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Second year begins and OCI’s approach

I spent last September wrapping my head around the newness of law school—new classmates, new profs, new program, new lingo, new pressures… Second year has a comfortable familiarity to it that I am very much enjoying.

I also got to pick all my classes this year.  One of the perks of going to a larger law school is that there are plenty of course options to choose from.  I hemmed and hawed over my selections, and eventually decided to get a good number of the basics under my belt this year.  I’m doing mostly standard classes that I figured would open my eyes to various practice areas: Corporations, Tax, Family, Intellectual Property, Administrative Law and Evidence.  But I’m also doing a couple of classes for my pre-established love of the subject matter.  For example, I’m taking a seminar on feminist analysis of Canadian law and legal systems.  During my undergrad I took a course on feminist literary criticism to satisfy some prerequisite, and it turned out to be one of my all-time favourite classes.  I am also doing a competitive moot to investigate whether I might want to be a litigator when I graduate.  All in all, I am content with my plan and selections.

With that said, I can say with a high degree of certainty that upper year classes are both more demanding and more technical than first year.  This is probably not surprising to anyone reading this blog, but it makes me regret getting my hopes up for a breezy semester of only 4 (rather than 6.5) classes.

Another substantial difference between first and second year is the hunt for second year summer positions.  You see, I, and many of my classmates, would like to work for a firm or the government next summer.  It’s an opportunity to get hands-on experience in various legal practice areas, as well as a way to secure articles (most places will hire back their summer students as articling students).  Many of the firms that hire summer students do so through the On Campus Interview (OCI) process.  “OCI” technically refers to a 17-minute interview between students and law firms, but the acronym “OCI” stands for much, much more.  The OCI process begins over the summer, when hopeful students across the country research firms and prepare application packages.  Firms respond by inviting candidates for OCI’s as a preliminary interview, but the hiring process does not end there.  Fortunate students will be invited for second (and maybe third) interviews, which are more substantial and take place at the law firm.  These interviews might also include dinners and other social events.  The firms will make their actual hires at the end of October.

So OCI’s have been lingering in the back of my mind since the first day of classes.

While this process is a tad intimidating (some firms participate in OCI’s across the country, making the competition seem palpable), it might also be a way of avoiding some of the pitfalls of more traditional interviews: the more time students and firms spend together, the better they get to know each other.  While nothing is a guarantee, it is possible that a second year summer position will turn into a career.

So, OCI’s start tomorrow!  And I am nervous.  I will let you know how they go!

1L: A Retrospective

First year has come to an end, so a retrospective is probably in order (if not overdue).

On our very first day of orientation, the president of the Law Student’s Society compared first year to a roller-coaster ride. I couldn’t agree more with her analogy. There were a few people who appeared to love every moment of it, but I think for most of us there were ups and downs, with twists and turns. With that said, it was more good than bad. The workload is challenging, but it’s manageable. The marks look nothing like undergrad (the days of A+’s are OVER), but at least everyone’s in the same boat. For me, it took a couple months to get oriented, but once I did it became much easier to set priorities, estimate how much time an assignment should take, and anticipate my professors’ expectations.

Here are a few things that worked well and that I learned over the last eight months:

Sign-ups for the extra-curricular activities took place at the very beginning of the year. I decided to join the curling team and LSLAP. I found this to be just the right amount of commitment: I don’t wish I did more. I’ve talked about LSLAP in other posts, so I’ll just say that it was a good way of getting some exposure to the legal profession right off the bat.  I learned about procedural stuff (like file management), as well as really key lawyer stuff (like how important it is to manage your client’s expectations).

The curling team was a blast. Not only did I learn to throw rocks, it was a way to connect with upper year students. This was the furthest thing from my mind when I signed up for the team, but it turned out to be a pleasant surprise. It was awesome to be able to discuss the first year experience, the second-year summer job hunt, upper year classes, and post-law school plans in an informal environment.

Besides the standard extra-curriculars, there were numerous events we were invited to attend. I went to a handful of things, and was always glad when I did. But I missed to a lot of things too. For me, it was important to keep some room in my life for non-law stuff. I live with my partner and have friends and family that were also priorities. Of course, this is not to say that the social/ firm events aren’t worthwhile! Not only are they a good time, they’re great opportunities to connect with interesting people. My point is that there are always things going on, so don’t feel like you have to go to everything.

As for school itself, it was a lot of work (no surprise). My strategy was to take notes by hand in class and then type them up over the weekend, filling in any blanks and reviewing as I went along. I know— this sounds like a time-consuming way of doing things, and it was. But when March and April hit, I was glad that I had put in all that effort throughout the year. I couldn’t believe how much material we had covered in each class. Reviewing it all was a ton of work!  I was glad that I wasn’t also trying to learn new concepts at the same time. With that said, I saw lots of approaches and I’m not saying this is the best/ only way. It’s just what I did.

