Author Archives: graham

Why it pays to be involved

Yesterday, my section of criminal law had its moot event. Andrew explained about how it worked back in January; they gave us a set of facts taken and modified from a real criminal case that went to the Supreme Court, the highest and most authoritative court in Canada, whose decisions set a binding precedent on how all the other courts in Canada apply the law. In this moot the UBC Supreme Moot Court pretended to be a higher authority than the Supreme Court. We had to file and serve factums, which means that we had to make written arguments and send them to the other side and to the judges in front of whom we would be arguing. Then we prepared oral arguments and had about half an hour each last night to make these submissions in front of judges.

Groups of four students argued on the appeal. The two appellants representing the Crown (the state power that lays criminal charges in Canada) argued that the man should be convicted because they were dissatisfied with the Supreme Court decision. the two respondents representing the accused argued that the previous decision was correct and that the appeal should be dismissed. I was one of the respondents, who were all delighted to win our case.

Some people were terrified about the impending moot. But I saw it as it was: a straightforward way of trying out what in upper years is called appellate advocacy without any possibility of losing marks as long as we turned up. One thing I have really felt lacking in is instruction on procedure. We are learning about how to apply the law to fact patterns and how to write about it, but not so much how to argue it in court or how a trial actually works. But after all there wouldn’t be much point in our learning about it without knowing enough about the law.

I was very glad to have this opportunity to argue my case and respond to questions that the three judges asked. I thought of it as something a little more than my thesis defence of last year. I know I did well at some things and that others in my group did other things much better than I did. According to the judges’ evaluation of me, I was fairly good at speaking and answering questions. One mistake that I made was suggesting, or implying, that a judge might have decided a case in a certain way out of prejudice to the heinous conduct of the accused, saying which, I showed disrespect for the judiciary. But I quickly realised I had said the wrong thing without meaning it and quickly backtracked and then moved on when a judge pointed out my intolerable error.

There is one thing that I found especially funny. A bit of background is necessary here. A few weeks ago I was at a committee meeting of the Law Students Society, where we were discussing our constitution. I listened to the details only half-heartedly because I was annoyed with our constitution for a reason that I knew no one was going to bring up. I finally pointed out that the constitution contained several grammatical errors, which I found irritating to no end, and asked whether they would please give me leave to correct them as amendments. They said yes. I went home that night and marked up the twelve pages with little comments such as, “‘hereafter’ needs to be consistent with ‘hereinafter’, used above”, or, “problem with adverb clause”. I didn’t really know what happened to that document after I sent it away, feeling content with the day’s work.

But after the moot, one of the judges, who was on the committee where we had the discussion, said that she had known it was me when she read my factum, because to interpret an offence I went into a good page on its grammatical makeup. I was intrigued. Apparently she had seen the entire document and was rather amused at all my comments. I was just glad she had taken it well.

Exams in a week

In one week from now, I will have written my first December exam. We have all had the chance to write a few other exams, which I think will have made things a bit easier and less stressful. We had a midterm in Regulatory State, which was not bad at all. One thing about law school marks is that some of them come back quickly, while others take much, much too long. I am speaking about the Law in Context exam, which we wrote online at the start of November, and whose mark we won’t see until some indefinite time in January. But, having just had a torts class about defamation, I feel that I had better move on.

I thought I would share a few items of interest about exams. I assumed that it would be easy to listen to senior students’ advice and not worry at all about them. But that is somewhat harder when you are one week away and have a lot of studying to do to get up to scratch. I have probably mentioned before that, having read some articles about law schools in which a common premise was that professors don’t care about students’ performance on exams, I am pleasantly surprised to see that many of my professors have devoted large amounts of class time to going over sample exam questions, suggesting strategies for doing well, and generally encouraging us.

In addition to that, I’ve met with some students, including the president of the Law Students Society, to discuss, inter alia (a judicial term meaning “among other things”), exam-related matters. It also helps to be on the Academic Issues Caucus because there are lots of senior students on the committee who first went through the exam routine only a year or two ago.

Even so, Rebecca’s suggestions of ways to distance oneself from thoughts of exams are most helpful. I have spent a lot of time with other people, not necessarily law students. I find that my studying can be a lot more focused if I have other things to do. If I know that I have nothing to do but study in a single day, it is harder to stay focused than it is if I have plans to have dinner or to go for a walk with someone.

I’m also workin on a computer programming project, which, though a lot of work, succeeds in distracting me plentifully when I need to stop thinking about law. That project is coming to the point where I need to start actually marketing it, so I really do need to give it some thought. And then every so often I have visions of myself developing a database for keeping track of case law that I have read and searching through it, and of designing a tool to generate documents according to the McGill Guide to Legal Citation, the standard used at UBC.

That said, I am currently doing quite well at getting enough sleep and healthy food. I try and maintain a consistent schedule for eating and sleeping so that I am alert when I need to be. I’ve been making a lot of food ahead of time so that I can have, for instance, a nice, warm bowl of homemade coconut curry chicken and vegetable soup in under five minutes.

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!

I’m Somebody. Who Are You?

It is nearing the end of the first day of the orientations program that all incoming law students at UBC go through. I was only a little excited about the program beforehand (up to this morning, that is), but as soon as it started my enthusiasm grew exponentially.

The incoming law students have all been divided into eight small groups. These appear to take on the name of a historical figure in the British Columbia legal system. Some groups seem to have learned a lot about the origin of their names; all I know is that mine is named Goye, so I suppose it will make a sort of project some blustery Vancouver evening to find out more about him. These groups will, they tell us, become a highly useful source of camaraderie for studying and what not, since we have all eight classes together. It was a bit overwhelming to remember all the names and backgrounds. Tomorrow they are to have a group dinner for everyone at a restaurant on Broadway. I almost wish they would wait a fortnight or so and have it when we know each other better and can discuss our professors in privacy, but I bet I’ll like things as they are when I go tomorrow.

We also had a fine introductory presentation, the first twelve minutes of which being a rather informative session on the history of the first nation upon whose land our law school sits. Then we heard presentations from a few people involved in the legal profession in British Columbia. I’m entirely new to everything about law, never having so much as given it a thought till recently, so names like de Jong meant nothing to me. Yet each one of them proved a fascinating and engaging speaker. I must admit to having wondered, throughout the day, whether I was indeed in the right program, as one does when starting something so new and different. As I listened through the speeches, I began to feel altogether more excited and free from inhibitions. It really helps me to feel that I’m worthy of accomplishments when those profiled talk about how they felt in the moment where we are now, a week before classes are to start.

At the barbecue which followed, I couldn’t help but wonder whether one of our sponsoring law firms’ heaviest clients was a doughnut chain, for the doughnuts at the barbecue came in addition to those presented along with coffee at the small group introductions. They are, to be sure, excellent doughnuts. But more importantly, I had conversations in depth with a graduate in computer science, a student in the First Nations program, and a student originally from the Ukraine, all of whom demonstrated the sheer wealth of background and diversity in our class. I came in thinking everyone would have a degree in political science, but I met students who can boast of five-to-ten-year careers in large computing corporations and in public interest and social services, and whose commerce backgrounds are impressive to the utmost, and some English majors who came straight to law school without doing anything spectacular in the interim.

For now, I’m very pleased with the day and ready for another. Tomorrow we shall have more lectures, which means more of a summary to come.