Monthly Archives: January 2014

A lawyer, a doctor, and a cop walk into a bar…

… and have a competition to see whose profession has more television shows about it. The competition is naturally abandoned when they spot a teenage vampire sitting at one of the tables.

It isn’t news to anyone that law is among those professions widely depicted in popular television and film. Jim Carrey’s funnyman unwillingly stricken by his conscience; the owner of the best catch phrase in New Mexico, Saul Goodman; Reese Witherspoon’s insufferably pink Harvard superstar; all lawyers in massively popular works. I think this type of widespread and popular use of a profession is a sign that there are many stereotypes associated with it. Stereotypes allow people to rely on patterns, popular knowledge, audience familiarity, and make it easier to tell a story. (Who wants to spend 20 minutes of a movie explaining what a radiation technologist is?) Those stories in turn strengthen stereotypes, and on it goes.

It also isn’t news to anyone that some of the stereotypes associated with lawyers are negative. Since I have started law school, the question most often asked of me by others which hints at one of these negative stereotypes is this: well, would you actually defend someone you knew murdered another person? I then usually go into a monologue of Shakespearean proportions about the structure of the justice system; the adversarial system; Charter rights; duties of lawyers as officers of the court, as advocates for their clients, as members of a professional, regulated, honourable profession with codes of conduct; access to justice issues; discretion in choosing clients; and so on. I try to give nuanced and balanced answers to what are deceptively complex questions, in the hope that certain stereotypes are dispelled, or at least softened (or gladly denounced in exchange for me stopping said monologue).

I think one aspect of legal training that may put non-legally trained people off is the use of language. The corresponding stereotype is lawyers engaging in cold, calculated logic devoid of passion, and “twisting” words. Law and language- the written and spoken word- are inseparable. What do we law students do most of the time? We read. We read and write , then read some more. But so do poets, and there are hardly as many ‘poet jokes’ as there are ‘lawyer’ ones. So what is it about the way we deal with language which isn’t as appreciated by others? We are taught to use language precisely, technically, and most often frugally. We condense our notes. Then we condense those notes. Then we make one page cheatsheets. As lawyers, we will be responsible for every word we choose to put in a contract, say to a client, or utter in a courtroom. We also know that words with everyday meanings become entirely different beasts in the legal context, and for a lot of people, our insistence on differentiating between legal and non-legal meanings of words at all times can be annoying. Especially at dinner. (“Well mum, when you say ‘reasonable’…”) Since words like adrenocorticotropic hormone test and polycystic ovary syndrome don’t have everyday meanings, doctors for example are immune from this particular phenomenon. Perhaps then it is this careful, logical, pragmatic use of language and knit picking of words which makes it easy to attach this negative stereotype to the profession.

Law students have a host of stereotypes associated with them as well. If you type in ‘Why are law students’ into Google, the search engine helpfully suggests some endings for your question. I won’t reproduce those suggested endings here, but let’s just say that if you are a law student and need a pick-me-up, you shouldn’t do the aforementioned exercise.

This blog post isn’t an exercise in listing, promoting or combating any stereotypes, but more one of raising and pondering questions which I have found keep cropping up in my life as a law student. As I learn more about the law and the profession, I hope I can have better answers to questions about both, whether they are stereotypical or not. Maybe one day I can even deliver my monologue in iambic pentameter, matched to the footsteps of my dinner guest skipping away.

Pursuing Your Passion: UBC’s First Fashion Law Panel

This past Thursday, January 16th, 80 well-dressed students, lawyers and even a few fashion designers attended the very first UBC Fashion Law Panel and Reception at Allard Hall. The event was put on in collaboration with Career Services, and featured a panel followed by a reception with delicious food and some networking. Fashion law as a recognized practice area is still in its infancy in Canada, although it has certainly been growing in both recognition and popularity. It touches on a wide range of traditional legal areas including everything from intellectual property, to contract and employment law, as it pertains specifically to the fashion industry (similar to other specialty areas like sports or art law).

The Fashion Law Panel brought together several practicing fashion lawyers to explore legal issues related to the fashion industry including the infamous ‘red sole’ case Louboutin v. Yves Saint Laurent, their personal career paths, and what employment opportunities exist in this area. Speakers included: Ashlee Froese, a Partner at Gilbert’s LLP in Toronto who has been very involved in the progression of fashion law in Canada and authors the blog; Kieran Moore, the Intellectual Property Counsel at lululemon athletica; Rachel Ricketts, a UBC Law alumna and Associate at Heenan Blaikie as well as legal counsel for Vancouver ECO Fashion Week; and second-year student Elaine Choi who spent the summer after first year as a legal intern for Aritzia.

