Author Archives: Rebecca Rock

The Learning Curve

Earlier this month, I found myself having a conversation with some friends regarding our general state of shock over the fact that we are now halfway through our law school experience. This milestone caused all of us to reflect on our time at UBC Law and there seemed to be one thing in particular that was at the forefront of our minds: the differences between first and second year. It might seem as though not that much could change in a year, but there were many marked shifts that all of us had picked up on, and we weren’t just thinking about the fact that the Law Café is now fully operational (now we really have no reason to ever leave the building…still undecided as to whether this is a good thing or not).

The main difference that I would like to explore here is the way that you learn. I still remember sitting down with my first ever case (Kelsen v Imperial Tobacco) and not knowing where to begin. December instilled a small amount of confidence that we could at least make it through a law exam without fainting, but I think for most of us, we still felt a little bit like Bambi (wide-eyed, shaky, excited, nervous, you get the picture) until we got our April grades back and saw what changes we had made worked, and those that didn’t. This was so important because it enabled us to start to truly figure out what professors look for when we are writing an exam, and in turn this greatly influenced the approach to studying.

I can distill the idea behind this change down to efficiency. In first year, I think the intense fear and confusion as to how to approach law school exams probably led a lot of the class to get bogged down in a lot of irrelevant details when reading. I enjoy Lord Denning pondering the majesty of the British countryside while setting the stage for a judgement as much as the next person, but truth be told, that probably isn’t what your professor is going to be looking for when you only have 3 hours and a fact pattern that seems impossible to unravel. By second year, you develop the ability to scan for the ratio faster, become more intuitive about the facts that are going to actually be worth knowing, and learn when using other people’s CANs is (and is not) a good idea.

I have often heard people comment that second year is harder than first year. From an academic perspective, this is probably true. The spoon-feeding days of first year are long gone and it is sometimes only when you are a day into studying for an exam that you really start to get a picture of how the cases of a course tie together. However, I don’t think that this year is harder on the whole. Yes, the volume of reading is greater, but you can get through it faster. Yes, the courses are harder in terms of the law being more challenging, but they are courses that you have chosen and thus are more likely to be interesting to you.

So, 1Ls, fear not, because it only gets better from where I stand – especially because now that you are more adept at handling the workload, you can more fully enjoy all of the social events that law school has to offer (Mardi Gras masquerade this weekend anyone?)

Raising the Bar

As final exams get closer and closer (and closer…not that I’m freaking out or anything), I can’t help but think of the Academic Success Lectures I attended last year around this time in an effort to find that golden nugget of advice that would serve as a life raft as I approached my first law exams. Unfortunately there isn’t one piece of advice that will necessarily work for everyone in terms of actual study skills and strategy, but of all those lectures there was actually one comment that has stuck with me and that I do think is universally applicable. This is something pretty basic that might be self-evident, but I think it is something us law students might have a habit of losing sight of at times. Ready? Here it is:

Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing. Your only frame of reference for how you are doing should be you because while there is absolutely nothing you can do about what other people are doing, you can change your own habits and behaviour.

Maybe this doesn’t immediately come off as being all that magical, but my personal belief is that it can help more than one might expect. If we are completely honest with ourselves, a lot of us law students are more than a touch competitive. We probably cheated at the odd game of Monopoly as children and I think we all know that the foosball game loss we suffered the other lunch hour probably annoyed us more than we would care to admit – but hey, that’s just who we are. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, this drive of ours, because it got us here and makes us passionate individuals (doesn’t it sound downright noble now?). However, where this can get us into trouble is if we start thinking that we need to be in the library all day every day just because someone in our small group seems to have set up permanent camp in there; or that we need to have the most upper year CANs of anyone heading into a given exam just to be sure; or that being in the top 10% of our class is all that is ever going to matter to us.

This is a pretty easy trap to fall into because when you are so unsure of how everything is going to go, you can’t help but try to find some kind of indicator of what you ought to be doing to ensure preparedness. Here’s the thing though: we all work differently. I personally prefer to avoid the library during final exams because to me it feels as though it has become a living, breathing organism fuelled by the stress of the students in there. However, I have friends who swear by the tables on the fourth floor by the window. I know some students who can sit down and comfortably study all day, and those who need a mid-day workout to get out the nerves. There are students who will voluntarily pull all-nighters if they are on a roll, but on the flip side there are others who know that they cannot function without sleep.

