Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Students' Holiday Traditions

While articling at McCague Borlack is certainly busy, all of the articling students look forward to taking some time to celebrate the holiday season. With the holidays on the horizon, I decided to ask my fellow articling students about their favourite holiday traditions.

courtesy of freedigitalphotos gualberto107
Navid
Christmas is my favourite holiday. My family and I try our best to celebrate Christmas together every year. My family usually hosts a Christmas Eve dinner for close friends and relatives. On Christmas Day, my sister makes the family delicious omelettes for breakfast. Afterwards, my family drinks peppermint hot chocolate while opening their gifts.

Michael
Every boxing day, my family and friends have a father-son hockey game and go out for a post-game lunch.

Leona
Every year around this time, my friends and I go on a “first run of the season” snowboarding trip as soon as the first fresh snow comes in.

Christine
Every year, I spend the holidays with my family in a different city.

Bogdan
At Christmastime, my family and I make pork sausages together from scratch.

Aryeh
Every year my extended family gathers, on both my maternal side and paternal side, for a Channuka party. We light the menorah together while reciting the appropriate blessings. We then sing traditional songs and eat traditional foods. It is customary on Channuka to partake in food that has been fried in oil, as oil was a central part of the story of Channuka. Therefore, my aunts and cousins bring their home-made latkes and various other delicacies. We then exchange gifts amongst each other, with the typical gift being a small amount of money known as “channuka gelt.” Between the food and the gifts, it is no wonder that it is one of my favourite times of the year!

courtesy of freedigitalphotos digitalartCarol-Anne (blog author)
Every Christmas Eve, my family has a Christmas movie marathon and my mom and I bake Christmas cookies. On Christmas morning, we open our stockings, have scones and mimosas for breakfast, and then open up the rest of our gifts.  

Happy holidays from the MB articling students!

Monday, 23 November 2015

Forget the molehills...

by pat138241 at free digital imagesDon’t make a mountain out of a molehill. 

This is one of those easier said than done type of things. What exactly does this mean? To me it means attributing the proper amount of work, time and energy to the appropriate task and to avoid getting trapped in your own mind when it comes to new tasks, or ones that on the surface, appear to be frightening, such as attending your first motion.

Don’t psyche yourself out.

Many people will tell you that it’s ok to be over prepared. While I generally agree with this, there are certain limits you can learn through experience. For instance, how many times should I rehearse my opening address to the master for a motion on consent? In fact, I had this very issue... I spent the night before a motion rehearsing over and over exactly what I was going to say in hopes that I would avoid making any mistakes. The more I rehearsed the more daunting the task became and I built the motion up to be a massive event that consumed my every thought and emotion until I was able to speak in front of the master.

The funny part about this is after all that practice, stress and being about as nervous as an articling student on their first motion could be possibly be, before I was able to start my spiel, the master said; “This is on consent right? Can I see the order?” Just like that, the motion, the very same one that I had spent so much time preparing for, was over before I could even say my name.

Know where to draw the line.

Realize when you are sufficiently prepared to avoid obsessing over something that doesn’t warrant that amount of energy.

Being adequately prepared for anything is definitely very important. It may seem obvious to say, but being under prepared is not the idea I’m trying to convey. What’s important is finding that sweet spot between knowing when you’re sufficiently prepared and not becoming too immersed in the task so as to let it seem like an obstacle in your mind that is preventing you from being able to relax.

Through experience, I have gotten better at properly attributing the proportionate amount of work and preparation required to the nature of the tasks I am given. I have also realized it is usually when there is the element of the unknown at play, where I begin to over prepare. It is important to not let the fact that it is your first time doing a particular task overshadow the idea that the potential task may be very simple.

The basic take-away from this is that through experience, we should learn how to reserve our efforts for the tasks that are actually “mountains” and get better at distinguishing them from “molehills”. Plus be aware our minds are capable of playing tricks on us and making tasks appear to be more difficult or daunting than they actually are.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Don’t judge a book by its cover: Affidavit of Documents (AoD)

As MB students, we are exposed to a wide range of assignments during our summer and articling terms. There is no doubt that some assignments are more popular than others simply because the tasks involved appear to be more “lawyer-like” vs. tedious. However, even tasks which appear to be boring provide a great insight into each case and, believe it or not, have their own highpoints. A great example is preparing an Affidavit of Documents (AoD).

Parties must disclose any relevant documents in their possession in order to avoid “trial by ambush”...

Document discovery is a significant process in pre-trial litigation. Parties must disclose any relevant documents in their possession in order to avoid “trial by ambush” and to encourage early settlement. Preparing an AoD, at times, requires sorting through large volumes of documents; and yes, this inevitably includes many paper cuts!

What's Relevant?
However, in preparing an AoD, you encounter an array of documents, including contracts, reports, invoices, photos, and correspondence between parties. While reading through these documents, you determine where the parties stand in the litigation. Also, it provides good practice for learning what type of documents are relevant in different cases.

Privilege
Furthermore, a decision has to be made whether privilege is to be claimed over any documents. This decision generates much discussion amongst the students. The most common forms of privilege encountered are settlement privilege, solicitor-client privilege, and – the number one discussion item – litigation privilege.

picture courtesy of scottchan and free digital imagesUnfavourable Information
In one assignment, we had to determine whether litigation privilege could be claimed over an accident report prepared by an employer on the date of loss for injuries suffered by an employee at work. While the report described the clients’ injuries, it also contained some unfavourable information. However, unfavourable or not, we could not claim litigation privilege based on this. The decision is based on when the document was produced (to determine if it was made before reasonable contemplation of litigation) and ascertaining its dominant purpose.

As you can see, while preparing AoDs may at first glance seem like a boring task, it can provide a great opportunity to assess the subject file and enhance your analysis of what is deemed to be “relevant” or “privileged”. I guess it’s true when they say: “never judge a book by its cover”.

Monday, 26 October 2015

My First Civil Jury Trial: Yes while Articling!

This past September, I was fortunate enough to be offered what many articling students and even young lawyers only dream of in their first years of practice. One of the lawyers in the Ottawa office had a three week trial coming up, and it was just my luck to be asked to assist. So only one month into my articling term, I began my participation in the wild ride that is a civil jury trial.

I'll touch on the more human elements that I found were notable throughout my experience...


The case involved a motor vehicle accident in which the plaintiff had been hit from behind by our insured. The damage to both vehicles was negligible, but the plaintiff alleged that the minor injuries she had suffered as a result of the crash had developed into chronic pain, thereby altering her life and making her unable to work. Although I could go into detail about the legal and technical aspects of the trial, instead I'll touch on the more human elements that I found were notable throughout my experience...

Gloves Are Off
Although counsel for either side are 100% committed to their client’s position, it was interesting to see the interactions between lawyers when the 'gloves are off'. Every conversation remained pleasant and respectful, without an ounce of animosity between them. These were experienced “colleagues” who understood the importance of the work, yet had no interest in creating a personal feud between themselves on the sidelines. As a lawyer, you have to make use of every advantage, but that doesn’t include treating your opponent with disrespect. These lawyers seemed to appreciate each other’s company, and I must say it made for an enjoyable three weeks.

