to-day practice of law are not even addressed in school. It has really made me realize why the articling process is so important and appreciate the opportunity that MB has provided to me.

In conclusion, I am thrilled to be on the other side of the school/work divide. I am relieved by the fact that there is so much help to be given in the working world and that the learning process continues. Articling has been a great experience thus far and I expect that the positive experience will continue. I can’t wait to see what I learn next.