My point is this: if you are trying to do something just because it seems like a mandatory law student behaviour, you are going to be doing yourself a great disservice because only you can know what is best for you. A little cheesy, yes, but true. We all need to work hard to succeed, but success should be measured by our standards, not by those of the people next to you in the library – for all you know, they aren’t focusing on torts so much as having an eyes-open nap.

So, my friends, stay healthy and don’t be afraid to take those breaks! (my personal recommendation would be to walk to the SUB and grab a Ranger cookie from Blue Chip, but I will leave the details up to you)


Law Firm Speed Dating (or, more formally, OCIs)

In September of my first year I must confess that I was pretty confused as to why quite so many second years were walking around Allard Hall in suits (was there a secret dress code I was unaware of?) and I had absolutely no idea what the term “OCI” meant. This year, however, it was a different story entirely. While there are definitely some members of our class that did not have an interest in going through the on-campus hiring process for second year summers, it seemed as though it was all most of us could talk about.

So, what is an OCI? Rebecca Coad’s post from last year (found HERE) does a great job of giving an overview of the entire interview process, but in case hitting that link just seems like a little more work than you are willing to put in at this present moment (no judgment), I will give you a quick description. An OCI is a 17 minute preliminary on-campus interview that you have with larger downtown Vancouver law firms. The purpose is basically to give you an opportunity to meet with lawyers from different firms to get a sense of what it might be like to work at that firm and to ask any questions you may have. From the perspective of the employers, it is much the same – they want to get a feel for who you are beyond the black and white of your resume and cover letter in order to start narrowing down the pool of applicants to those who will receive in-firm interviews.

You might be thinking “That’s all well and good, but what is it really like?” Well, in the interest of full disclosure, I thought I would walk you through a relatively standard day at OCIs…

8:30 a.m. We arrive at the Life Sciences Centre and find our way to a huge common area that has three rows of blue, curtained booths taking up the majority of the room. There are 30 minutes left until our first OCI and already there is a group of UBC students sitting in what I came to fondly refer to as the holding pen. We check in, sit down and half glance at our notes while compulsively looking up at the clock in anticipation of our 9:00 a.m. interview. There is some nervous chatter, but for the most part we are quiet.

8:57 a.m. Jenn Lau, one of UBC Law’s amazing Career Services Office’s staff, comes on the speakers and informs us that “There are three minutes until the next OCI period starts”. This is our cue to leap up from our seat (perhaps a little too quickly for it to be an entirely natural movement), quadruple-check the map detailing the law firm booth locations, and to move to the start of the aisle leading down the rows of booths.

9:00 a.m. “The first OCI period starts now”. It is with this comment that we take off towards our destinations, keen to make sure we get there right on time so as to take advantage of the full 17 minutes. One of our friends half-whispers “It’s a race, I’m winning! I’m winning!” a la Rowan Atkinson in “Rat Race” which helps cut the tension a bit as we dart* into our respective booths.

Upon entry, the two lawyers from [insert law firm here] stand up to greet us, shake our hand, and then we all take our seats. The first question we are asked is how it is going, which we answer and then ask in return. Nerves are still pretty high but we have realized that this isn’t going to be as scary as we thought it would be which is, needless to say, a huge relief. What comes after this really varied from firm to firm, so I will give you some sample questions my friends and I were asked:

  • I see from your resume that you like scuba diving/travel/soccer/cooking; can you tell me about that?
  • During your undergrad, you transferred universities. Can you tell us why this was the case?
  • Can you tell me a bit about this job that you worked? What was the greatest challenge?
  • Why do you want to work at [insert law firm here]?
  • What are you looking for in a law firm?
  • What is a challenge you have overcome?
  • What kind of law do you think you will want to practice?

Of course, these are just a few of the things that get brought up. Most interviews will be generally conversational with a few questions about your resume thrown in, but every firm will be slightly different. For example, sometimes things get more off topic than you would ever expect, and you end up spending 90% of your OCI discussing a celebrity or a city with a really bad transit system (both of which happened and both of which led to in-firm interviews for the students in those conversations).

9:15 a.m. The speaker system once again crackles to life and we are informed that there are two minutes left in the interview. We have gotten so caught up in the conversation that this ends up being the time for us to ask our questions that we have about the firm. We fire away and the lawyers do their best to answer in the remaining time.

9:17 a.m. “The interview period is over”. We stand up, shake hands again, take a business card from each of the lawyers, thank them for having met with us, and exit back through the curtain. We head back to the holding pen feeling a little more confident that we can do this.

