Monthly Archives: October 2012

How I learned to stop worrying and love CANs

Give yourself two brownie points if you got that reference. I apologize if it reminded you of your age. One brownie point if you googled it before reading the rest. As the title of this blog suggests, I have just passed a very important milestone in any law student’s life: I have made my first, official CAN joke. Yes, we’ve all made many by now, but this one’s on the record. I must admit; it feels good.

Less importantly, I have officially been CANing for some time now. Some of you are thinking the following: someone must have caught the last wagon on the train ‘cause I’ve been CANing since September! Some of you are nervously smiling as you have yet to look at a single handout on CANing. Some of you are deliberately waiting to get through all the term’s material before going through CANing bootcamp right before exams, because that’s your thing. Well, you’re all wrong. Because there is no right answer! If there is one take-home point from any piece of CANing advice, it’s the fact that there is no magic way to do it. When it comes to CANing, you’ll hear the phrase, “Do what works for you” almost as much as you hear about the living tree doctrine (one brownie point!).

What I am continuing to learn is to strike a balance between adopting new study skills essential in studying law and keeping old study skills that have always worked for me. So, I’ve learned to actually brief a case, as opposed to take pages and pages of notes on it. Yet, I’ve kept my style of note-taking in class, which is taking down a running commentary of the lecture, usually in complete sentences, as opposed to strictly bullet points. I’m good at remembering conversations, so this style works for me by turning lectures into conversation-y type things. Later, taking out the main points from the conversation becomes my process of review.

I’ve been aiming for the same balancing act in CANing. I’m keeping what works in note-taking, but I’m also constantly experimenting, changing styles, and yelling at Microsoft Word to bring back Clippy the Office Assistant to format my headings for me (three brownie points for that reference because I know it made you count the years). I think the biggest hang-up I have about CANs is thinking of them as something completely alien, but they really aren’t. If they had been called Final Exam Notes, I bet we’d all stress less about them. But they’re supposed to be condensed. And annotated. So, naturally we balk at the unfamiliar. Reminding myself that at the end of the day CANs are essentially really good course/study notes definitely helps make them more manageable.

Yes, it’s frustrating as I’m getting the hang of it, and I imagine I’ll only know what the right balance is once I get my exam marks back. I have, however, discovered a rather bright silver lining to CANing and note-taking in law school generally: the satisfaction of getting to add all those new words to your software’s dictionary. Interjurisdictional. Pogg powers. Actus Reus. Promisee. None of these used to be recognizable words before you made them so. Nothing beats feeling smarter than a computer. Take that Deep Blue. (final brownie point! Now, add up your total and buy the equivalent number of real brownies to snack on while you CAN.)

1L of a Way to Start Law School

Sniping my title from Professor Andrew J. McClurg’s welcome to law school bible, I can say that this pre-law recommended reading definitely did not prepare me for the unique experience of Calgary firm interviews in my first month at UBC.

While the majority of law students participate in the job hunt process known as “OCIs” in second year (see Rebecca’s earlier blog post), many Calgary and Toronto law firms make an exception and seek out 1L students for summer positions.

The UBC Law Career Services Office advises first year students from Calgary and Toronto to focus on their grades and worry about the summer job process in second year. This is sound advice based on years of experience… that I for some reason chose not to follow.

Coming west for undergrad and law school, Calgary is still home for me and I am strongly considering calling it home after what I am sure will be three wonderful (and sometimes wet) years in Vancouver. That being said, I decided to throw my hat in the ring with a few of my fellow 1L Calgarians.

Once the process started, it was easy to get caught up in resume and cover letter drafting, interview preparation and the pedantic crafting of two sentence thank you emails but when I took a moment to stop and realize that I was downtown Vancouver in a suit leaving an interview at a law firm I had to laugh. I had been in law school for three days when I submitted my applications and three weeks when I faced my first law interview.

While the process itself was stressful and time consuming (hence the advice of the CSO) I can honestly say that it has been an incredible experience for me in more way than one…

(1)  The interview process really helped me to see the light at the end of the tunnel (though I am sure it will be a fantastic three year tunnel!) First year law is very challenging and involves a large adjustment for many students. As ominous as readings and memos and exams seem, all of the lawyers I met (a) survived law school and (b) were normal, happy and fun individuals.

(2)  I also discovered incredible support systems at Allard Hall in many unexpected places. Jenn Lau from the CSO gave me pragmatic and absolutely essential advice on everything from my resume format to ‘what not to wear’. My legal buddy educated me on interview style and helped me by eliminating the fear of the unknown. A few Vancouverites in my 1L small group absolutely overwhelmed me with encouragement, came suit shopping with me, conducted mock interviews and drove me around the city! While the process was intimidating, I had all of the help I could possibly need.

