Author Archives: nikkihair

Judicial Externship

Dear 1L’s, 2L’s and law school hopefuls,

I am currently a judicial intern through UBC’s Judicial Externship Program and I can definitively say, without hesitation, that this was the best way for me to end my last three years of law school. For those that know nothing about the program here is a bit of context. Every semester for the past nine years, eight third year law students from UBC are posted at Provincial Courthouses across B.C. I am at the Surrey Courthouse with another intern, there are three interns rotating through the Vancouver courts (Main, Robson, North Van and Richmond), one intern in Port Coquitlam, one in Victoria and one in Prince George. Monday through Thursday we work at our courthouse and on Fridays we have a three hour seminar at UBC to reflect on the experience. The program runs for the entire semester and we get 16 credits for the semester; the Externship is pass/fail but we receive a percentage grade for the seminar.

The work that we do at the courts mainly consists of observing court and doing research and writing memos for judges. However, that sentence does not begin to capture the invaluable lessons that we have all been learning from this experience. As an intern, I am no longer just an observer who snuck in the door and hesitantly grabbed a seat in the back corner, hoping not to interrupt anything and feeling out of place. As an intern, I have a “backstage” pass to the process. Literally, I have a security pass that allows me into chambers and my “office” is in the judge’s library. From there, I converse with the judges on the cases that they are hearing, they call us down to watch when something interesting is going on and they will often call us into chambers on breaks or stop by our “office” to discuss what was heard. I am on a first name basis with some of the clerks and sheriffs and they will stop and provide their perspectives and tidbits of information. Some of the sheriffs have been in the courthouse longer than the judges and have some great war stories to share.

To top it all off, all of we are being sent to a district court (in the North for most of us) and on a circuit with a judge. For example, on February 20th I will be heading to Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands) for a week to observe court in Queen Charlotte City and Masset. On February 27th I will be heading to Prince Rupert for three days to have a one on one experience with the judges up there. This unique experience allows us to contrast the city court process to the ones in small towns and with predominantly First Nations communities. I cannot speak to this experience just yet, since I haven’t been on my circuit, but here’s a link to Marlisse Silver-Sweeney’s experience from last year, I have also posted a couple pictures from Rianna Molby’s experience in Bella Bella from a few weeks ago.

All in all, the actual experience of the Externship has been amazing so far. At the Surrey court all of the judges have been very welcoming and are happy to take us under their wing. This isn’t an experience where we are loaded with research work and are typing away in the court library until the wee hours of the night. Unless we have a busy week, most of us are at the courtsfrom 9-5pm and free on weekends. Oh yah, didn’t I mention that there are no readings, papers, or exams? Yup, you read me right, I have FREE TIME! It’s an amazing feeling that I haven’t quite gotten used to just yet. To clarify, there is some work involved, for the seminar we are required to post a weekly journal entry on Vista and then comment on each other’s journals. We are also required to do a half hour presentation at some point during the term, most likely on our circuit experience.

In contrast to the last couple years, the workload is significantly less, but I may dare to say that the learning experience has been significantly higher, at least in terms of practical learning. This experience has made the courts far less intimidating. I have learned what to do and what not to do from my own observations but also from the judges letting me know when a lawyer was effective or ineffective. I am enhancing my research experience by researching obscure issues that the judges rarely come across and sometimes from having to quickly find a case on point that they know is relevant but can’t quite remember the name. I am also learning the formalities of court, when the breaks are, when to bow, and who to make friends with. These are all things that I would learn at some point in my articling experience but now I already have and am hoping my first time in court will be a less terrifying experience. I know I will still mess up at some point but at least now I won’t mess up quite as badly, one would hope.

Ultimately, this is an experience that you can’t get again, unless you clerk, but even then, from what I hear, a clerking experience is more research and work focussed. The Externship program is very much focused on our education and ensuring that we spend time on not only research and writing but also watching court and learning from the judges and lawyers.

If this post has piqued your curiosity and you have anymore questions please feel free to send them my way, you can also email Sharon Sutherland, the program director, at The application deadline is February 15th, so get moving fast if you’re in second year!

Have fun reading this weekend, I think I’m going to go out now and enjoy the sunshine 🙂

~ Nikki

Life as an Exchange Student

Hello from lovely Manchester. Currently lovely because it does not look like it’s going to rain today – the definition of a good day in Manchester. I am a 3L student at UBC but at the moment I am on exchange to the University of Manchester for first semester and I thought I would share how the experience has been thus far.

In a word, amazing. To be fair, classes started on September 26th, so I have only been in school for about three weeks…but on the bright side, classes started on September 26th, so I have only been in school for about three weeks. The great thing about doing an exchange through Go Global, whether you’re a law student or any other student at UBC is that you have the privilege of experiencing an international education without paying the international fees. So far, the professors have been great, the classes are interesting and I am studying with a large international class, I was told in orientation that approximately 1 out of 4 students are international. My flatmates (roommates) are also international students, one from Nigeria and the other from Indonesia, I am therefore constantly learning something new about places I have yet to travel to.

Speaking of travel, Manchester has one of the main airports in the UK and is central enough to facilitate easy travel. I have already been to Italy and Edinburgh and have booked trips to Prague, Barcelona and Dublin. Jealous? You should be.

Back to the educational part of this trip, the reason I am here, of course. A full course load is three classes and I only spend about 7 hours a week in lecture. The rest of the time is in seminars or the library, a seminar here would be similar to a tutorial session back home. There is a fair amount of independent study and a heavy load of reading. Manchester is one of the few universities in the UK which allows for fall assessment instead of requiring exchange students to return in January to write the exams. Therefore, I am writing major term papers for all three of my classes which will be based on a question assigned by the professors.

The most interesting class that I am taking would be Counter Terrorism. We have weekly seminars which are essentially hour long debates on the readings and we are pre-assigned which side to take. It definitely forces the students to come up with arguments that might be against their personal beliefs and so far the debates have been extremely interesting. There are no marks allocated to the seminar and so the environment is relaxed but students still take the time to come prepared with arguments.

Manchester itself is a great city, very vibrant and young because of the University and always has something going on. But if you think you can handle the rain just because you’re from Vancouver, think again. There are days of rain here where the rain pours down in buckets and the wind whips it at you from all angles, making an umbrella utterly useless and this is a normal rainy day. I have also heard predictions of snow for the end of October…so that should be fun. Although, my flatmate from Indonesia has never seen snow before and is ridiculously excited for the first snow fall, seeing it from her point of view will be a pretty amazing thing.

Till next time, cheers love!

“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.

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…