9:20 a.m. Repeat. Depending on your scheduling prowess, this may have a nice spacing arrangement. Consensus among my classmates seemed to be that a perfect pattern would have been two interviews back to back, and then a 20 minute break. Back to back ones can be good because they give you the chance to hit your stride in the first one, then move to the next one without having time to properly get nervous. However, this will obviously be quite particular to the individual.

On the whole, the experience was a positive one for me, and not just because of the pirate-speak that came to accompany interview period warnings courtesy of a certain CSO employee. Regardless of whether or not I was fortunate enough to receive a second interview, I think that meeting and talking with the different firms helped me to come a little closer to figuring out what I want from my legal career and the kind of place that I would like to work. Also, as someone who didn’t have the opportunity to do much networking in my undergraduate degree (unless you count cleaning rat cages as networking, which I definitely don’t), I find any chance to further my interpersonal skills and assess potential areas of improvement really valuable.

We are still in the interview process as I type, and as such, I would like to make a general statement: while OCIs are undeniably stressful, as is the entire process of applying for second year summer jobs, it is important to remember that everyone is in the same boat. Regardless of whether a student had twenty OCIs or one, I can guarantee you that they have something that they felt really worried about. We all just need to remember that these things have a way of working themselves out for the best and that even if we aren’t initially happy with the way it turns out, there are other options. With that said, good luck to my fellow classmates still working through the process!

*Note that this darting is often somewhat impeded by the difficulties we have in finding the curtain opening. Actually, finding the curtain opening is probably one of the top 5 hardest parts of OCIs (hey – I didn’t judge you for not hitting that link earlier, don’t judge me until you too have experienced the degree of experimental swatting that occurs!)

Law Games 2012

First of all, my apologies for the delay in posting this. As it turns out, there is no easing into second semester and this year’s factum/moot combo consumed a great deal of January and early February. On the bright side, we all made it out alive and it was a very rewarding and interesting experience.

And now for Law Games! If the task were put to me to sum up the Games in one word, it would be “whirlwind”. From the moment we arrived at the hotel downtown, where 600+ law students would be staying for the four days, things were a mixture of chaos and hilarity…

As we pulled up outside the hotel, we caught our first glimpse of the UBC uniforms which were, wait for it… Gold lamé tracksuits. We had been informed prior to the games that this was what we were in store for, but it really is hard to conceptualize what it will look like to be dressed entirely in shiny gold fabric. To say the least, as a team we looked completely ridiculous absurd fantastic.

Everyone seemed to be checked in by around 3, and by 4 some of the schools were already full-swing in Law Games mode. It was confirmed that the week was going to be interesting when students from the University of Saskatchewan were playing bagpipes on one of the floors by 6 p.m.

The first night involved Opening Ceremonies at the Commodore Ballroom downtown Vancouver, and it was really great to get to meet students from other schools who we would normally never cross paths with. In addition, the evening provided our first real look at everyone’s uniforms, which were, shall I say, fashion-forward across the board. Western’s contingent was sporting camouflage pants, Dalhousie’s students were decked out in sailor costumes, UVic’s group had rabbit ears, and yet Team UBC was definitely the belle of the ball in our shiny gold suits. In fact, the other teams were so jealous that it became some schools’ sole goal (not going to name any names here, you know who you are!) to steal our jackets for the rest of the games. Lesson learned: gold lamé pants are surprisingly desirable.

After the first day, the weekday schedule was full of every imaginable sport; flag football, inner tube water polo, kickball, dodgeball, hockey, and volleyball to name a few. Western ended up winning the Sports cup, while UVic took home the much desired Spirit Award (well-deserved, might I add). The University of Saskatchewan, with their beloved battle cry of “Trac-tor”, took home the “Fun Games” Award. This involved excelling at competitive events such as the Polar Bear Swim at Wreck Beach, the trike race, and Jumbo Jenga.

In addition to the day-time games, there were social events every night. The second evening featured a Gastown Pub Crawl, which rapidly devolved into a Cab Crawl as teams raced to make it to all the locations in time. There was also a talent show held at Venue nightclub, featuring several surprisingly good choreographed dances, and esteemed judges from our faculty who were fantastic sports. The last night entailed a Closing Banquet at the Vancouver Convention Centre, during which video parodies were aired from each school. I am proud to say that UBC won with a video entitled “As Long As You Pay Me”, a take on the Backstreet Boys’ hit “As Long As You Love Me”.