Addressing the Court
Interactions with the judge included the usual formalities, such as the bow when he enters and leaves (something I’ve yet to master), and counsel was very respectful when they addressed the court. Yet, the judge is not necessarily a godlike authority that needs to be feared; he was a person, like everyone else in the courtroom, and it was evident that he cared about the interests of everyone involved. He listened to input from both sides before making decisions, and tried to accommodate everyone with regard to the schedule. He even made a joke or two!

Interests on the Line
It struck me how much emotion is involved in a trial. For the lawyers, when you consider the endless hours of preparation and the need to be mentally focused at all times, leading a trial is, as my supervising lawyer told me, “a grind”. For the jury, they have to listen to hours of testimony and are tasked with becoming knowledgeable in everything from human anatomy to actuarial calculations. Further, they have to assess the credibility of witnesses while being steered in two opposite directions by very dedicated lawyers. Last but not least, for the parties involved, it must be extremely stressful because your interests are on the line. In this case, it must have been especially demanding for the plaintiff, who had every aspect of her life dissected in front of all, for three weeks no less.

Image courtesy of Rawich from free digital photos
Trials can be emotionally overwhelming for anyone involved, and I now understand why the courts tend to recommend that parties settle their disputes, if possible, before it gets to trial.

Despite that, it was an amazing ride and learning opportunity, and I hope to be part of other trials in the years ahead.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Brushing your Teeth in the Shower: Time Management

Top Ten Practical Tips for Incoming Articling Students

1. Set Realistic Expectations – and then Beat Them: Better to say no than to disappoint. If you have conflicting deadlines, too much work or too little work, see your articling principal.

Time Management and Developing Your Reputation Amongst Your Colleagues.

2. Reputation. Reputation. Reputation: How you are perceived matters. Lawyers talk. Let your work product speak for itself.

3. Seek Out Work and Stay Involved in the File: If you assisted a lawyer with a discrete assignment on a file, ask if you can assist with the next task on the file. Be persistent (and polite).

4. Master the Art of Research: Knowledge is power. Do not discount research assignments. Be thorough. Reputation is on the line with clients, opposing counsel and the court.

5. Form and Presentation Matter: How to Shadow Draft like a Chameleon.

6. Be Prepared - Read the Rules of Civil Procedure Before You Ask Questions: Lawyers expect and welcome questions regarding a particular assignment. Showing them you have thought about the issue and tried answering it yourself prior to asking the question sets you apart from other students.

7. Putting All Your Eggs in One Basket and “Repeat Business”: A Delicate Balance.

photo courtesy of ambro on free digital photos8. Roll with the Punches: We all make mistakes. Learn from them, minimize them, move on.

9. Build Your Profile: Think Long-Term. Case comments and publishing online. Market yourself and your firm. Social media pitfalls.

10. Relax and Have Fun: Carve out personal time for friends and family. Manage expectations out of the office.


Guest Writer David Elmaleh, Associate Lawyer, McCague Borlack LLP

First presented at the Toronto Lawyers Association's 5th Annual Articling Students Head Start Program titled "What you can do to make yourself indispensable and invaluable".

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Hard Hat and a Brief Case

*Conflict Check Email
A conflict check email is the first of many procedures the firm uses to ensure that no party to a potential action is in conflict with an existing client or an employee of the firm. The email contains the 'bare bones' of the case, including names, dates, and a one sentence summary of the issues involved. Although countless conflict checks are sent a day at our firm, it is necessary that each one be read with care because of the gravity of the legal and moral issues surrounding conflicts of interest.
In July of this year I spent several days shopping for a new wardrobe in preparation for the commencement of my Articling in August. I spent much of the time looking at suits, ties and of course a wide selection of Happy Socks. Two items of clothing though that I never envisioned myself needing for articles were a hard hat and safety vest…

I was sitting at my desk minding my own business when it all started with a 'conflict check' email.* In many instances these emails are sent out months after the incident or the "Date of Loss" as lawyers typically do not get involved in files until that time. It always piques my interest when a 'conflict check' is sent out very near the time of the incident which can indicate the magnitude of the potential claim. The email I received that day -- the 'conflict check' was sent the very date of the incident itself!

Heavy Machinery Mishap

One of our firm's clients had an incident involving heavy machinery which resulted in an investigation by the Ministry of Labour. I was asked to drive out to the construction site and assess the situation as the story was unfolding on the ground. Before I left, I received my detailed instructions and was told that I could only enter the site if I was 'geared up'. As time was of the essence, I quickly borrowed steel-toe boots and the rest of the necessary safety attire and drove out to assess the incident.

Humbling & Educational

As I was way out of my comfort zone, it was humbling to realize that even with all of my years of school and training, there were many things that I did not know the first thing about and, at the same time, it brought my education to life. All those readings about the 'lawyer-client' relationship, sprung into action when I was sitting down, one-on-one with the client, reviewing strategy and discussing how to approach an ongoing and developing story.

As I drove back to the office from my site visit, I marveled at how after only a few weeks of articling, I was charged with a task that bore great responsibility and put me face-to-face with a client in their time of need.

Friday, 2 October 2015

You v. Articling, [2016] 01 MB_Articling 10 (MB)

Per Curium,

Facts: This fact pattern comes from my articling experience so far in hopes of easing the transition from law school classrooms to real world. It is intended to help the upcoming 2016-2017 MB's Articling students.

Procedural History: An Articling term typically commences in the beginning of August and comes to a stop in June. The busiest months are October, November and beginning of December because the calendar year is ending and many parties want to close their files before the New Year. The students that successfully complete their articling term get called to the bar in June.

Issue: The main issue during the entire articling term is how to successfully complete it while balancing a healthy lifestyle with the need to keep your supervisors satisfied with the work quality.

Ratio/Rule: The following is a test/checklist how to successfully complete an articling term:

(i) In order to maintain a healthy lifestyle during articling it is important to do the following:
  1. Keep your vitamins, omega 3s and minerals in your desk, as opposed to your home. This ensures that you regularly take them.
  2. Eat breakfast at home, bring lunch and buy dinner.
    1. Breakfast: oatmeal, eggs or cereal.
    2. Lunch: chicken, salad and/or bread.
    3. Dinner: chicken salad, falafel salad or vegetarian salad.
  3. Get exercise
(ii) In order to keep your supervisors satisfied, you should do the following:
  1. Whenever leaving your desk to go speak to a lawyer regarding an assignment you should have the following:
    1. Notepad
    2. Pen
  2. Treat the lawyers as law professors and each assignment as a law school graded paper.
  3. Never promise a deadline without being certain that you can deliver.

Reasoning: Try to understand the big picture. Every task that you are assigned - be it arguing a motion in court or researching case law - plays a role in the grand scheme of things. Try to understand each task, what role it plays, the matter preceding it and subsequent tasks that follow it. This allows you to anticipate the next step and effectively complete the assigned task.