Several clothing designs were on display from local labels Madame Moje, Tenth & Proper, and Zareen; as well as a lululemon mannequin clothed entirely in patented designs (IP is a huge part of fashion law).

Rachel Ricketts holding a counterfeit ‘lululemon’ hoodie, with Kieran Moore and Ashlee Froese.

One of the most inspiring messages of this evening was to have the courage and determination to pursue your interests in the legal field, particularly if you are passionate about a specialized area. There will always be naysayers, but these panelists are proof that you can successfully combine your passion with your legal career.

“Love what you do and do what you love. Don’t listen to anyone else who tells you not to do it.”
– Ray Bradbury

Attendees look on during the Q&A period.

Panel attendees Tracy Wachmann (Career Services Office), Tasha Wood (2L), and Myriam Laroche (President, Vancouver ECO Fashion Week).

Patented designs from lululemon athletica.

Outside the Classroom

Law school classes offer an academic view of the law, and provide valuable learning experiences. However, there is so much more to the practice of law and the administration of justice that cannot be learned in the classroom. This past week, I had the pleasure of participating in the orientation for the Judicial Externship Program. In these past two weeks, I feel like I’ve learned more that will be of practical application in my career than I have in the rest of my law school experience.

Throughout the past two weeks, I’ve sat in on many provincial court proceedings. Since I didn’t participate in any clinical programs throughout law school, I am unfamiliar with the processes of court. Having the opportunity to observe and understand the day-to-day activities of a court registry has been enlightening.

I’ve also had the opportunity to learn about and watch Downtown Community Court and Drug Treatment Court in action. I didn’t know that either of these programs existed before learning about them through externship, and found them to both be refreshing approaches to the traditional court format.

Taking a break from the classroom and participating in the externship program is sure to be an education in how the judiciary works and in how justice is administered. I would encourage law students to apply for the unique programs available to them in third year, or to at least take the opportunity to sit in on court proceedings and better understand what law looks like outside of the classroom.

Life Beyond Law

When I was in my 20s, I was convinced that anything I had to write about would be interesting to a vast and diverse audience; all I had to do, to my mind, was write funny anecdotes about my personal experiences, and I’d be a renowned writer of novels and screenplays alike in no time.

At 24 years old – and after reading Eat, Pray, Love, of course – I knew in every cell of my being that I was created to be the voice of Generation Y, and that my memoir would inspire and connect us all in no time.

Perhaps needless to say, writing a story is like writing a law paper: everything else in my small world must be cleaned, eaten, or talked about before I can finally think of tackling a meaningful or challenging project.

So what happened to that novel? Among other things, Lena Dunham became the hilarious and poignant voice of Generation Y – and I finally stopped procrastinating, wrote the LSAT, and got into the law school of my dreams. I also realized that not every story connects us all, and not every personal story is worth writing about or sharing with the world. But many are. And the big one that connects me with others right now is law school.

Having been back in classes for just over week now after a wonderful break, many of my classmates and I had been dreading the return of our December exams. If my friends are anything like me, tears were shed, high hopes were not met, and self-doubt barreled into chests like a tidal wave.

Among all that, though, something bigger than grades emerged: Community. Friendship. Support. Love. People hugging in the hallways reminding each other that December exams are failsafe; others congratulating each other on a job well done.

Beyond exams, more good news echoed through halls: One new friend is having a baby this summer, and another friend got engaged over the holidays. Yes, law school is happening – and maybe not always to the highest of our expectations – but so is life, and as we move through our six short semesters here at Allard Hall, we are transformed not just by the law we learn, but by the relationships we build. 

Just one semester in, I’ve already made friends who, I know, will be in my life forever. We’ll share in supporting and celebrating each other in law, love, and everything in between. And if I ever get around to writing a novel, we might even celebrate that. If not, I know I’ll be able to rely on my fabulous new law school friends through the highs and lows, just as we’re doing right now.

More on Networking Events

Several networking events are coming up, such as the Vancouver Large Firm Wine & Cheese (W&C), Small Firm W&C, and the Social Justice Forum (SJF). For those of you who prefer to do some preparation before networking events, you will find some of my suggestions below. I have blogged about networking before, but I hope this post is helpful nonetheless. Note that everyone networks differently, and these are just my opinions.

