Monthly Archives: January 2011

“work ethic”

I received a comment that asked me to expand a little bit more on this concept of “work ethic” in law school. Although my use of the phrase in my previous post was slightly sarcastic, work ethic is actually extremely important. In saying that, however, I would like to add the disclaimer that work ethic really varies from person to person. I don’t think anyone makes it to law school with bad work ethic, but work ethic is really more about what works best for you.

Law school is tough. There’s no way to sugar coat it, but it’s completely doable once you know what you’re capable of and what you need to do to get through. To be completely honest that’s something you just can’t figure out until you’re thrown into it.

For me personally, I spend a few hours everyday just reading. I don’t take notes, unless a subject is particularly tough for me. I then take notes in class and later combine my notes with past years notes. I know that I retain information best when I write by hand, so I combine all the notes by hand and then type it all up closer to my exam. Most exams are open book but you don’t want to be relying on your notes too much because they don’t give you time to do much more than think and write.

Assignments and research for papers take up more time and the month before exams I spend pretty much all day in the library. As well, in upper years you get the chance to pick your own classes. While you will inevitably have at least a couple exam classes and a couple paper classes, once you know what you’re good at, you can schedule mostly paper classes if you excel at writing papers, or you can take mostly exam classes if you never want to write a paper again in your life.

As for extracurricular activities, there is definitely time for it but it then comes down to your time management skills. Aside from writing for this blog at my leisure I am also Co-President of the South Asian Law Student Association, I edit articles for the UBC Legal Eye, and fingers crossed I will hopefully be also working on a research project (I have an interview for the position next week!). In first year I volunteered for the Law Student Legal Advice Program and maintained my volunteer commitment with BC’s Children’s Hospital. I also still find time to see my friends on the weekends (take at least one night off!) and work out a couple times a week, even if it’s just a 20 minute run or a couple rounds of Dance Central (an AMAZING game).

Life doesn’t have to end once you start law school, but you do need to know where to cut back and how to balance the two worlds. Make sure that you pick extra curricular activities that you enjoy, that way even if your life feels go, go, go you’re still enjoying what you’re doing. If you don’t, it can all get really old, really fast.

It’s a moot point

This term, we first year students are being introduced to another fun, new aspect of law school: mooting.

I’ve been describing a moot to my friends as a “fake court case,” though that’s not quite accurate. A moot is a fake court appeal case, the hypothetical review of a case that has already been decided.

The moot is worth 25% of the grade in our criminal law class. The actual grade is for the factum – the written arguments that each side would submit to the court – and then there is a mandatory but non-graded oral presentation to real legal practitioners. The UBC moot has a complicated set of rules [PDF], and we’ve been given some guidelines on how to approach it.

My class’ case is based on the real-life case of R v Steele [2007]. In both cases, would-be robbers are surprised to find people at home during a break and enter. The accused threaten “we have a gun,” which subdues the home’s occupants until the robbers can flee. They’re caught a few minutes later. While they had a gun in their getaway car, they did not actually bring it into the house with them.

The question focuses on whether or not the accused were “using” the gun during the break and enter. If the courts find that they did, they are guilty of a second crime. Neither the statute nor the common law (that we’re allowed to use) answer the question, so it’s up to us to argue it out.  In real life, the Supreme Court of Canada found that the accused did “use” the weapon even though it was not on their person during the break and enter, but in the moot assignment, that Court found the opposite.

It’s a pretty enjoyable (and educational) task, but if this was a real case, we’d look through past court cases to help find guidance or authorities for our arguments. Here, we’re not allowed to do that. So while there are some fun educational pieces to the moot, this one seems to hold to the “we only trust you with baby steps” approach to first year law school. As before, I still believe we can set better educational tasks that involve more realistic practice. But of course, given the current approach, that is a potentially unrealistic discussion … I’m sure there’s a term for that

A change from previous years, the moot factums are due early this term. My team (we’re the Crown) has their written assignment due this Tuesday, Jan 18. I’m thankfully done most of my submission, but I know a lot of my other law peers will be hitting the books pretty seriously this weekend.

Back to School

Almost through the first week of the second semester of my second year, and I am still on top of my classes… success! New Years resolution for 2011 is to maintain this amazing work ethic, now that I have actual readings assigned we’ll see how I do…

I am currently enrolled in five classes: Family Law, Administrative Law, Corporations, Immigration Law and a Negotiation and Mediation class. Time will tell how I fair in these classes, but so far so good. Immigration has pretty heavy reading but at least half of it was interesting enough to get me through. Reading a case about a Punjabi immigrant that was on the Komagata Maru was pretty cool.

Aside from school, as a second year student that has not clinched a big firm position, I am still searching for summer positions and am continuously revamping resumes and cover letters. In doing so, all this job hunting has made me stop and think. By second year, one would hope that I would have a better idea about what I want to do and where all this education is taking me. But, to be honest, I feel like with each class I get more confused. Everywhere I turn, I learn about a new area of law that I know nothing about and want to learn more about, thinking, aha! this is it! the perfect fit/niche that I have been looking for! But then lo and behold a week into it I discover that this is no more/less stimulating to me than the last class I took.

Therefore, my strategy this year was the following. In one semester I took all the classes that I thought I was interested in. International Law and Development, Sustainable Development Law, Advanced Legal Research etc. Basically environmental, international, academic law stuff. It was a great semester and I learned a lot, but now that I got it all out of my system, I am more open and ready to learn about more “practical” areas of law such as Family and Corps. I am hoping that this switch in learning will help me compare and decide if environmental law, the area I had planned to go into, is still for me.

As great as the core courses in first year are for laying some groundwork, second year really allows you to branch off into your own interests and properly explore your options. It’s definitely important to take advantage of the wide range of classes that UBC has to offer.

Word on the street is that most lawyers just happen to land unsuspectingly into the lap of the area of law in which they are meant to practice. As a perpetual planner that’s a little hard to swallow as I keep trying to plan the best route to where I want to go. Instead, I have decided to throw caution to the wind and keep my options open and apply to everything that strikes my interest and wherever I land, there I will go. I shall keep you posted as to how that strategy pans out…

First year, round two

Law classes are back in session today. After a relaxing (but busy) Christmas break, I know I’m not the only one interested to see what the semester ahead will hold.

Some of it will be familiar ground. Five of our six first-year classes are eight month courses, meaning we’re continuing with the same classes and professors for most of our course load. The one switch comes as Regulatory State finished in December, and will be replaced with Transnational Law.

I expect a few other changes this term, changes of  a more subtle kind. After a gruelling round of December “practice” exams, I’m guessing that some students will change their study habits and priorities in class. I’ve already been told of fellow students who will stop bringing their “distracting” laptops to class.

We’ve been warned repeatedly by the faculty that we’ll likely receive lower grades than we expect, which makes sense given the grading policy. It will likely both dampen some moods and spur others to work harder. January 17 is our grade release day, so we don’t find out anything until then – and then we get all the (probably worse than expected) news, all at once.

Still, this is balanced by the repeated reminders that a) nobody fails out of law school, unless they really try to, and b) everybody’s grades – not just at UBC, but at schools across Canada – are kept to a B/B- average, which levels the playing field considerably.