Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Essential Gear - A Survival Guide for Articling Students

Before I go backcountry camping, I triple check that I have packed all the essential gear – plenty of matches, my headlamp, the water purifier, etc. I have a feeling that if I ever forget my rain jacket, I will be in for a rainy canoe trip.

My articling experience is no different – the gear is key. Having all the essentials on hand helps me stay focused on the work.


The Rules of Civil Procedure

We consult the Rules daily and it is important to become familiar with them. The firm provides a print copy of the Rules that are kept in the Student bunker (the area of the firm where all articling student cubicles are located). You can look them up online, of course, but if you’re going to Court, bring the actual book so that it’s as easy as possible to flip to the appropriate Rule.

Blue Light Filtering Glasses

These filtered lenses can help to lessen the strain on your eyes caused by working on a computer all day. You can get them with or without a prescription.

Mos Mos Coffee Gift Card

This coffee shop, located on the concourse level of the Exchange Tower, is my go-to spot. Even if you only order a brewed coffee, they steam the milk and sprinkle cinnamon on top! If you load a gift card with $30 or more, they will add 10% to your card balance. Who doesn’t like discounts!?

Lip Balm & Hand Cream

Offices are dry places – stay hydrated, folks.

Brookside Chocolate & Kind Bars

Snacks can help tide you over until you can get home for dinner on nights when you just need to finish something before leaving work.

Comfy Shoes

I like the look of high heels but definitely not the feeling of wearing them all day. I like to keep a pair of flats at my desk to change into. Many of us also have Blundstones for the commute.

Carrot – the App

This step counting app incentivizes you to hit a daily step goal by rewarding you with loyalty card points. I’ve got mine set up to award me with Scene points when I hit my step goal. It encourages me to get moving daily and means that I can see a free movie every now and then.

Membership to a Professional Association

I’m a member of the Women’s Law Association of Ontario (WLAO), the Toronto Lawyers Association (TLA), and Young Women in Law. I enjoy attending networking events, professional development workshops, and social events with other articling students and lawyers. Membership fees at most associations are low for articling students. A couple of my favourite events this year included the WLAO’s Champagne and Shop Event at the Bay (I’m a bit biased since I co-hosted that one) and the TLA’s Articling Head Start Program. I’m excited to attend the Young Women in Law Gala later this spring with keynote speaker Margaret Atwood.


Bose Quiet Comfort 35 Wireless Headphones

These cost a pretty penny but boy are they worth it! A colleague of mine had a pair while we were summering together and she convinced me to buy a pair. Since we work in an open concept workspace, it can be noisy. So the headphones' noise-cancelling feature is very important to me. If music is distracting for you, I suggest you listen to a white noise track or nature sounds. To save money, buy a refurbished pair at the Toronto Premium Outlets’ Bose store. Incidentally, that outlet mall is also a great place to shop for work clothes.

I hope this kit list inspires you to surround yourself with whatever you need to feel comfortable, prepared, and ready to tackle any task that comes your way.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

The "Practice" of Law

As I near the end of my articles (where did the time go?!) and reflect on the past eight months I keep going back to an “aha moment” that I feel is worthy of sharing. The moment where I was told by one of my mentors: remember, it’s called the practice of law.

"Practice isn't the thing you do once you're good.
It's the thing you do that makes you good."
 

- Malcolm Gladwell - Outliers: The Story of Success

Majority of people in law are considered type-A personalities who strive to get it absolutely perfect the first time around. This appetite for immediate excellence is pulverized and rejigged once the natural reality of being an articling student sinks in. As an articling student, you are going to get it wrong. If your expectation as a student is to always draft an impeccable Statement of Claim/Defence, Affidavit of Documents, Liability and Damages Assessment, Mediation Memorandum etc…the first, second and even the third time around, wake up, you’re dreaming. I know, it is a hard hit to our high-achieving egos but as the saying goes - making mistakes is better than faking perfection. Your experience as an articling student will be far better if you arrive with an open attitude that you are here to learn and mistakes are inevitable.

Now, there are other ways of learning while minimizing the damage to our fragile egos, one being, that of learning from the mistakes of others. This takes me to another noteworthy piece of advice given to me: to attend and observe as many court appearances, mediations, discoveries, settlement conferences etc. as possible. I won’t touch on all of my experiences but can tell you with utmost confidence that when it came time for me to argue my first motion I was prepared for anything and everything that could have been thrown my way. This was owed to the fact that I observed a number of motions and took notes of what not to do when other articling students were being scolded by the presiding Master on issues such as improper service or why they attended court without a copy of the Rules of Civil Procedure to refer to when questioned on a relevant rule. In addition to this, if something was procedurally unclear to me I took the initiative to approach the Registrar and ask questions once the courtroom had cleared. This was also of major assistance when it was my turn to enter the courtroom as a representative and not a member of the public.