Supporting Case Law:

- You v. 3 Years of Law School, [2016] 1 LawSchool 3
- You v. LSAT, [2012] __ PracticeTests __
- You v. Undergrad, [2008] 01 UniversityUndergrad 04

If you were able to successfully finish all of these so far, you are most definitely capable of successfully completing your 2016-2017 Articling term. Best of luck!

Friday, 25 September 2015

First Appearances at Motion Court

Every law student envisions their day in court differently. But for most students, facing the judge is likely the scariest part of it all. Eleven days into articling, I attended my first motion at Brampton Civil court. It was a routine motion, but naturally, I was still very excited and anxious. Being the first of our student group to attend a motion, they were all anxious for me; “Our first motion!!” they said. In preparing for the motion, I spoke with a number of lawyers at the office in addition to the assigning lawyer. At the end of one conversation, I said “That’s very helpful, thank you, I just wanted to know what to expect”. The lawyer replied: “You can never really know what to expect.” Well, ain’t that the truth.

So the day came and I arrived at the Brampton court house...

So the day came and I arrived at the Brampton court house. There were about 15 matters on the docket in the courtroom I was at. I looked around at the other lawyers who all looked like they knew what they were doing, I tried to fit in. As the first few motions went by, I began to realize something I did not expect. The judge is a real person! This particular Justice’s interest was in family law. Whenever a family law matter came before him, he spoke to the parties about his concerns and the issues at stake. During civil matters, I heard him explain his discomfort in dispensing with service and reasoned why in the particular circumstances he would grant it. It was like my law textbooks had jumped to life! When it came time for my motion, I was considerably more at ease. Before I knew it, I had my first order. Four weeks later, I was asked to attend another motion, this time in Toronto. I remembered my lesson from my first attendance, and reviewed the motion materials by asking myself, “Why are we asking for this order from the court? What makes it reasonable?” I reminded myself that the judges are there to resolve the matter as fair and practicable as possible.

This proved even truer on my second motion attendance. Upon arrival, I was informed my motion had been redirected to another courtroom. When I got there, two counsels were getting very heated over their own respective calendars. The judge therefore asked them to consult between themselves outside the courtroom so he could get to the other matters. On a later matter, one counsel repeatedly would not schedule a trial even though several dates in 2016 were given, as he had a long trial around that time. The judge finally said to him: “Counsel, given that 97% of matters settle before trial, and in the interest of moving the [trial] list along, perhaps double booking trials in 2016 is not such a bad idea. Let’s not live up to the reputation that in Toronto, you have to book trials 3 years in advance”. The down to earth comment set a tone for the remainder of the scheduling matters and reminded everyone of the reality that surrounds every legal battle.

courtesy of Stuart Miles digitalphotos
As for me, it turns out that the Justice had already reviewed the file I was appearing for and was therefore familiar with it. He had moved me up to his courtroom because he did not want me to run into any issues in the other courtroom. After I spoke to the motion, he then told me he would sign the order and endorsement in his chambers since he had the file there. I was surprised at how he took the time and effort to ensure that the motion would be properly addressed.

I never expected to find myself in chambers on my second motion attendance, but there I was. You can never really know what to expect, indeed!

Monday, 21 September 2015

Training From Hell - Louis Litt Style?

Okay MB is not comparable to working with Louis Litt from HBO’s Suits episode “Training from Hell”.

The following tips have helped me avoid nose-diving while articling...

Louis certainly took pride in how badly he treated the new associates at Pearson Specter Litt. Disguising his tactics as “training”, he even made one junior associate house sit for his cat despite their intense allergies to all things feline.

Most law students imagine horrific accounts of what their articling experience could entail – crashing overnight at the office, on-call duties dictated by a boss aspiring to be Meryl Streep in Devil Wears Prada, and never-ending mountains of paperwork one could only hope to see the top of…. However, if you’re expecting a recount of a personal “training from hell” articling experience, you are reading the wrong blog. I have only been articling at McCague Borlack for a month and a half but I am certain I will not be subjected to an allergic reaction anytime soon.

The lawyers at our firm have been kind and patient in volunteering their time to impart useful skills and knowledge, making the learning curve much more manageable. However, articling also involves a great deal of personal learning. Transitioning from being a summer to an articling student meant continuing to develop better organizational and work habits in order to better manage my time and take on more responsibility. As the volume and complexity of work has increased, I am slowly beginning to understand the importance of endurance which in the end will help me ‘survive’ a career in law.


The following tips have helped me avoid nose-diving while articling:
  1. Do not promise an earlier deadline than you can deliver;
  2. Save final work products so you never make the same mistake twice;
  3. Buy a large Moleskine notebook and bring it to lawyers’ offices to make detailed notes of assigned tasks;
  4. Organize your emails into folders and sub-folders for different lawyers and client files for easy access to information; and
  5. Find a few favourite spots in the Path for snack and coffee breaks!
Now I’m not saying there won’t be late nights to look forward to but as long as you prioritize and organize your tasks, you shouldn’t need to invest in a sleeping bag in the near future!
Christine L.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Tips for the Bar Exam

So you just wrote your final exam of law school. Inevitably upon completing the exam, you celebrate because you’re about to graduate and finally be done with school. You also begin planning how amazing your time off in the summer will be before you start Articling. However, something just doesn’t seem right. Although you know you should be ecstatic and excited for your summer, you just can’t seem to figure out why the feeling is not of pure joy. Oh right, you registered to write the bar exam in June!

Remember, it’s only 6 weeks of intense studying and then you can relax.

Materials
A week after completing your last exam, you might find yourself picking up the materials for the bar. As you’re handed the two separate bundles of materials (barristers and solicitors), the first thing you might do is check how many pages there are in total. That’s right, about 1800 pages but don’t worry, about 300 of them are common to both exams. A week prior you were feeling immensely happy for being done school but now, you quickly begin to feel the stress of having to write two exams that culminate your entire efforts in the past 3 years.

Delayed Reaction
Although writing the bar may seem like a difficult and daunting task, I’m going to tell you that it was certainly not as bad as I made it out to be. One of the more difficult things to come to terms with was that my celebration for being done law school and being able to fully enjoy the summer were to be delayed until the middle of June. Once you come to terms with delaying your summer plans, gain a feel for what the materials are like and set a reading schedule. It’s really all about staying focused and ensuring that you get through the materials at least once, and of course, be sure to have good indices. Remember, it’s only 6 weeks of intense studying and then you can relax.

Exam Day
On exam day, make sure you arrive early, pack nutritious food and most importantly, stay calm. I can’t stress that last point enough. Of course being adequately prepared will also help ensure that you are calm and collected before and during the exam. Try not to rush questions, but also do not spend too much time on one if you just can’t seem to get the answer. Timing is much more important than being stubborn and not moving on from a question when you’ve already dwelled on it for too long. If this happens, I suggest choosing the answer that you think might be correct, or a random one if they all seem equally plausible, and noting it so you can come back if there is some time at the end. The reason I suggest filling in an answer and not leaving it blank is because you may find that you run out of time by the end and it’s better to at least have an answer than to leave it blank. Just don’t press too hard with your pencil, you might need to erase and correct it.