(3)  I met many amazing lawyers (read: real human beings) that I would never have been exposed to and learned a lot about the legal profession, even though most interviews were short and sweet.

(4)  1Ls have a slight advantage in that at UBC you sort of skip the OCI process and get to interview in a myriad of places such as cafeterias, hotels, Vancouver offices and Mahoney & Sons. That being said, I actually got to participate in a real OCI which removed the terror of the speed dating process for next year (thanks to a rogue law firm sneaking me into an unoccupied booth for 17 minutes)

(5)  I got to drink wine and eat cheese with my peers in a swanky downtown hotel (and was also given advice on how to do so by the CSO in ‘How to Wine and Cheese’)

(6)  I learned a lot about myself by looking at my resume from a stranger’s perspective and thinking about answers to questions like “Why did you decide to go to law school?” (And also… “If you were a cheese, what kind would you be?”)

Why my list could go on and on, this is law school and I heard that brevity is an asset. Despite all of the initial stress and anxiety I am glad that I participated in the 1L interview process although now I face the suspense of waiting for the clock to strike 4pm on Offer Call Day. The next fundamental step is that of ‘mutual selection’ and while this process was a fantastic experience I feel that it could be simplified for all years if we could only get our hands on a sorting hat.

The NOCI Club

I recently joined a fairly exclusive club at UBC Law: the NOCI Club. We are the bunch who sat around soaking up the later September sun outside Allard Hall watching our friends don their best business duds and head off for their On-Campus Interviews. (OCIs, thus NOCIs. Get it?). While I was feeling pretty good about my choice, as my friends became increasingly strung out and stressed, OCIs inspired in me a particular kind of panic. I call this the ‘ohmygodwhatamIgoingtodowithmylife’ crisis.

The ‘ohmygodwhatamIgoingtodowithmylife’ crisis can become acute in law school. Careers are discussed frequently and there are a lot of opportunities available. The breadth of opportunities can be overwhelming. Somehow it occurred to me somewhat late that law is a professional program, meaning the end goal is a job. While this was probably obvious to a lot of students, this was quite a shocking change from my Bachelor of Arts in Modern European Studies with a focus in Creative Writing (not exactly a career focused degree).

As a result of this panic, I went to the Career Services Office. I talked to them about my incredibly vague plan of practicing rurally.  It was reassuring and stress-relieving. The negative of being in a professional program is that undoubtedly you will feel pressure to figure your life out. The positive is that there are plenty of people who are on your side and want to see you succeed.

What I learned is that while yes, some people will get summer jobs and potentially get a jump start on their careers, that doesn’t mean anyone else should panic. More opportunities will arise, and while it’s good to start thinking about jobs, there is no urgent necessity to suddenly have a firm direction.

The best solution to the ‘ohmygod’ crisis is simply to relax, take a deep breath, and try to think a little bit about what you might like to do, not just what you definitely don’t want to do.

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!)

One month already!

For 1Ls, our one-month law school anniversary is fast approaching. I must give everyone credit for looking so chipper and cheerful despite being inundated with readings and assignments.

Okay. To be fair, we’ve only had a couple assignments so far.

What I really am noticing is that people are starting to get into a routine. For instance, I am starting to see familiar faces in the same spots (i.e. the library) at approximately the same times each day. Maybe this really only means that I now have a routine, but nevertheless, I think it’s [somewhat] safe to say that us 1Ls are getting closer to a comfort zone and figuring out what works for us.

The first month of law school zoomed by for me. I think this is a great time to share observations about some skills & qualities us 1Ls are honing (or have already mastered) after only a short time here at Allard Hall:

(1) Organization: I can’t count the number of peers sporting neatly organized, rainbow-colored Outlook/Google calendars. Kudos to those who have their whole month planned ahead, due dates and all.

(2) Speed typing: I think everyone is a Speed Typer. I can hear the sound of fingers flying on keyboards at the exact speed of the profs lectures in all classes. It’s quite the symphony.

(3) Fabulous multitasking: Multi-taskers eat breakfast, take notes, and check email. Fabulous multi-taskers do all of the above while thinking about property law/criminal law/contracts/torts in a 9 a.m. class.

(4) Power reading: If you think that no particularly commendable skill is required to read through a judge’s ruling from a case reported sometime during the 1800s on the subject of taverns, think again.  I like to call this power reading.

(5) Community dedication: I have heard comments that, this year, there are record numbers of volunteers in programs such as the Law Students’ Legal Advice Program, Pro Bono Students Canada, and the UBC Law Review Society. Needless to say I feel extremely proud to be a part of such a dedicated group. We give back.

In short, law school is offering a whole package of supplementary skills and opportunities, which I am happy to have.

Thanks for reading!