In the end, we all make mistakes, and the legal profession is of no exception. As an articling student you may not generate the final product or have a strong grasp on a specific process until after a few attempts, but that is ok and accepted. So for the future articling group coming in, do not forget - it is called the practice of law!

Monday, 5 March 2018

Advice from the Toronto Articling Students

The articling students at MB are almost at the finish line and the exposure we have gained so far has proved invaluable. We have had numerous opportunities to reflect on our experiences, ask for advice from our mentors, and hone our legal skills in an effort to become better lawyers. In the spirit of passing on the lessons we have learned, each of the Toronto students has provided words of advice, along with their top three highlights of their articling experience:

Taskeen Abdul-Rawoof
Taskeen Abdul-Rawoof
Advice:
There is a steep learning curve for summer and articling students. It is important to ask questions and make use of the resources the firm provides you with. Work with as many lawyers as you can to get exposure to different styles and areas of law. While working on a file, take initiative by asking the lawyer if you can accompany them on discoveries, mediations, and motions. These attendances provide valuable learning opportunities, along with tips and strategies on developing your personal style.

Highlights:
  • Arguing my first motion;
  • Carriage of my own small claims file; and
  • Assisting on all aspects of a contentious and publicized personal injury file.


Mark Borgo
Mark Borgo
Advice:
Attend as many court appearances as possible! Watching senior counsel speak to the court is a great way to learn what practices to adopt and what practices to avoid as an oral advocate.

Highlights:

  • Assisted in drafting the intervenor materials in David Schnarr v Blue Mountain Resorts Limited and Woodhouse v Snow Valley Resorts (1987) Ltd on behalf of the Canadian Defence Lawyers;
  • Attended a cross-examination on an affidavit that was highly contentious; and
  • Argued a procedurally substantive motion on behalf of our client and other co-defendants.


Gabriela Caracas
Gabriela Caracas
Advice:
During your articles use precedents as a general guideline only; it is important to formulate your own ideas and style as early as possible as this will better prepare you for your transition to an associate.

Highlights:
  • Having my co-authored article published by LexisNexis;
  • Learning from my mentor; and
  • Observing and appearing at motions court.


Emily Kostandoff
Emily Kostandoff
Advice:
After a court appearance, stay and watch the matters that are being heard after yours – you’ll learn a lot!

Highlights:
  • Arguing my first trial at Small Claims Court;
  • Attending/speaking at my first settlement conference; and
  • Arguing my first contested motion.



Michelle Legault
Michelle Legault
Advice:
“Plan your work and work your plan!”
Make sure you are aware of deadlines and try your best to meet them. Remember that some assignments have hard deadlines (e.g., court documents have to be filed by certain dates) versus soft deadlines (e.g., a summary or an AOD that a lawyer may need a few months from now).
Think about the big picture: what do you want to get out of articling? What practice area are you interested? Which lawyers do you want to work with? You will have the ability and support to seek out the opportunities you want.
Remember that even when you do your best, things may not work out according to plan!

Highlights:
  • Working on a personal injury trial with interesting tort law issues;
  • Cookie decorating contest during the holidays; and
  • Sitting in on mediations, client meetings, and court attendances to see MB’ers in action!

Melissa Parravano
Melissa Parravano
Advice:
Ask questions if you don’t understand your task. It is easy to become overly comfortable with following a precedent; but what if you didn’t have access to one? It is important to actually learn how to draft pleadings and other important documents without relying on a precedent. If you ask questions and understand why you are drafting these documents, eventually you will not have to rely on a precedent.
Triple check your work. It’s easy to overlook errors in the minor details because you are more focused on the bigger ones.

Highlights:
  • I had the opportunity to assist on a waiver liability matter that went before the Court of Appeal. Not only did I assist on the materials, but I was able to attend the hearing and listen to several of the top litigators in Toronto argue their positions;
  • I attended a videoconferencing discovery with a plaintiff who was located in a European Country.  The dynamic of this experience was interesting because the plaintiff was not in the same room while being questioned; and
  • I attended a settlement conference on my own and made submissions to a deputy judge.


Danielle Ralph
Danielle Ralph
Advice:
Accept every opportunity and don’t be afraid to ask questions – seemingly small assignments can become a file to handle on your own and questions can save a lot of time. Often when you accept one task you get to follow up on the lifespan of the file and learn the various steps a file will go through, the important considerations at each stage, and the tactics that will help achieve settlement – so no matter what comes your way, big or small, accept it graciously and view each task as a learning opportunity.