Go for June
The study time and the exams will fly by, just as the last 3 years already have. Before you know it, you’ll be articling and all the stress of law school and the bar will seem distant and inconsequential. In fact, I strongly recommend writing the bar in June if it fits into your schedule because you will likely still be in exam mode from your finals, and you will not have to stress over the exams while you Article.

In summary
Give the materials the time they deserve, try not to stress too much on exam day and remember, if you’re prepared, it should all work out.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Lawyers’ Advice For Your Last Year Of School

It is now the final week of McCague Borlack’s 2015 Summer Student Program. All of the students can agree that we have had an excellent summer here. Not only did we meet and work with many great people, we also learned quite a bit.

...take courses that matter!

With only a few weeks left before we have to hit the books again, I decided to consult some lawyers at the firm to ask what they hope for students to gain in their final year of school before the begin their articles.

A major theme in the advice I received, understandably so, was to take courses that matter! This means, take something that you will utilize. It was highly recommended that students take the time to learn the Rules of Civil Procedure. However, this does not mean you should shy away from courses you are interested in. One lawyer said; take the opportunity to “broaden your analytical horizon” and to figure out what you are interested in. Another lawyer suggested that getting involved in a clinic during the school year was a good way of gaining hands on experience and “perspective”.

Another piece of advice was that students should work on their time management by getting involved in extracurricular activities, maintaining a social life, and keeping ties to the community, on top of their course loads. The rationale behind this is that the skills you gain from managing your time are transferrable to your work when you begin articling.

free digital photos from jscreationzs
A final piece of advice given was to remember that, “it is a marathon not a sprint”. Meaning, do not forget to have fun outside of school and keep up with your hobbies/sports, as this will make you well-rounded. One lawyer eloquently stated that the last year of school is about setting yourself up for the next stage of life and that “your ‘career’ stage is longer than any other we have yet faced. Accordingly, this lawyer suggested that students in their final year take the time to figure out what it is they really want out of a long and happy career.

As the final week comes to end, we are saddened that the summer flew by. At the same time, we are excited that we will soon come back to article at MB. During this final year we will be sure to follow the advice given to us by the lawyers at the firm.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

A Summer for the Books: Practical Legal Skills Acquired

It’s hard to imagine, but our stint as summer students is almost up. Looking back, in terms of our legal education, this has been one of our most rewarding and enriching experiences we have had thus far. Each of us have had the opportunity to attend mediations, examinations for discoveries, and court for various legal matters. We also further refined our skills by conducting research on everything from issues affecting cross-border transportation to properly serving legal documents internationally.

Summer Student feedback on legal skills acquired at MB...

To paint a more complete picture, I have asked the group to provide feedback on practical legal skills acquired at MB.

Karen: Form and draft legal opinions on liability, damages, and recommended settlement figures, for client consideration.

Cassandra: Various aspects of examination of discovery, including the art of forming direct and substantive questions.

Marla: Enforcing a writ of seizure intra-provincially.

Victoria: Best practices for mediation, including the art of preparing persuasive briefs that make it likely that the matter will settle favorably.

Shayan: Various facets of trial preparation, including preparing documents that highlight and apportion liability.

Tiffany: Draft motion records to amend a Statement of Claim, for production from a non-party with leave, to dismiss an action and to set aside a noting in default.

Mahdi: Various aspects of preparation for regulatory hearings, including researching the extent of liability of professional actors.

We have no doubt that the legal skills that we have acquired this past summer will serve us well when we return to the firm as articling students.

Friday, 31 July 2015

One Actual Day as a Summer Student

Follow me...

8:00 am: I arrive in the office. We aren’t expected in until closer to 9, but I happily get up a little earlier so not to spend my commute squashed in a crowded subway car; plus it’s quiet around the office at this time of the morning and it gives me an opportunity to get some work done before the emails and phone calls start coming in.

At least once a week I get a new type of assignment that I’ve never done before...

First line of business – Email: My inbox has an email from a Foreign Ministry of Justice. I had put together the affidavit of documents and damages brief for an action against a foreign defendant earlier this summer and I had been asked to arrange for service of the statement of claim to that defendant. The emails back and forth are clarification of forms sent.

Next up: I summarize the documents the opposing side produced for an action. These summaries are usually the basis of letters to clients providing the lawyer with the information they need to form an opinion going to the client on damages and liability. Sometimes the lawyers will go a step further and have us draft the opinion, which they reassuringly will review and revise if necessary, or ask us to give them our opinion informally, but today it’s just a summary. Thankfully, there aren’t too many documents and I manage to get through them and draft the report in a couple of hours.

Switching Gears: At least once a week I get a new type of assignment that I’ve never done before and this weeks’ new task is to create a brief. This involves going through the other side’s productions and after identifying the individual documents, organizing them into pre-determined categories relating to their purpose. Not having broken down documents into these categories before makes it slow going.

Interruptions: The phone rings and it is the adjuster representing the opposing parties on one of my small claims files. We had spent a few days exchanging settlement offers and it was my turn to respond. I had gotten instructions from our client regarding the latest offer yesterday, so I relay the information to the adjuster who says they will discuss it and get back to me. Given our offer, I’m 50-50 about whether we’ll settle or the discussion will break down entirely, but, cautiously optimistic, I get back to work on the brief.

Lunch: Inevitably, at some point in the late morning someone will call, pop by, or message and the question is always the same; “when’s lunch?” The summer students try to get lunch together, unless on field trips, running errands, or other lunch dates; 3 or 4 of us do manage on any given day. Today, lunch is at one and we decide to eat in the food court of our building. In the end, we all are able to make it.

Post Lunch: I receive an email from the adjuster to whom I made the settlement offer this morning. They’ve agreed! I let the supervising lawyer know. After replying to the adjuster, I draft a subrogation release and send it to the client along with the good news. Once done, I start work on a second summary and then continue working on a research memo I started a couple of days earlier.

New Work: At 4:45 a new assignment comes to “The List”. The student who is up next is swamped and looking to switch places. Sometimes students will get a lot of big assignments in a row; as a group we’ve learned to work as a team to handle this. I respond that I have time, and then arrange to meet with the assigning lawyer the next morning.

Closing Time: At 5pm with nothing pressing, I decide to call it a day and head back to the now much busier St. Andrews station to catch the subway home. Most of the other summer students make their way home too. It was made clear to us that no one expects us to hang around the office for the sake of being visible. We stay as long as we need to in order to get our work done. Although I might (and did) receive a couple of new assignments after I arrive home, I know they will keep until tomorrow…

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Legal Practice versus TV Legal Dramas

Many of you may be following this blog because you are wondering what it’s like to actually work in a law firm. I know I was. And if you’re like me, many of you are also fans of Suits, The Good Wife and How to Get Away with Murder. There was an earlier blog post titled Comparing Reality to the Suits TV Show…, which talked about how legal practice is similar to the legal dramas. Here are the major differences.