My sport of choice for the week was soccer and I had a great time bonding with Team UBC, as well as competing against other schools in a fun atmosphere. I would say that next to our triumphant soccer wins, my personal highlight of the Games was probably the first night. The hotel had grouped participants from the same school together, so a lot of students ended up exploring the different floors throughout the evening. Everyone I met that night was incredibly friendly and genuinely interested in meeting other law students, which is exactly what the Games are about.    

Overall, the Law Games were an excellent experience and I would definitely recommend participating. Even if you don’t get a chance to really get to know students from the other schools, it’s an opportunity to meet students from your own school who you may not have any classes with. Plus, while I am admittedly slightly biased, I firmly believe UBC deserves to have a Spirit Award in our collection and next year could be the year!


Staring in the face of a new year (2012 already? Is it just me or was it just yesterday that people were stockpiling water for the Millennium?), it is that time that we all begin to reflect on our past year went, so I thought it appropriate to offer some of my thoughts on the first semester of law school and what I learned.

 The first thing is that as much as we all may joke about it, it genuinely can be difficult to get yourself out of the law vortex. As one of our professors said during Orientation Week “Your friends and family will no longer understand you, nor be able to stand you” and to a degree, this could not be more true. You forget that not everyone can relate to your frustrations with the seemingly endless exceptions in contract law, knows the definition of various torts, or understands what it means that an exam is composed of fact patterns. It is important to remember that you had friends before you came to law school and that while it can admittedly sometimes be easier to hang out with your new friends who speak the same language, it is really important to make time for the people who matter. These people are the ones who will provide you with an excuse to NOT talk about law and will remind you that law school is not the entirety of your existence. Otherwise you might find your world limited to legal jokes (I admit to writing a few song parodies), and as much as everyone loves the classic “What do you call 1000 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean”, you don’t really want to be that guy/gal.

 The second thing is that you should (ideally) not do anything last minute because it will probably take you a lot longer than you anticipate. I think a perfect example of when a lot of us 1Ls learned this was during our first open memorandum. Set loose in the library and on legal databases, most of us, myself included, became incredibly overwhelmed at the sheer volume of information out there and had a difficult time narrowing down our searches to the truly relevant facts. In undergrad a lot of students, as long as they have done their research, can just sit down and write a paper in a few hours. This was absolutely not the case for our memorandum. Because law is a foreign area to all first years, you are simply not as comfortable with the material and it becomes a lot more difficult to write since you are constantly questioning whether what you are saying really is correct. I am sure that this process will speed up with practice, but needless to say…don’t leave it to the last minute. You will get it done, but your stress level will be far higher than is necessary.

 The last thing I will mention is: Make a plan and stick to it during exams. This was something I picked up after attending an academic success lecture held by upper years.  When you are in seven classes, studying for December exams is a complex juggling act and can seem unbelievably daunting. If you don’t have a plan, it seems as though there is an unmanageable volume of material to review and you spend more of your studying time staring forlornly at your stacks of books than actually studying. Making yourself study schedule will break the courses up and let you better focus your attention since you know exactly when you will be studying the other materials. I can honestly say that if I hadn’t taken this approach to finals, my studying would have been far less efficient and there would have been a lot more panicking.

 I will do an updated post to this effect in April, as I am sure that I will have learned a lot more by the time that finals (gulp!) are over, but if you have any specific questions in the meantime, fire away! I will be posting again within the next week or two about the Law Games (basic information regarding them can be found here:, which were a crazy and amazing experience. 

 Best of luck with your resolutions everyone!

Decisions, Decisions

Toto, we are definitely not in Kansas anymore. The difference between mid-September, when there were organized social events abound and light(-ish) reading, and early November, having just finished our first exam and with 250+ pages of reading a week, is pretty striking.  That is not to say that it is unmanageable, but let’s just say that my weekends aren’t necessarily my own anymore.

Schoolwork isn’t by any means all there is to being in law. During September, we were bombarded with different clubs, teams, and organizations that we could join. I am certain that every student could find at least three things that pique their interest among the multitude of activities offered, and that is without even looking past the UBC Law community to the UBC campus as a whole. This was completely overwhelming, and I have to say that I’m pretty glad I went into it with a strategy – allow me to elaborate.