Highlights:
  • Arguing an opposed motion;
  • Attending a pre-trial conference where settlement was reached; and
  • Drafting a complicated mediation memo which addressed nuanced law and required in-depth research and analysis.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

The Transition from Articling Student to Lawyer

Throughout my articles, I have experienced the ebb and flow of the litigation process. Some weeks, the workload can be quite intense, and other weeks are more manageable. Nevertheless, this experience has increased my competency with respect to working independently while maintaining high work quality.

I have started to feel less like a student & more like a
bona fide lawyer. 
This transition, however,
is not without its hiccups.


This expanding independence demands a greater degree of responsibility, especially in litigation, to ensure all tasks are completed on schedule and within the time allocated by the supervising lawyer. In the past few months, the work I have been assigned has been more encompassing of the whole litigation process and has forced me to develop good habits in order to stay on track.

Through this pedagogical process, I have developed some wisdom that I would like to share.

Effective Communication between the student and supervising lawyer is imperative. If you are in doubt with respect to instructions, a quick email is best in order to avoid time and delay. If further information is needed, let the supervising lawyer know in order to avoid “wild goose chases”. It is also good practice to verify with the supervising lawyer the scope of the task and next steps if needed.

Availability - In case a file assigned to you needs urgent consideration, it is best to check your work email even during your downtime. It is rare but, in fact, has happened a few times throughout my articles and, therefore, I was able to assist the lawyer in time.



Stay Ahead of the Deadlines - It is good practice to finish drafting a document early in order to have time to review it before passing it to the supervising lawyer, submitting it to the court or other counsel. It is easy to miss typos.

Utilize Your Strengths - Are you a morning person? Or do you have more energy in the afternoon? In my experience, it is prudent to schedule your tasks when you are most effective at doing them. This will ensure that you finish on time and efficiently.

Keep Track of File Progress - Articling students and lawyers have a lot of responsibility with respect to their files. It is, thus, a good idea to periodically check your active files and make sure that everything is moving along at a good pace.

These strategies have allowed me to better understand and adapt to being a lawyer. McCague Borlack LLP has provided me with a great deal of training for this transition. Accordingly, this allowed me to understand the scope of increasingly complex tasks that I have been assigned and has encouraged further professional development for myself with respect to the practice of law.


Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Benchmarking at the halfway point...

I am a big fan of “review points”. While it is always good practice to look forward, it is equally important to learn from our past experiences in order to grow and improve. What better time to benchmark than at the halfway point of our articles?

In our first week of orientation back in August, there was a definite sense of nervous excitement. What would our day-to-day schedule look like? What kind of work would we be trusted with? What feedback would we receive? One lawyer imparted this advice to us “take advantage of as many opportunities as possible, and make as many mistakes as possible!” Well, I may be extrapolating on that last part, but undoubtedly our mistakes helped us to learn as much as our successes in these last five months.

With that in mind, here are some tips on what is often
overlooked in the “smaller details” category and if given
proper attention can go a long way to ensuring success...


Never Under-Estimate Professionalism

This tip is applicable to both clients and opposing counsel that we deal with on a daily basis and, equally important, with the lawyers and staff at the firm. The work that you receive comes from lawyers at the firm, and while much of the work does come from “The List”, creating working relationships with lawyers and staff ensures that you become their “go-to” when they have a quick assignment and know they can rely on you to get it done. It is good practice to treat every meeting, both internal and external, as a professional obligation that you must be on time for. Following this small tip can help you foster better relationships with your co-workers and in turn help build a positive reputation.

Pay Attention to Detail

This is a lesson I learned personally after drafting a discovery report to the client that did not include page numbers. I was told, in no uncertain terms, I should not draft any document that does not include page numbers. Although it may seem like a small detail, if any document you draft makes it into a trial brief that will be relied upon by the court, the ease of reference that page numbers provide may help both the jury and judge understand exactly what sentence on what page you are referring to, increasing, even slightly, your likelihood of success. Don’t believe me? I personally saw this in action at a discovery I recently attended. It would have saved all parties a lot of time (and client money) if pages had been numbered in the documents that were included in opposing counsel’s Affidavit of Documents. Instead, a lot of time was spent flipping through 60 pages of documents to determine what report opposing counsel was referring to. Never forget page numbers.


On a similar note, it is imperative to review every correspondence and court document alike to ensure that the font type and size are the same, the spacing is consistent, and spelling mistakes non-existent. It is hard enough to formulate a legal argument without holes that opposing counsel can take advantage of, we do not need to give them any other reason to challenge our credibility or competence.


Photo by Sasint   http://www.pixartasia.comProper Service is Everything

On every motion I have appeared on or observed if the parties and non-parties were properly served, the motion was granted. While this may not always be the easiest, it sure makes shorter motions run more smoothly In contrast, when parties have been served by mail or courier, both I and my colleagues have witnessed motions adjourned and/or dismissed due to improper service.