Working in a law firm
is (usually) not that dramatic.

“Civil” Litigation
One of the things that shocked me the most when I attended examinations for discovery, pre-trials and settlement conferences was that lawyers are actually very polite and civil to one another. This is in stark contrast with the cutthroat, irrational and unreasonable behaviour that is often depicted on television.

One reason for the civility may be the relatively small size of the Ottawa bar. I’ve personally run into my professors five times now! Lawyers often oppose the same law firms or counsel on numerous occasions. Acting courteously, therefore, maximizes the potential for cooperation in future cases, paves a foundation for a professional relationship and protects your reputation.

In mock trials and moots, law students often practice proper decorum by referring to the opposing side as our friends. In legal practice, lawyers might literally be friends with their opposing counsel outside of their clients’ conflict.

And Action… (where’s the camera?)
Depositions are referred to as examinations for discovery in Canada. Examinations for discovery are not filmed. The audio is, however, recorded and a written transcript is produced by a court reporter, so lawyers have an opportunity to catch the person being examined in a lie if he/she changes his/her testimony by the time the case goes to trial ;)

And Cut…
Don’t expect disputes to be resolved within a one-hour episode. Litigation can span months or years, since there are many steps within a legal action. Television shows often glamourize and focus on various proceedings, but rarely show the research and preparation that goes into preparing for a trial.

That’s a wrap!
Because the whole process can be very time-consuming and costly, the parties to litigation often settle the dispute before the action goes to trial. For those reasons, lawyers do not appear in court as often as it is depicted on television.

All in all, I am relieved the legal practice is not as dramatic as how it is depicted on television. The “behind the scenes” work have also made my first summer working in civil litigation interesting, challenging and realistic! However, I am looking forward to my first day in court.

Friday, 17 July 2015

OCI Applications: Finding a 'Good Fit'

As the application deadline for the On-Campus-Interview (OCI) process approaches, second year students begin to eagerly research firms and speak with fellow students. As an applicant, I found it easy to gain superficial information, but difficult to decipher what exactly makes each firm unique.

Here are seven things to consider when gathering information about the firms that interest you.

A heavy emphasis is placed on finding a “good fit”. The OCI and Summer Student Program is, for everyone involved, an investment of time, effort, and resources. So, in the search for compatibility, here are seven things to consider when gathering information about the firms that interest you, the applicant:

1. Practice Areas
Check each firm's website for information about their practice areas. Looking for a niche? Or just want to keep it general? How about litigation? Are students exposed to all firm practice areas? Or restricted to a few?

At MB: As the website indicates, McCague Borlack is a civil litigation firm that focuses on insurance defence. Our cases pertain to any and all losses that would be covered by insurance. This includes motor vehicle accidents, fires, floods, and other property damage. Plus the firm has over 30 listed practice areas, and there is work to be done in all of them. If a student is interested in a specific field, the lawyers are more than willing to get the students involved.

2. Students' Work
Ask current students or check their program materials to see what type of work is assigned. Are you going to be doing mostly research? Sitting at a desk all day? In the library? Working online?

At MB: We are asked to prepare motion records and affidavits, client letters, and memos. We conduct engaging research and compose summaries of our findings. There is a balance of mindful work, administrative tasks, and exciting assignments. The deadlines are often very reasonable, allowing us to manage our daily schedule and allocate our time accordingly.

3. Field Trips
Do students get to leave the office? Perhaps to watch motions? Attend meetings? Go to court? How much interaction is there with the firm's clients? Do you spend a lot of time on the phone?

At MB: Students do not spend all day, every day at our desks. We are given the opportunity to attend out-of-office discoveries, mediations, and settlement conferences. We are also included in client information sessions, Professional Development seminars, and Practice Group meetings - all of which typically come with catered treats… ;)

4. The List
Ask how work is distributed to students. Do they follow a list? Is it a ‘round robin’? First come, first served?

At MB: Our students receive work from lawyers through a list - an email group - through which we take assignments in alphabetical order. The list ensures that each student receives a variety of work, from a variety of lawyers. It bolsters team work, and helps to eliminate competitiveness among the group.

5. Open Door Policy
You need to know about the environment of the firm. Where do you go if you need help or have questions? Can students approach lawyers directly? Or do students speak to lawyer's assistants instead? It is one thing for a firm to say they have an open door policy, and another to actually put it into practice.

At MB:  Our lawyers encourage students to drop by their offices with questions or comments, or even just to chat. It allows everyone to build relationships and establish connections with formal and informal mentors. Since many of the lawyers were once articling and summer students, they are empathetic and very supportive. This speaks to the atmosphere of our office.

6. Hire Back Rates
Does the firm typically hire-back their articling students? Is there competition to get hired-back? What does it take to stand out?

At MB: Our firm is inclusive, supportive, and uncompetitive. This is evident in the firm’s attitude toward hiring back their summer students for articling positions and then as associates. As it was explained to us, we are invited to become long-term members of the team. We are not treated as visitors because we are here to stay.

7. Work Life Balance
Ask current students what a typical week will look like? What kind of hours do they keep? Do they work on the weekends? How often?

At MB: The lawyers and students at McCague Borlack recognize and practice a work life balance. This is somewhat uncommon to come across when speaking of a Downtown Toronto firm. As students, our workload allows us to take advantage of our well-deserved summer break, and to have personal time on the evenings and weekends.

If any potential applicants have follow up questions, please feel free to contact me > Marla R.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Litigation: Yours to Discover

As we cross the midpoint of our summer at MB, we’ve definitely dipped our toes into the cool waters of civil litigation and have learned some useful things over the past seven weeks - including how much we still have to learn! We’ve all fallen into a rhythm of working on assignments, interacting with lawyers & clients, and chatting up a storm when we’re together as a group (trust me, we’re just as friendly as we come across in Mel’s earlier blog).

My first trip to the
magical place of the
“real legal world” ...
a discovery for a slip
and fall case.

But, once in a while, our work rhythm hits a wave and we get an opportunity to leave the confines of the office. Whether it comes through the list, or whether we’ve been approached in-person, each of us has been offered a chance to go outside and experience law in action.

My first trip to the magical place of the “real legal world” came in the form of an invite to attend a discovery for a slip and fall case. I arrived bright-eyed and bushy tailed the very next morning, eager to take note on every word spoken.

For those of you who might not know, a discovery is a pre-trial process during which both parties are supposed to lay all their cards on the table. Unlike in TV legal dramas, the Canadian civil system doesn’t want big, dramatic courtroom revelations; instead, the pre-trial process is meant to focus on settlement and avoidance of going the expensive trial route. The main goal for each party at a discovery is to extract as much relevant information as possible in the hopes of understanding all parts of the other side’s case.