Everyone in law school has a drive to be successful; if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be here. The problem is that this passion can sometimes get the best of us and result in overcommitment. As one of my friends likes to say, “if you want something done, ask a busy person”; while this may be true, there is also a point where said busy person has a miniature nervous breakdown, climbs into bed, and watches every season of Mad Men available on Netflix. I came to law school knowing that there would be a lot of ways to get involved, and that I would tempted to take on more than I could probably handle. In order to try and prevent the aforementioned Netflix coma-like state, I decided to limit myself to a sport and two other activities.

Here are some of the strategies I used to grapple with the choices:

1)      Research beforehand: this doesn’t have to be anything lengthy by any means, but take the time to look up a few of the clubs online and start thinking about which ones interest you. When you get to school you can then attend the club days, and if your opinion changes that’s completely fine, but it might help you to zero in on how you would most like to spend your time.

2)      Join a sport: exercise can easily fall by the wayside when you’re busy, so joining a sport will not only be a great way to meet your classmates, it’s a fun way to make sure you’re getting in at least one workout a week. There may be days where you don’t want to make it out, but the mental break is important and the endorphins don’t hurt either.

3)      Know what you want from your experience: think about what you liked and didn’t like in your undergrad, as well as what kind of work habits you aim to have in law school. For example, I know that while I am way happier when I am involved in university life beyond the scope of classes, I also really dislike feeling like there is no way that I am going to get everything done. I am not a last minute person, nor will I ever be, so I needed to make sure I would have enough free time to not be rushing before class all the time.

These are by no means must-follow rules (I am no Joel Bakan writing the Oakes test – incoming students, you’ll understand this somewhat feeble attempt at a law-related joke in September of your first year), but they might help you feel your way through the process a little bit and hopefully prevent you from feeling like you simply cannot narrow down your options. And remember – everyone can handle different amounts of work. If you are someone who loves being busy, don’t be afraid to try out everything that interests you; if it proves to be too much, you can always drop the ones you aren’t as passionate about.

September Summary: Becky, Vancouver, UBC, Biopsychology

Never in my life have I been repeatedly asked the same questions so many times as in the first week of law school. These questions are standard and so frequently repeated that by the end of the first day of orientation a new friend suggested to me that it might be faster to simply write on all of our foreheads the following information: name, hometown, undergraduate university, and undergraduate degree. These four questions are the basics that you find yourself asking everyone, even as you feel a small twinge of guilt for being so unoriginal and barely scratching the surface of who your classmates truly are. For a while, I attempted to switch it up by asking people what their favourite band was, but let’s face it, that’s basically impossible to answer without having the time to develop a series of flow charts and highly complex ranking system.

If you talk to someone longer than the amount of time it takes to cover the Fundamental Four, the next question is often “So, why law school?” Several of my small group members have concrete, concise answers for this and I am slightly intimidated by their conviction in the fact that this has always been where they belonged. My own path, on the other hand, has entailed a series of events which culminated in the decision to go to law school.

I first had a taste of what it might be like to practice law in grade 7 when my class did a mock trial. I was one of the defence attorneys and standing in the heritage court downtown in my gown, I felt completely in my element. In high school I somehow wound up in almost all science courses and entered university as a science major, unsure of what I would do after I graduated. After two years at UVic, I decided to transfer to UBC and get my B.Sc in psychology, which I thought would eventually lead to a Ph.D in clinical psychology. I really loved a number of my upper-year courses, but after a year of volunteering in a lab cleaning rat cages and observing their sexual activity (I wish I were joking about that, but unfortunately I’m not), I became somewhat disenchanted with research. Around the same time, I took a forensic psychology course with a truly phenomenal professor and my interest in law was reignited. As a result, I decided to write the LSAT and take it from there.

The last stop on my way to deciding that law was probably for me was in late April 2010 when the class average for an 8 credit stats course was dropped to 72% from 81% at the very end of the year, thereby violating several university policies (fact: they were supposed to have scaled throughout the course). A fellow classmate and I wound up fighting the head of the department on the issue and successfully had our class’s average raised 5%, a pretty significant victory considering when we went into our first meeting with him we were promptly told that while he “sort of” felt bad for us, there was no way he was going to change it.  Regardless of the outcome, I thoroughly enjoyed researching my case and became even more interested in the possibility of doing it for a living.

Long story short, my path to law has not been a straightforward one. There are no lawyers in my family, no philosophy or political science courses under my belt, no debate teams, nothing; simply a string of relatively random experiences. I’m interested to learn more about my fellow 1Ls’ journeys as the year goes on because we are definitely an eclectic mix. So, on that note (yes, I am predictable…), why law school?