Learning how to count the days needed to serve documents, such as a Notice of Motion or Confirmation of Motion, has also been a frequent subject of discussion amongst our articling group. Is it 10 days? Is it 7? If it is more than 7 but less than 14, do holidays and weekends count? The best people to ask these questions are often the assistants – they have lots of practice of ensuring that their lawyer does not miss deadlines and will quickly tell you if your calculations may cost you your motion.

There has definitely been a steep learning curve over the last five months, but our mistakes and questions have helped us to learn. Hopefully, our mistakes will help us to impart some “wisdom” onto the next generation of articling students (who will undoubtedly learn them all over again)!

Monday, 15 January 2018

Holiday Cheer: Work Hard, Play Hard

Throughout my articling experience, I’ve learned how adversarial litigation can truly be.  Often times you are faced with dealing with difficult people and situations. Working with people really is an art; it is a lot more difficult than one may think. Circumstances arise where you have to determine the appropriate way to handle opposing counsel, whether in court or trying to contact them to discuss something as simple as providing their undertakings (which should have been done weeks ago). The stress involved when working in an adversarial and competitive environment is not to be underestimated. As famously quoted in the movie Mean Girls:

"I wish we could all get along like we used to in middle school...
I wish I could bake a cake filled with rainbows and smiles
and everyone would eat and be happy..."


And guess what? That is exactly what we did! During the holidays, the students had a break from the adversarial environment that goes hand in hand with the practice of law and instead brought the competition in-firm by competing in a cookie decorating contest. I won’t lie, some lawyers joined in as well!

The articling students were given one hour to decorate two Christmas cookies each. The firm members were then sent pictures of each cookie and asked to vote on which one was their favourite. After the votes were tallied, the winner was revealed in a firm-wide email. I won’t say who won because the contest was not about winning but rather about having fun. However, what I will say is… I won. And if that isn’t true, well how would you know? This is my blog.

All jokes aside, getting the opportunity to have some in-office fun in the midst of our busy work schedules is a great reminder that if you work hard, you should play hard too.

Although the holidays have passed, I’d like to share with you the cookies my talented colleagues and I decorated (if you are wondering, I am the one who could not wait to take the picture before eating one of my cookies).

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

The Team: A Shout-Out to Support Staff

The lawyers and articling students at McCague Borlack (MB) were recently asked to provide annual reviews for support staff. This exercise made me think of all the different people that have helped me during the time that I have been here.

As lawyers will likely tell you, law school does not accurately reflect the actual practice of law. There is a steep learning curve as you figure out the ins and outs of this new profession.
image compliments of pixabay

When I first started working at MB, I felt like I knew absolutely nothing about practicing law. Sure, I had learned legal principles in school and I felt I had a basic understanding of different areas of law. However, when I first started, I quickly realized I knew nothing about the day-to-day operations of a law firm. Today, I no longer feel completely like a fish out of water, and the support staff that we were asked to review are a big part of the reason why.

As an articling student, you expect to learn a lot from the lawyers you work with, and you do. But you also learn and receive a lot of support from their assistants, the law clerks, and other office staff.

Everything I have done while working at MB has been a new experience. For example, serving people with pleadings and drafting the corresponding affidavits of service, booking motions, and making undertaking charts were all things that I had never done. These are also things that the very experienced staff at MB have done many times before.

As I was asked to do each of these things, I reached out to assistants, clerks and other staff for help. They were all so kind, helping me whenever I required support in a specific area. I learned that, depending on the task, these are the people I should be reaching out to first. These individuals have a significant amount of knowledge and they are always willing to share. I also realized how big their roles are at MB and the importance of teamwork in the legal profession.

I have been able to see firsthand how a team takes carriage of a file, and how it belongs to more people than just the assigned lawyer.


While working here, I have been able to observe how closely everyone works together. I have seen how lawyers and assistants work together on files and, more often than not, how assistants know as much about files as the lawyer assigned to them. The same applies to law clerks, who often work on files from beginning to end. I have been able to see firsthand how a team takes carriage of a file, and how it belongs to more people than just the assigned lawyer.

This same kind of team effort can often be seen at MB during “emergency situations”, such as when a file comes in with a looming limitation period. Everyone comes together to ensure that everything is prepared properly and on time. I have seen assistants, clerks, and lawyers step up to roles that they would not typically have in order to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

This teamwork applies to the overall MB structure as well. Despite having offices in four different cities, lawyers in different offices continue to work together. Everyone works and communicates as a team, which allows MB to represent its clients in the best possible way.

By Jessica Margeit