At my discovery, there were multiple parties involved. And so, it was fascinating to watch the tactics each counsel used to obtain the information they wanted. Even though the atmosphere was collegial (unlike in a courtroom setting, everyone sits around a table in a boardroom-style office) it was easy to distinguish the different approaches of the various counsel present. Each lawyer had their own questioning style, and it only became more apparent what objectives each party had once we reached the nitty-gritty details of the accident. Some were friendly while others were more hard-line with their style of questioning. Unsurprisingly, each was successful in its own way; namely, getting the information they wanted. There can also be nerve-wracking moments at discoveries. At one point, we were all stuck waiting for more than two hours because of an unavoidable delay. Thankfully, there was amazing food and the great company of lawyers at the top of their game to make the time fly by. (Tip: When attending a discovery, go with an empty stomach. I can’t tell you how much I regretted eating breakfast after seeing the huge variety of delicious foods available.)


So, what was the most important thing I learned at my discovery? Don’t underestimate its importance! Because of significant inconsistencies in the answers provided about the accident, the case was no longer rock-solid, and there was talk of dismissing the action altogether.

Each part of the civil litigation process is like a puzzle piece, with its own role in anchoring the outcome. So, over the remaining five weeks, we’re all excited to learn more about how all those puzzle pieces come together and form a complete picture!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Hands-on Learning Approach

We have approached the halfway point into our summer, so it is a great time to check in on how the summer is progressing and specifically give an insightful snap shot into the day and life of a student at the Ottawa office.

The open door policy we were promised during our interviews is definitely widely practiced and an important value of the firm.

The Ottawa office is located right in the heart of downtown Ottawa’s financial district. Each morning on our walk to the office, it is always nice to grab a coffee in one of the many coffee shops, and even stop and appreciate the beautiful views of the parliament buildings before making our way to the 14 floor of the Sun Life building.

Upon arriving to the office, there is no shortage of friendly faces. Everyone in the Ottawa office has been welcoming to the new students. Whether it is sharing laughs in the boardroom over lunch hour, or honouring the departure of a fellow colleague over pizza; the students have been included in each event. From the assistants, to the lawyers, to the law clerk, everyone is approachable and willing to help us with (what seems like) our never-ending questions. The open door policy we were promised during our interviews is definitely widely practiced and an important value of the firm. The collegial atmosphere is particularly conducive for us students to learn because we feel comfortable to ask our questions, seek out direction, make and learn from our mistakes, and seize opportunities.

We have had the opportunity to work with each and every lawyer in the Ottawa office, and many lawyers in the Toronto office. I have found that the lawyers are genuinely interested in teaching and mentoring us students. They are also happy to assign us important and extremely interesting tasks. For example, I have already had the opportunity to personally correspond with clients, conduct extensive research, draft pleadings and even write a client reporting letter, to name a few! The great thing about our office and the firm in general, is that it takes a very hands-on learning approach. There is a great balance between having the freedom to learn how to complete the assigned tasks independently and having the support and resources required to succeed.


This summer, we have been provided with the opportunities to participate in areas of litigation we could only read about in our civil procedure class! It is so fascinating to see what we learned from the pages of our textbooks practiced in real life. For example, I have been lucky enough to observe examinations for discoveries conducted by several lawyers, and I am excited to be attending a mediation next week.

The first half of the summer at McCague Borlack has been both challenging and rewarding. I have already been afforded with invaluable practical litigation experience and I am excited to see what the second half of the summer holds!

Monday, 6 July 2015

Five Habits of Highly Effective Law Students

It is that time of year where many eager first and second year law students begin putting their job applications together. In preparation of your cover letters and practicing for interviews I give you The Five Habits Law Students should aspire to develop. I can confidently say they will assist you, as they have me and my colleagues, with the transition from 'law school' to 'law firm'.

These Habits will assist you with the transition from
'law school' to
'law firm'.

Habit #1- Organization
As any other student of MB will tell you…you do real work here. This means that you are given a great deal of responsibility on a number of files from the get-go. For example, a student’s typical to do list will read:

  • Complete an Affidavit of Documents, 
  • complete a Motion Record, 
  • call client, 
  • get an invoice, 
  • write a briefing letter to expert, 
  • research this issue, 
  • summarize medicals and of course, 
  • write a blog post.  

As you can imagine, without a game plan this list would be a nightmare and you would easily be lost, confused and inefficient. However, if one is able to chart out the above list and check their timelines and due dates with the assigning lawyer for the purposes of prioritizing assignments, the list becomes more manageable. In turn, you become more effective as a student.

Habit #2- Time Management 
As a student you will soon become familiarized with the concept of “capturing your time”. Ultimately, what this means is that you should strive to make every minute of your work count. In accomplishing this, it is helpful to create a self-imposed timeline for your tasks (when one isn’t already given that is). For example, when a lawyer assigns something without telling you when they want it back, you should ask “how long should something like this take me”? Even if the task was assigned on a no-rush basis, this will allow you to stay on track with regards to managing your time.

Habit #3- Be A Good Mentee But Don’t Forget To Be A Mentor As Well 
As a new student you will quickly learn how little you actually know. This is normal (or so they tell me). At MB, everyone will be your mentor in one way or another. For example, you will always have guidance whether it is to show you the particular office you are looking for, how to use a particular machine, or to explain how to properly do a damages brief after already asking three times. That being said, as new student you should always seek out opportunities to be a mentor yourself. This could not be truer of the students at MB, where we relish the opportunity to assist and guide each other.  This in turn will contribute to the collegial atmosphere of the firm.

Habit #4-Be Curious
As a student you will see that it is easy to simply complete an assignment without really knowing the case or delving into the issues. For instance, a common assignment can be to ensure that opposing counsel has provided all of their undertakings. However, you will learn much more much faster, if you take the time to be curious. For example, after examining the undertakings, go back to the file and take a minute to read the Statement of Claim, Statement of Defence, or even the discovery transcript. This will allow you to see how the pieces of the puzzle fit together, and how your role as a student contributes to the assembly of that puzzle.

Habit #5-Trust Yourself 
You should probably come to terms with it now; as a student you can expect to sometimes be lost or confused. In these instances, from time to time, after you have asked all the right questions and got all the right answers, you should simply rely on and trust your intuition. It has led you to where you are now and through many obstacles (LSAT, 1L, OCI’s to name a few) and it will continue to do so (so I hope).

To the prospective students: these are some of the skills and habits I have found helpful in my transition from school to the workforce. Hopefully they will help you too. Good luck with your applications.


Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Introducing the Personal Side

As we approach the one-month mark of our Summer Student program, I think it is safe for me to say on behalf of everyone, that we have already learned a lot. In addition to gaining a broad exposure to many areas of civil litigation, we have also been fortunate to meet many new and friendly faces throughout the firm.

Friendly Faces
at the Firm

The rumors are true – everyone really is happy to teach, lend a hand and answer our infinite follow-up questions. The open door policy at MB has been a pivotal part of learning both practical civil litigation skills as well as learning about our colleagues. This year there are 8 Summer Students, 6 in Toronto and 2 in Ottawa. After spending one month working very closely with, learning from and maneuvering through new areas of the law together we have all become fast friends. I want to take this opportunity to share an interesting fact or two that I have learned about each of my Summer Student colleagues – through personal biographies and candid photos (authored by me, with their consent, of course). So here we are in alphabetical order...

