Monthly Archives: October 2010

Balancing Life and the Scales of Justice

The important thing about law school is, apparently, that there is so much to do that it is easy to lose oneself in the many pressures and commitments. I’m afraid this blog has suffered as a result. From the first week of September onwards, I have been trying to achieve a balance with several things.

Foremost, course work. It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that nearly every lecture concerns a lot of cases. In order to avoid having to reread them, we brief them. Briefing concerns making notes about what they say about the law. Then, by referring to the briefs (provided they are concise and accurate), we can synthesise the law on various subjects, spotting concurring opinions and differences. A lot of success in courses, say second- and third-year students, comes from having well-organised information of the law based on the cases assigned for each class. The upshot is that I am, very slowly, learning to read cases for what they say about the law rather than for who wins the judgment or what the facts are—not that those are unimportant or that they don’t give insight into the judgment.

Most of our exams and tests are open-book. This is lucky, because they seem to be worth between 85 and 100 per cent of the mark of most courses. In most cases, too, the exams to be written at Christmas time are worth about 25 per cent of the exam mark, but only if the mark increases as a result of counting the Christmas exam. These measures seem designed to relieve some anxiety, which remains significant nevertheless. I am, however, glad to have the security of my course summary notes so that I don’t have to worry about learning by heart what the law was in a case whose name sounds like Brinkibon Ltd. v. Stahag Stahl und Stahlwarenhandelsgesellschaft mbH.

Apart from the readings, there are many other commitments and things to think about. I didn’t manage to get involved with LSLAP, the Law Students Legal Advice Programme, this term. Some people love it, but I know one person who stopped doing it after the first time because she was interested in other commitments. I hope that by next term enough people may have dropped out that they will be glad for some new faces, whereupon I shall join. It sounds like great experience for legal work to come.

Then there are the things not related to law, such as the balanced lifestyle. I have a friend whose goal truly is to work sixty hours or more per week. I am hoping for a healthier subsistence. I got somewhat off track when it came to sleeping. I would do my readings before going to bed, but then I would have to get up early and go to class, whereupon I felt like drifting off to sleep all day. As soon as I got home, or for any other reason was out of class, I would be reasonably alert, but not otherwise. I realised that there was absolutely no point in going to class if I could hardly concentrate, no matter how important it was. As a result, I have started forcing myself always to get enough sleep. Within about two days of that decision, my productivity in reading and my alertness in lectures increased dramatically. I also pay attention to eating well for the important nutrition. I figure that starting out well and being stalwart in good habits will make a big difference for the better when the time for real work comes along.

I’m sure most law students will go through similar things: better that they should be now than later!

Time Flies!

It’s been a few weeks since my last post, and much has happened since then. Let me start with some of the highlights.

One of the appealing things about studying law is that it’s always relevant. Not only does the law touch virtually every aspect of our lives, it’s not static. For example, you may have heard about the Ontario court’s recent decision concerning the constitutionality of several prostitution laws. Well, this triggered some real interest in my small group. It just so happens that our criminal law professor, Janine Benedet, knows a great deal about this topic. We organized a lunchtime discussion and invited Professor Benedet to speak. About 100 students came! It was a great opportunity to apply what we’ve been learning, and to really think about this weighty and topical court decision.

Another highlight was the Canadian Bar Association’s mentorship meet-and-greet. Each year the BC chapter matches interested law students with practicing lawyers. I signed up for this in the second week of classes, so I can’t for the life of me remember what I put down for areas of legal interest (in the second week I was interested in everything). But I’m pretty sure I won the mentorship lottery! My mentor is a young and successful civil litigator who works for a great firm.

I had a bunch of questions for my mentor, and she had really useful answers. Allow me to pass along some of her wisdom! Grades matter, but so does being a well-rounded person. If you didn’t study something in law school, that doesn’t necessarily preclude you from practicing in that field. With that said, some things are easier to learn on the job than others: take classes on trusts and procedure, if possible. The legal profession gets a lot of flack, but there are plenty of genuinely happy lawyers.

While there are more highlights I could regale you with, my main focus as of late has been first-year law. It’s a ride! The workload is exactly what I thought it would be: a challenge. The material is very interesting (which is great!), but there’s lots of it. I sometimes think there’s no end to the amount of time and energy I could put into things, if I had endless amounts of time and energy. Needless to say, there’s been some adjusting. But we’re more than half way through the first semester and, for the most part, I’m enjoying this ride.

Don’t forget your suit! (x2)

(Are you reading this blog because you’re thinking of applying to UBC Law School? Do you have specific questions for us bloggers? If so, we’d love to hear from you. Please simply leave your question in the comments below.)

As for the suit reference, this blog post has a dual purpose.

First, to say that law school has been quite a bit of work so far. Not only is it a full-time job – a full schedule plus many hours of reading each night – but surely it is only a precursor to the busy lawyering lives that many of us will soon lead. Sometimes, you feel like you should be dressed for work each day. Indeed, if you’re attending a firm visit or interview after class, you certainly do have to put a suit on.

Classes aren’t the only work. I remember being told back in our ice-breakers that free lunches (lunch periods with no events scheduled, that is) will be few and far between. I doubted, but it has been all too true. Tuesday and Wednesday we had make-up classes scheduled through lunch. 6.5 hours of class, back to back, is long enough for anyone. And that is to say nothing of the myriad of guest speakers, panels, and volunteer meetings held – often overlapping – at lunch.

Thankfully, we’re also managing to keep the mood as light as possible. Tomorrow I’ll be putting on a suit for class, not for any professional pursuits, but for fun as part of the tongue-in-cheek International Suit Up Day. A few of us are doing it, just for fun, and so I’ve been reminding classmates “don’t forget your suit!”

In another light experience, my small group has been involved in a tradition to bring breakfast/snacks for each other one morning a week.  Two weeks ago a classmate and I made home-made pancakes to order (chocolate chip and strawberry, thank you very much) and ran them over to the law school, still piping hot, before class.

And sometimes our fun is more challenging. Last Friday morning a group of us climbed the Grouse Grind, a 2.9-km nearly vertical hike up the side of Grouse Mountain, before class. Yes, that’s out the door at 6am, climbing the mountain by 7am, en route back by 8am, and sitting in class, showered, by the time class started at 9am. It wasn’t the first such trip, and it won’t be the last. Crazy? Sure. Fun? For some. Rewarding? Absolutely.

Such fun incursions and excursions will, when we look back on the rigours of law school, help us to remember the experiences and friendships as much as the hard work and challenge. There can be a lot of colour and fun in between the times where we need to suit up.