The last thing I’d like to pass along is that people are really approachable. Lawyers are busy, but most of them are not too busy for you. I was put in contact with a few lawyers who work in areas of law I find interesting. They were more than happy to answer my somewhat-silly questions, such as “What do you like about your job?” It can be intimidating establishing those connections, but it’s easier than it may look.

Professors also make lots of time for their students and are excellent resources. The workload was such that I didn’t find a whole lot of time to indulge when my interest was piqued, but on the one occasion when I did meet with a professor to discuss an area of interest, it was very rewarding. Not only are profs experts in their fields, they know a lot about the opportunities in those fields. They’re worth talking to.

So that’s first year! Good luck!

The Pros of Being a 2L

As a 1L student at this time last year, we began to wonder (assuming we would pass the April final exams) what 2L would be like. Would it be easier or harder? What courses would we choose? What would it be like not to have the bond of a small group in all classes? Now, over three-quarters of the way through 2L, we think it’s safe to say that 2L is pretty great. Here are a few of our favourite things. 

First of all, before even starting 2L there is the craziness of big firm summer applications.  If you are interested in the prospect of working for a large firm in the summer before 3L, your September and October will consist of OCI’s and interviews.  It goes without saying that not everyone wants to work at a large corporate law firm.  Try not to be influenced by what “everyone else is doing” and decide based on your own goals and interests whether this is an opportunity that appeals to you.  It is a great learning experience and at the very least an opportunity to meet many practitioners in the Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto legal communities.  Just remember to be cognizant of the fact that this will NOT be your only chance to get a job.  Not only will you have the opportunity to apply for articling positions at large firms the following June, but there are also many positions offered by boutique firms, the Attorney General’s office and public interest organizations, to name a few.

Second of all, you get to choose courses! There are many opportunities to explore areas you’re interested in as well as areas you didn’t even know about, like cultural heritage and art law.  Make sure to look into the various clinical options as well, including Moots, the Innocence Project, First Nations Legal Clinic, Criminal Clinic, Mediation Clinic and the Externship. We encourage you to branch out to new areas and to familiarize yourself with the courses and pertinent dates for program applications. 

In 2L, you are thrown into classes that have both 2L and 3L students. These classes can be challenging and definitely take law to all new levels, but one great thing is that the final exams only cover material from the semester, as opposed to the entire year in 1L. And you’re pretty much a CAN-making expert by now, so the whole process seems more manageable. With more diverse classes, there are also great opportunities to meet more students and make more friends! 

Once the initial shock of being in law school has worn off, getting involved is suddenly more realistic.  You still have two years ahead of you, so why not make them memorable and, dare we say it, enjoyable.  If you made a choice in to focus solely on academics as a 1L, make sure you consider joining a committee, participating in the Law Revue, becoming a member of the LSS or playing on the Rugby team next year.  Attend school events – even if you’re only going for the cheap bZZr.  The best law school memories take place outside the classroom, so get involved.  While you may not enjoy being bombarded by water balloons at the trike race, it certainly beats camping out in the library all year.

All in all, 2L is great! As can probably be said of your whole legal life that lies ahead, there are lots of things to look forward to. 

-Kate and Laura

First Year, Second Semester

It’s hard to believe, but this semester is almost half over— I am two months away from finishing my first year of law school! Incredible! When I returned to classes after the winter break, I noticed this semester felt different than the last. My classmates were now friends. I was down with much of the technical lingo. I had survived my first taste of law exams.

Now that I’ve got a decent handle on school, I’ve turned some of my attention towards what comes after I graduate. I know—it does seem fast! I mean I’ve still got two more years of classes ahead of me! But next September, I plan on interviewing with some firms and government departments to get a second year summer position, which I hope will turn into articles. In other words, things move quickly around here.

This has got me asking 2 big questions: “What type of law do I want to practice?” and “What type of firm would I like to work for?” The last few weeks have given me a little more insight to help answer both of these questions.

Our first major assignment this semester was the moot—which both Andrew and Graham have talked about. It was a pretty big deal, if you ask me. My class did a sentencing appeal, which was a fascinating experience. The assignment had two parts to it: the written submission (the “factum”) and oral advocacy (when you actually plead your case to a panel of lawyers acting as judges). I underestimated both how difficult writing the factum would be, and how much I would enjoy the oral advocacy aspect.

While I am pretty sure I don’t want to go into criminal law after I graduate, litigation in general is looking more and more appealing. With that in mind, I’m thinking I’ll take advantage of some upper year opportunities. There are competitive moots to try out for, plus courses in trial advocacy, psychology and litigation, and mediation— which all sound very attractive.

I don’t mean to say that I’ve made up my mind and I will be a litigator in three years, but it’s nice to have my interest piqued.

As for the second question—what type of firm would I like to work for?—I’ve gotten some insight on that too.

I didn’t go to many of the firm sponsored events at the beginning of the school year, but this semester I’ve had several occasions to get different people’s perspective on life as a lawyer.

Each year Career Services hosts all the “big” Vancouver firms for a wine and cheese. It’s like a classy trade show! Each firm has a booth with their recruiters/ articling students/ lawyers to answer questions. This was a great experience. I talked to firms about their areas of law, their approaches to mentoring and training articling students, and what they look for in students they hire. I got really useful answers!

