Monthly Archives: November 2013

One Week Left

(Alternate title: My Organizational Skills Are Entirely Occupied By A Legal Memo I’m Writing For Class, So I Couldn’t Think Of A Title That Would Encompass Everything Discussed In This Post)

I had trouble deciding what to focus this post on, given the number of revelatory topics that have come up over the past month. There’s the fact that, with the help of extensive time management, school has developed into a routine that has become surprisingly ordinary. There was the rather disconcerting complete lack of rain in October, although Vancouver natives continue to assure me that I will soon grow to hate this city’s weather. There was the unfortunate discovery that there is actually more to formal networking than putting on a suit. My first wine and cheese event was kind of awkward, mostly because I’m an awkward person. I find myself entirely unqualified to give any kind of advice on this topic, but I will say that if you aren’t perfectly at ease talking to strangers, the best thing you can do is bring a buddy who’s willing to do some of the conversational heavy lifting until you get comfortable. I was lucky enough to have a friend in my small group who was interested in the same firms I was, able to gracefully enter and exit a conversation, and who kindly but firmly impressed upon me that I couldn’t spend the entire time at the cheese table (the spread was really impressive). The nice thing is that networking, like everything else, gets easier with experience and practice.

Mostly, though, the most interesting November discovery has been this: with one week left in my first semester of law school, I think I’ve hit a key turning point. I can now effectively pretend, to people entirely uninvolved with the legal profession, that I actually know things about the law. It’s an interesting position to be in; a rather strange dissonance between being respected for your position as a law student, and being humbled in class on a daily basis by the reminders of just how much there is to learn. My first LSLAP client described his problem to me in detail and finished with “at that point I knew I needed to talk to a lawyer.” I got a little bit proud, and then immediately quite alarmed that I was actually being relied upon to act, even under heavy supervision, as a legal advisor.

Like pretty much any other type of coursework, 1L classes at UBC start with somewhat simple cases, leaving you with the mistaken impression that contract formation or tort actions are relatively straightforward affairs. Moving forward, though, succeeding cases and legislation tend to muddy many of these apparently clear concepts. As my public law professor has told us, one of the fundamental tenets of statutory interpretation is the ability to create ambiguity from something that seems straightforward. Reading cases for class often involves trying to disentangle that ambiguity and figure out how the court has interpreted it. It takes varying amounts of time for people to get the hang of doing this quickly and easily.

What I’m getting at is that of all the things I’ve learned through these first couple of months, the one that comes up the most is how complex legal doctrine can be, how many things have to be taken into account, and how diverse opinions are. It’s an education in how much is left to learn, combined with a dose of amazement over how much we’ve covered over the first semester alone. It’s exciting on some level; law school is full of people who genuinely enjoy learning, and we’re learning in abundance. But it also teaches you to be cautious, to be aware of personal assumptions and subjectivity, and to be consistently willing to modify your viewpoint based on what you may not have learned yet.

Thanks for reading!

Receptions. Receptions Everywhere.

We UBC law students are lucky to have a fantastic Career Services Office which gives us lectures and documents full of proper advice about all aspects of business etiquette, networking, and the job hunting process. Accordingly, I would suggest looking at those resources for actual advice. Having gone through a year and a half of networking/firm events and the formalized interview process for 2L summer articling positions in Vancouver myself, I thought I would put together a list of general observations I have made, some of which will inevitably echo the valuable advice provided by the CSO.

Networking: The word ‘networking’ sometimes throws people off because it suggests you have to come out of a networking event having built an actual viable network of contacts. Really, networking is about making new connections within the profession, whether it be with students, lawyers or professors, some of which will grow beyond the first introduction and some of which may not. I would advise going to as many networking events as possible, especially if you don’t have prior connections to the legal profession. I have learned so much about the profession, different practice areas, and different firms through talking with people, and I think there is no substitute for the experience of one-on-one contact.

Mind Your Manners: Being polite, considerate and kind is obviously always important, but it is imperative in a professional environment, like a law school networking event or a firm reception, especially during the formal interview process. There is nothing more unappealing than the student/applicant who is self-advertising through monopolizing conversation, interrupting others, and focusing all discussion on him/herself. It seems obvious that the guidelines around the art of conversation don’t stop for firm receptions, Wine and Cheeses, and Interview Week, but sometimes anxiousness and competitiveness can get the better of us. My advice is to be genuine, engaging and considerate. Include others in a group discussion if they are approaching (or hovering) around your group. Introduce them to the group and quickly tell them what the conversation is about to make them feel comfortable. This also provides others with the chance to politely leave the conversation if they need to take a break.  Change the subject of any conversation if you find it is one to which only you are contributing. And, don’t say negative things about other students, professors, or firms. Remember, your ‘fellow applicants’ were your fellow classmates before and will be your fellow colleagues soon (pardon that tautology for the sake of parallel structure). Keep in mind the long-term collegiality of the profession.

Don’t Schmooze: This is a caveat on my first point about taking advantage of as many networking opportunities as possible. In my experience, going to a networking event when I was tired, distracted, not fully invested, or a combination of the three, was rather unproductive. I love meeting new people, but I also find making genuine new connections in a short span of time to be tiring. So, I’d say don’t schmooze for the sake of schmoozing. Go if you’re actually interested.

Don’t drink too much: for all the obvious reasons.