Karen Bernofsky
Karen is a Doctor – a PhD that is. Karen’s travels as a Paleopathologist have allowed her to spend at least one month on every continent, except Africa and Antarctica. Pretty cool. Appropriately, Karen’s favourite book is the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.






Mahdi Hussein
Mahdi is no stranger to working closely with other people around his age. Mahdi has six siblings, and considers his family 'small'. We can all thank Mahdi’s family for making him so friendly and cooperative!







Melanie Jones (Me!)
I am an extrovert at heart, with an unwavering love for musicals, specifically Grease, red velvet cake, and mid-distance running. While I can be found generally happy in most of life’s situations, I am easily debilitated by my fear of birds. ALL birds.








Shayan Kamalie
In addition to his kindhearted nature and friendly demeanor, Shayan has established himself (among the student group) as something of a fashion icon. Most notably are Shayan’s regular rotation of colourful suit socks. They have become quite the conversation starter!






Cassandra Khatchikian
Cassandra is an Ottawa-native, born and raised. As a former competitive figure skater, Cassandra enjoys the Ottawa winters and can appreciate the Rideau Canal in all its frozen beauty. Cassandra, however, does not appreciate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.








Victoria Mitrova
Victoria is a lady of many talents, outside the office she can be seen scoring touchdowns, running the field and playing defense on her Ultimate Frisbee team. Victoria also has a flare for fashion. The only thing larger than the documents in her AOD is her collection of shoes!






Marla Rosenblatt-Worth Whether she is keeping track of assignments that come through “the list”, analyzing documents for a Damages Brief or preparing a Motion Record, Marla keeps organized through her beloved Agenda Book. Constantly being prepared entitles Marla to indulge in her favourite treat – DQ’s chocolate dipped ice cream!






Tiffany Santos
Although Tiffany enjoys her time in the Ottawa office, when she is outside the office she is quite the thrill-seeker! Tiffany has exercised her dare-devil edge through sky diving, hang gliding, parasailing and scuba diving, just to name a few! Stay safe, Tiffany!

Friday, 19 June 2015

The List: The Real Work has begun

Student work at the firm is distributed through a rotation system commonly referred to as “The List”.

It is our third week at the firm as summer students; the articling students have left and the “real work” has begun. Student work at the firm is distributed through a rotation system commonly referred to as “The List”.

The nature of The List means that on any given day, you may be asked to assist a lawyer with a motion record, an accident and benefit claim, a subrogation file, or even a damages brief. This is exciting, since you are not aware of what interesting file awaits you when you arrive in the morning, also it means we have to practice excellent time-management in order to keep up with all work assigned.

The strategy we have developed as a group -- and thank you to the articling students for this tip -- is to work together as a team on all new assignments. For example, due to the nature of The List, one summer student was able to complete a number of damages briefs. This is a complicated but essential document for any pending litigation and settlement discussions. If for instance, a damages brief appears on my desk tomorrow, and I have a few incidental questions, I know that I can always stick my head over to the next cubicle and the other student will not hesitate to assist me and pass on any suggestions that might be helpful. Beyond assisting each other on files, we have committed to regularly having lunch as a group to share helpful tips and best practices.

photo by cuteimage from freedigitalphotos
In addition to assigning work, The List also determines which student gets to accompany a senior lawyer on discoveries or motions. Last week, I had the distinct pleasure of attending a lengthy motion with a Partner and witnessed her zealously advocate for one of our clients on a very fine-point of law. I left the courthouse with a better sense of what was expected of us as future members of the firm, and most importantly, I left with a greater appreciation for exemplary oral advocacy.

‘Til next time,

Mahdi H.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

An Ocean’s Eleven of Law Students








Articling is over. Our final day together as students, after the long and challenging haul, was spent in relief and satisfaction, over beers and in each other's company on a cool patio night.

...remove yourself from the competitive maelstrom of law school and prepare for a more collaborative firm environment.

I cannot say enough about this group of individuals, who shared their knowledge, effort and support without expectation or delay.

We were each other's bulwark, an Ocean's Eleven of Law Students, each putting their unique talents to work in earnest collaboration. These people, and the lawyers at McCague Borlack, were at once my professional exemplars, my safety net and my confidantes. I cannot imagine a better learning environment than the one I experienced over the past 10 months.

  To McCague Borlack's incoming summer students, I urge you to lean on each other and draw from the resources provided by the firm. An honest assertion of yourself and a sincere interest in the success of others is truly all you need to succeed. To those law students who will soon summer or article, I urge you to remove yourself from the competitive maelstrom of law school and prepare for a more collaborative firm environment. And to my fellow articling students, I look forward to many more days as newly called lawyers at McCague Borlack this Fall.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Orientation Week: Summer Students 2015

It has been said at least twice in previous blogs that the weeks leading up to the first day as a summer student are a mix of anticipation and anxiety. I couldn’t agree more. In my case, my anxiety increased the closer I got to my start date. I loved that students at McCague Borlack get lots of responsibility, but it struck me how little I knew about the tasks that I might be assigned. I didn’t know if I could handle everything.

...my anxiety increased
the closer I got to
my start date...

Thankfully, the transition from law school to law firm was as gentle as it could possibly have been. For three days, all of the summer students were taught the practical side of being a lawyer, such as how to docket and manage files, as well as substantive legal concepts, like civil procedure and the basics of insurance law. Each lesson was taught by a different person, all of whom told us that we could come to them, or anyone else, with any questions that we had. In fact, that was a theme of this week. Nearly everyone we have met has reassured us that they are happy to answer any questions we have.

When training ended, it became clear that this was not just something people said. When I was given my first assignment, one of the articling students explained to me exactly how to do it, gave me an example to follow, and gave me feedback before I submitted it. When I met with the assigning lawyer before I started the assignment, he not only gave me a little more detail on what he needed me to do, he also explained to me an aspect of accident benefits that I had been struggling with. When I was given small claims files, the articling student who transferred them to me explained exactly what was happening in the proceedings and what I would need to do next.

As promised, the work has been hands-on, but manageable. In addition to the work distributed through the student email list, more than half of the summer students, including myself, have attended discoveries with lawyers. Two of the eight students have attended motions. Many of us have been given carriage of small claims files; at least one of mine will likely have a settlement conference scheduled for this summer.