  • Dress professionally: Wear a suit!
  • Know the geography: The Wine & Cheese events I have attended were always laid out in the style of a tradeshow. There is a big room filled with tables, each table belonging to a firm, with each firm having 2 or more representatives. You will be given a map with a layout from the UBC Career Services Office at the event.
  • Eat and drink sparingly: Unless you are there just for the wine and cheese, do not spend your whole evening perusing the assorted cheeses or lining up at the bar. These events are just a couple of hours, and time flies. You want to make sure you have a chance to get to know people while being your professional self.
  • Do your research: I have said this before, but I find it incredibly helpful to research the firms/organizations that will be attending. I kept an Excel sheet of the firms that were in attendance with brief notes about distinguishing features of each firm and any questions that came up in the research process. Knowing which firms you want to approach is helpful, given the time crunch, but also try to keep an open mind.
  • Aim to have a conversation: For my very first W&C, I was so nervous that I prepared a list of stock questions such as “How long have you been with your firm?” or “What is your area of practice and why?” I quickly learned that it’s much better to approach lawyers with the mindset of having a conversation, instead of being interrogative. Nevertheless, being prepared with questions ahead of time can mitigate potentially awkward periods of silence and may help to boost your confidence.
  • Have an exit strategy: Don’t monopolize the time of lawyers given that they likely want to speak to as many students as possible, and you really should take the opportunity to circulate. Aim to speak to each lawyers for a few minutes. If you want to speak to them further, ask if you can take them out for coffee at another time (and then follow-up via email or telephone!).
  • Go solo: Although it may be nerve-wracking to approach firms or public interest organizations by yourself, I would not recommend networking with a big group of friends because it shows a lack of confidence. Also, it may be more difficult to have a quality/memorable conversation.
  • Spot opportunities: Chances are that each booth at the W&C or SJF will be quite crowded. If you spot a booth without a lot of students, I would encourage you to take the opportunity to chat with the lawyers there, even if it wasn’t a firm/organization you were thinking of getting to know. You just never know whom you will connect with.
  • Take notes: Take notes on the names of the lawyers you met, the impressions you received, and any other points of interest. This may help when you are writing cover letters or preparing for interviews.
  • Follow up: If you receive offers for future opportunities to connect, do follow up promptly (i.e. within 24 hours). Some firms offer dinners, but these seem to be rare, so do not feel bad if you do not receive any invitations!
  • Thank You emails: I didn’t send these unless I had what I thought was a meaningful conversation with a lawyer. However, some of my peers sent a note to every lawyer they came into contact with. In any event, do err on the side of professionalism with any communications you send out.

Finally, if you consider yourself Awkward, consider reading Networking Tips for the Awkward written by Robyn last year. Also, networking really does not begin and end with Wine & Cheeses.  I would encourage you not to hesitate to reach out to lawyers outside of these organized events.

Good luck!

Suiting Up

So I am probably not the only law student who feels like I’m playing dressing up whenever I wear a suit. I put on my pants, blazer, and heels, and look at myself in the mirror and think, ‘Who is that?’ As law school has progressed, the requirement to suit up has become more frequent; this semester I’m participating in the judicial externship program, which means wearing business attire on a daily basis.

To be fair, this is not the first time I’ve had to wear a suit for a job. When I worked at an art gallery in Whistler, my boss wanted us to “dress like we owned a law firm”. I wore a suit at work, but since I commuted by snowboard, that thing never saw the light of day. I would leave my suit at work and change there. I dreaded the strange looks I’d get cruising the streets of Whistler looking very overdressed for a mountain community.

Today I donned my suit and went downtown (like a real adult!). It’s funny how changing the way you look really does change the way the world looks at you. Despite still feeling like a fish out of water, I have found that there are certain advantages to looking professional. You know those canvassers who ask for money on street corners? If you wear a suit and stride past them, they don’t try to strike up a conversation with you.

It just seems like the world takes you a little more seriously when you dress a little more seriously. However, today, while waiting at a bus stop, someone threw an apricot at me. It was a good old fashioned drive-by fruiting. I don’t know why, but maybe it had something to do with the suit. Maybe the world isn’t taking me so seriously after all.

I don’t know that I’ll ever shake the feeling that a suit is a costume, but I am starting to feel a little more comfortable in my lawyer swag.