Empathize: Always try to put yourself in the shoes of the person with whom you are networking/meeting/interviewing. Have they had  a long day at work and are spending their free time letting you get to know their firm/workplace? Are they teaching a class in 20 minutes? Have they interviewed 30 people that day? Are there 50 other people at this event? Conversations are two way streams, even job interviews, so be considerate of your conversation partner’s position, which will inform what you choose to talk about, how much of their time you will take, and what questions you will ask.

I’ll end with a note about the end of networking events. Event end times are there for a reason: abide by them. You don’t want to be the last person left taking up an extra 45 minutes of someone’s time who should have been home for dinner half an hour ago.

What area of law do you want to practice?

Also known as:  Why law school is a great way to help you figure this out, why as 3Ls most of us still don’t know, and why that can be a good thing!

I was originally asked to join this team of bloggers to share the experiences I will be having next semester as I join 7 other UBC law students (16 total for the year) who take part in the for-credit Judicial Externship Program at various Provincial Courts around the province. Until then, I hope to provide some perspective on the life of a third year law student who has been through through (most) of the ups and downs by now, and is nearing the terrifying and exciting finish line of this thing called law school.

This post will address the question I have most frequently been asked along this journey: “what area of law do you want to practice”?  From the moment I mentioned an interest in law, through the recruiting process and now as I face my articling year ahead, this question has lingered and remains unanswered. In reflecting on how my answer as changed and why I am where I am today, I came to the following conclusions:

  1. While on the ground training undoubtedly important, law school can serve as a key step in helping you figure out where your legal interests lie
  2. Most 3Ls still don’t know (past a vague idea) what exactly they want to do
  3. Not knowing can be a good thing!

Point one – how law school can help.

A critical step in determining what type of law you want to practice is learning from the practical training received during your articling year. That said, law school remains an excellent tool for soon-to-be lawyers in navigating their future career path. While not all courses teach the ins and outs of practice, law school does provide an excellent opportunity to get exposure to a variety of subject matters and get involved in practical extra curricular activities such as pro bono work or the Law Students’ Legal Advice Program (LSLAP). These opportunities definitely add value in the quest for vocational direction.

From my personal experiences, I found that some courses “clicked” and others didn’t, and those that clicked I naturally enjoyed more. I took part in first and second year moots to see a bit more what the whole courtroom thing would be like. I attended lunch time seminars on various practice areas (law school is FULL of these – anything from medical malpractice to animal law – if you are interested in any area you can guarantee there will be an info session on it, usually with practitioners form that area, at some point during the year!) and I joined groups like the Environmental Law Group which connects you with like-minded students.

Long story short, if you expose yourself to these sorts of opportunities you will learn SOMETHING. You may not leave saying, “Yes, I’ve found my calling, labour law is for me!” but at the very least you will have narrowed the field, learning some things you like, and often importantly, areas you definitely don’t like.

Point two – most of us still don’t know anyway!

Having talked with many of my fellow 3L colleagues after their various summering experiences, a common thread was that most people had a slightly better idea of what they wanted to do with their degree, but were still far from certain. There are some students who truly do know exactly want they want to do by third year (or maybe well before that), and kudos to them for getting there, but it is totally normal not to know.

Even after summering at a full service firm and trying out a bunch of different areas of practice, I am not entirely certain. One goal I did have from the summer was to reach some conclusions on the litigator/solicitor choice. I’m leaning towards solicitor, but that’s about all I can tell you for now.

Point three – don’t stress about it, not knowing can be beneficial!

So why am I not freaking out trying to find out the answer to this question that has now been lingering over me for the past 3 plus years? Because I truly believe that not knowing is a good thing! Flexibility and remaining open to new opportunities allows you to learn more without pigeonholing yourself too early on in the process. Also, most lawyers I have met actually practice in multiple, often overlapping, practice areas. With the multidisciplinary nature of most legal problems, few lawyers actual specialize as exhaustively as I once thought.

I also think that many of our career decisions might end up coming down to the people we work with. I heard this a lot from lawyers as I went through recruitment. They often said, “I always thought I wanted to do X, but in the end I really enjoyed a group of people rather than a specific practice area”. Law can be an intense profession, so it makes sense that if you have a good team to work with, and enjoy going to work everyday, a practice area might just find you, rather than the other way around.

So for all of you thinking that a selling point of law school is how many different things you can do with your degree and the wide array of practice areas open to you – I can assure you, that is true! Law school does an awesome job of exposing you to these opportunities and the rest is up to you… but not to worry, there’s no rush 🙂

A 2L Tour of Allard Hall

A couple of weeks ago I helped a UBC Law Ambassador lead a tour of a delegation of judges visiting from China. While preparing for the tour, I was able to learn much more about the architectural design of our building and how it is influenced by Aboriginal culture, paying tribute to the fact we are situated on Musqueam Territory. Here are just a few interesting things I learned:

The north-facing totem pole was crafted by Musqueam artist Brent Sparrow and is a replica depicting the Musqueam warrior, Capilano.


 The Musqueam word for “remember” is etched on the bench by the totem pole.

The pool on the north side of the building is known as the Reflection Pool. The area is surrounded by river grass, since the Musqueam are known as the People of the River Grass.

Needless to say, I was just as impressed as our overseas guests were with the cultural symbolism incorporated into the structural design here at our law school!