The articling students in particular have been a tremendous asset, willing to answer all of our questions, no matter how basic. We are all slightly dreading Monday morning, when they are gone and we are on our own. Thankfully, all of the summer students are willing to help each other out, offering advice when another student gets an assignment they have done before. I’m grateful to be working with such a good group of people.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Home Stretch

As we near the home stretch of the articling experience, students everywhere are beginning to feel the excitement and buzz surrounding the fast-approaching call to the bar. Reflecting on the past eight months of articling and trying to find ways to push forward to complete the last two months with grace, perseverance and enthusiasm I find myself thinking of the five most important things I’ve learned to help keep myself motivated throughout this process:

Reflecting on the last eight months of articling... thinking of the five most important things:


Make time to see friends and family
We were lucky enough to have a fantastic articling group, which is a testament to the kind of people that work at MB. But regardless of how well you get along with your articling peers, it is important to make sure you have time so see your friends and family outside of work. While articling can be an all-consuming endeavour, it is important to start learning how to balance your personal and work commitments.

Lean in and out as needed
In any job certain weeks are bound to be busier than others. Learning to lean in when needed and enjoy the lulls when lucky enough to have them will allow you to pace yourself during these ten intense months. You may have to work late nights and even weekends some months, and during this time your workload may demand all of your attention. However, enjoying the slower periods during you articling term and ensuring not to overload yourself will help you be prepared for those more demanding times.

Don’t give up your hobbies
Whether it be going to the gym, or taking a cooking class, make sure you don’t give up all your hobbies once you start articling. Continuing to do something you enjoy outside of the office that is just for you will help you be more productive during the day. It will help keep your mind and body refreshed and will also decrease stress levels.

Photo by Ambro. free digital photosSeek out assignments that interest you
Everyone has different interests and lucky for us, the lawyers at MB encourage us to seek out work that we find interesting. While it is important to ensure you give yourself a wide variety of experiences, seeking out assignments in practice areas that interest you can also help keep you motivated at work.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew
Despite the above advice to seek out assignments you are interested in, keep in mind you have to keep up with your workload and over committing to too many projects or people is a sure fire way to upset others as well as burn yourself out. Staying organized will also help you ensure you don’t over commit yourself.

Monday, 16 March 2015

A Wide Exposure to Litigation Disputes

As we begin to turn down the home stretch for our articling terms at MB, I think this is a good opportunity to give prospective students an idea of the sort of matters that cross our desks on a day-to-day basis. The big advantage in articling at MB being exposed to a large number of practice areas.

...each case and event in the file demands a unique approach.

In my own experience, I have had the opportunity to assist on a range of matters from product liability to professional negligence, from employment disputes to landlord and tenant disputes and from bodily injury to accident benefits. I have seen subject matters ranging from disputes over leaky pipes to errors in large infrastructure projects, matters involving children and adults and, even animals! I have been asked to assist with preparations for motions, mediations, pre-trial conferences and trials. I have had the opportunity to interview expert witnesses, prepare witnesses, and speak to clients and opposing counsel.

What I have found is that although the work at MB is usually through the lens of civil litigation process, each case and event in the file demands a unique approach. By being exposed to every aspect of a dispute, and many types of disputes, I have quickly learned that, despite how similar the various aspects of the files appear to be, every matter demands a unique approach. As a result, we are constantly learning how to navigate new challenges and come up with new approaches to best meet the needs of our clients.

The lawyers at MB commonly look to us, the articling students, to be more than “paper pushers” for the file. Instead, many lawyers want us, and in some cases encourage us, to be a contributing member of the “team”. I have found that we are frequently challenged (in a positive way) to offer our thoughts on how to best approach the file. For someone who best learns by doing, I have found this approach to be a very effective way to engage me in the file and has allowed me to really become invested in the work that I am asked to do. As a result of this engagement I have become more and more confident in my own abilities as the articling term has progressed. I think if I were to ask the other articling students if they feel the same, they would agree.

My hope as I look towards the end of my articling term is that my knowledge base continues to be challenged and, as a result, continues to grow. Based on how my time has progressed thus far at MB, it is more than likely that my hopes will be realized.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Professional Development – Starting Early

The practice of law is a craft; like any other skill, it requires hard work, dedication, and time to develop.

MB is the type of firm that invests a lot in its junior members....

MB is the type of firm that invests a lot in its junior members (students especially), by placing a strong emphasis on professional development. From in-house seminars such as lunch-and-learns, to the informal feedback received from experienced lawyers, there is no shortage of opportunities to grow and develop.

Many of my colleagues have already blogged about the responsibility articling students receive (i.e. carriage of our own files), and the incredible work we get to do on a daily basis (injunctions, anyone?). To build on that, I thought I would share the various other ways to hone your skills.

Practice Group Seminars

If I were to ask a law student how many Supreme Court of Canada cases they read in a month, it would be shocked if that number isn't 10x higher than the average lawyer. This is because, on a day-to-day basis, the fundamentals of practice do not change all that much. However, keeping up on the law is vital to ensuring the best result for your clients.

The firm frequently hosts meetings and seminars within each of its practice groups (i.e. transportation law, accident benefits, subrogation, privacy). The purpose of these seminars is to bring us up to date with both new developments in the law, as well as fundamental principles.

Publishing

MB gives you no shortage of opportunities to publish (see my most recent and another published with  Toronto Law Journal). At any given time throughout articling, I have had anywhere from 2 to 6 papers on the go (I don't recommend 6, by the way!), an email blast, and a presentation.

Publishing has the double benefit of learning an area of the law in-depth, as well as making a name for yourself in the legal community. Which brings me to my next point.

“Businessman with idea lightbulb” by basketman freedigitalphotos
Networking

I've already mentioned the benefits of networking in a previous post. However, I didn't highlight just how many firm events MB students are entitled to attend. Just last month, our well-attended “Christmas in January” party was an excellent opportunity to meet clients and put a face to the names we deal with every day.

It is never too early to focus on your professional development so hopefully you find a firm where your efforts are facilitated and rewarded.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Life is a Marathon

Have you heard of the saying, life is a marathon, not a sprint? Well, articling is like a series of sprints within a marathon. It demands your focus, respect and humility. It requires your very best work. And it places on your shoulders the responsibility to do the best job you can for your client, your firm, and your principal.

As an articling student, you are on call to do great work at any time.

Articling represents a level of intensity that I never saw in law school. Yes there was moot and exams and final papers and Socratic classes. But you could pace yourself and spread tasks across weeks or months. As an articling student, you are on call to do great work at any time. Which means you are operating at peak efficiency, often for long stretches of time.

So, how do you avoid burning yourself out? 

First, develop relationships with your peers.  Depending on your outlook, these individuals are your competitors or your compatriots. One of the reasons I chose to article at McCague Borlack was because they make an effort to foster collegiality and tend to attract people who thrive in that environment.

picture courtesy of freedigitalphotos by iosphere
Second, take breaks. I mean real breaks, not “go outside and stare at your cell phone for 10 minutes” breaks. It’s easy to get wrapped up in a case or assignment, but you have to be cognizant of your time as well. Sitting for three hours straight may seem productive at first, but it can hurt you in the long run. This seems obvious, but when you are under pressure or deeply engaged in a task, sometimes you forget.

And third, get a life. Your family and friends are important. They have been with you since the beginning. Let them be there for you during articles.

Articling is a truly challenging process, but the quality of your experience will depend on the quality of your personal and professional relationships at home and at work.