Friday, 23 June 2017

Through the Looking Glass: The Reality of Working at a Litigation Law Firm

Almost any lawyer or summer law student will tell you that practicing law is very different than studying the law. I developed an interest in advocacy from my experiences in law school – among them, participating in moots and working in a legal clinic – but the truth is that I, like most law students, only had a vague idea of what the litigation process is really like. So, as I finish my fifth week at McCague Borlack, I find myself reflecting on the similarities and differences between theory and practice:

At one of the mediations I attended, I had the pleasure of hearing my research mentioned briefly.

Field Trips

In law school, you spend most of your time either in class or at the library poring over books. But this summer I have had the opportunity to attend examinations for discovery, mediations, motions, and other pre-trial appointments, which has easily been one of the most exciting aspects of being a summer student. Not only do you get a front-row seat to watch brilliant lawyers advocate for their respective clients, you also get to witness different strategies, techniques and styles of the different lawyers you have worked with – all of which is a huge learning opportunity as an aspiring litigator.

At one of the mediations I attended, I had the pleasure of hearing my research mentioned briefly. It was a very small part of the case, but a huge moment for me as a summer student!

The Human Element

In school, it can be easy to detach yourself when reading cases in class - especially when it’s an ancient tort case about ginger beer and a snail. At a law firm, however, it is very engaging to know that the file you are working on will have real life implications for a number of people. Nowhere has this been more apparent than at my first mediation where I heard our client and the opposing side speak passionately about their positions – something that a law textbook cannot offer.

This “human element” is a motivating factor which has helped all of us summer students do our best work.

Substantive Work

In law school, students focus on theory – but at a law firm, you have the chance to actually create legal documents. This summer has already been a huge learning experience. I could never have imagined that I, as a summer student, would have the opportunity to draft affidavits, pleadings, motions, and other documents that are part of the litigation process. Even more surprising is how much autonomy the firm gives us while working. This, paired with the guidance and feedback provided to the summer students, has allowed us to learn at an astounding pace.

Collegiality

In law school the first year is a real bonding experience – after the blood, sweat, and tears of 1L it’s hard not to feel close to those who have shared the same experience. Luckily, as a summer student, I’ve experienced the same comradery through the joint excitement, and even uncertainty, that I’ve shared with my fellow summer students.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Learning to Walk

One of the articling students affectionately calls us “baby lawyers”...

One of my fears during the recruitment process was that my summer and articling experiences wouldn’t prepare me for life post-call-to-the-bar. During OCIs, McCague Borlack LLP stood out from other firms. The promise of responsibility, opportunity, and support in the summer student program was backed up by endorsements from previous students and junior associates.

This was important to me because the thought of being a litigator, with full carriage of files, is intimidating. I want to be as prepared as possible for when that day comes, and the way to do that is to practice and learn as much as I can in the meantime.

Baby Steps

One of the articling students affectionately calls us “baby lawyers”, and now I understand what she means. We are baby lawyers—learning basic skills while being in an immersive and supportive environment. In the last 8 days, I have learned to crawl, and in some respects, I am already walking.

There is No “Typical” Day

There is no such thing as a typical day in the office. You never know what’s going to come through The List, or to you, personally. I realized this on my second day, when I had grand plans to sink my teeth into a very interesting file, but dropped everything to draft, serve, and file something urgent, instead.

Since then, no two days have been the same. In the last eight days, I have:
  • Drafted motion materials
  • Researched and drafted an article about legal developments in a niche area of law
  • Updated a lawyer on a file
  • Put together a book of authorities--and learned that there are designated colours for covers in the Rules of Civil Procedure. If you don’t believe me, see Rule 4.07
  • Attended arbitration and observed a cross-examination
  • Received file carriage of a small claims file
Parting Thoughts

I currently have examinations for discovery, motions, and mediations lined up, and who knows what The List will bring tomorrow. I’ve come a long way since my first day and first assignment, and I look forward to reflecting on my progress at the end of the summer. It might be too soon to tell, but I think my summer experience is preparing me well for articling, and eventually, life post-call.

Karolina I.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Team Player

The most common advice I received since entering law school has been to be a team player. The phrase “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link”, became more cliché every time I heard it. I knew that teamwork would be important, but I had no idea how valuable cooperation and comradery would become.

Asking questions is imperative to producing quality work efficiently...

The seven of us students, five in Toronto and two in Ottawa, began our first-day meeting in a boardroom. “Good morning”, we all echoed. Our team had met after months of anticipation. Together we learned about docketing, motions, research and everything else we need to know in order to successfully “McCague”. Lawyers entered and left our progressively less nervous boardroom to teach us new lessons - leaving us with knowledge, wisdom, and mostly, lots to think about. I learned quickly that the team I envisioned was composed of more than the summer students battling the tasks thrown our way. Everyone at the firm has a different, but important role, we rely on each other and succeed together.

After training, we received our first assignments, and naturally had lots of questions. We freely turn to each other for input and advice — without which, we would be far more confused and less productive. While we have a great support system amongst ourselves, we save the tougher and substantive questions for the lawyers, especially the ones who gave us the assignments! Initially, I was concerned about asking too many questions, despite being assured that questions are important and encouraged. However, once I spoke one-on-one with more of my colleagues, my concerns disappeared. I learned from various lawyers that asking questions is imperative to producing quality work efficiently. One lawyer told me that it is a waste of time to sit at a desk staring at the screen and waiting for the answers to magically appear. Of course, she was absolutely correct.

While asking questions is encouraged, I, just like everyone else at the firm, still respect my colleagues’ time. Consequently, I try to never ask the same question twice. To accomplish this, I write down all the tips and explanations I am given. I now have a collection of notes with instructions from others pinned on the walls around my desk. By the end of the first day, I created an excel sheet with the instructions I was given for each task. Following the spirit of the firm, which emphasises teamwork, the summer students have decided to put our notes together and create a database with basic guides to our assignments.

The second week is coming to a close and we already have a variety of assignments to complete. The students have all agreed that one of the biggest highlights of our time so far is the diverse set of tasks that we were given. Drafting initial reports, pleadings, motion records, affidavit of documents, and damages briefs are just some of the new things we are working on, and we love it.

Yousef E.