Also, my Bar Association mentor, a civil litigator in a downtown firm, got me in touch with two women she went to law school with. One is a federal prosecutor who focuses primarily on drug trafficking offences, the other works at a small family law firm. It was good to hear what they enjoy about their jobs. I also got a better sense of the differences between working at a big firm versus the government or a small firm.

While I am still short on definite answers as to where I’ll be in three years, I’ve got a better idea of what my options are. That’s pretty good for now.

Are you coming?

For all those undergrads / other applicants who have been reading this blog:

  • Have you decided where you’ll be attending law school?
  • If so, where?
  • What criteria are you using for your decision?

Last week, I was talking to a student from my alma mater. He was finishing his final undergraduate term, and had started to receive acceptance letters from various law schools. UBC was one of them, but he hadn’t made up his mind where he wanted to go (Queen’s was also high on his list).

If you haven’t heard back yet either way, don’t feel too bad. Because I’m a “discretionary applicant” (I had earned master’s degree before I applied), I didn’t hear from UBC until mid-June. And then, it was a one-sentence email that essentially said “please call us; we don’t seem to have your proper address.” So the process may simply take some time.

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.

Whom does it serve?

In Arthurian legend,* a young knight of the Round Table named Percival once visited a place where a castle, and the ruined land around it, were ruled by a wounded king. While in the castle, Percival saw numerous miraculous things, including the king eating from a glowing chalice that was surely Holy Grail. Percival was amazed and curious by what he saw, but kept silent. His training as a knight instructed him not to ask questions, and instead to rely on available information for decision-making.

When Percival left the castle, both castle and king (and Grail) magically disappeared. According to legend, had Percival asked the right question, he would have obtained the Grail, and both king and land would have been healed. He was later asked, “How could someone appearing to be so successful fail to use common sense and distrust his intuition by not questioning what might be occurring?”

Eventually – after many long years of trials and challenges – Percival re-discovers the castle, and finally is able to ask the king the proper question about the Grail: “Whom does it serve?” King and land are healed, Percival wins the Grail, though many long years had needlessly passed between.

In law school, the question I find myself asking the most is “whom does it serve?” Not because I’m afraid that my legal knowledge will be put to ill use, or because I think I’m on the quest for the Holy Grail (literally or metaphorically). Rather, it’s a question of logical organization: as Nikki noted in her previous post, law students deal with a massive amount of information. Understanding why we’re studying something can help us relate lessons to each other, put pieces in context, and ask the right questions. At a cognitive level, knowing what we’ll do with information can help us to store, process, and understand it.

For some, the answer seems to be informed by desired career paths. If I want to be a litigator, I might focus carefully on my moot assignment. If I’m interested Charter challenges, I’ll pay close attention to constitutional, criminal, and transnational law readings. Still, that’s not a sure bet: UBC Law’s Career Services Office has been fantastic at setting up lunch-hour career panels, but one thing I’ve learned from them is that legal career paths often take unexpected turns. One panelist from an environmental-focused public interest law firm had never taken an environmental law class in his life; another, a federal court judge, told us that being a justice was never his career goal. You don’t always know where you’ll end up after law school, we’ve been told, just as we’ve heard “it doesn’t matter what classes you take” from multiple panelists. While wading through piles of reading, I find myself on shaky ground when trying to figure out “whom does it serve.”

One thing is clear, though: at this point, the information is in great part being learned to “serve” our April exams. Wading through hundreds of pages of reading each week, it’s important to figure out what we’ll need to know for the tests (since those tests, in turn, decide our all-important grades). Practical considerations can be secondary; more than one assignment has edited out real-world aspects. Still, I’m not sure that I’d go as far as to repeat what we occasionally hear from legal practitioners, that “what you learn in law school won’t apply in your legal career.” At the very least, we’re getting a background in theory and knowledge of the law. We’re learning to sharpen our minds, work hard, and hopefully – just like Percival – ask the right questions.

(* Like most legends, there are many variations of this story of Percival and the Grail. This is simply the version I’m most familiar with.)

“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.

It’s a moot point

This term, we first year students are being introduced to another fun, new aspect of law school: mooting.

I’ve been describing a moot to my friends as a “fake court case,” though that’s not quite accurate. A moot is a fake court appeal case, the hypothetical review of a case that has already been decided.

The moot is worth 25% of the grade in our criminal law class. The actual grade is for the factum – the written arguments that each side would submit to the court – and then there is a mandatory but non-graded oral presentation to real legal practitioners. The UBC moot has a complicated set of rules [PDF], and we’ve been given some guidelines on how to approach it.

My class’ case is based on the real-life case of R v Steele [2007]. In both cases, would-be robbers are surprised to find people at home during a break and enter. The accused threaten “we have a gun,” which subdues the home’s occupants until the robbers can flee. They’re caught a few minutes later. While they had a gun in their getaway car, they did not actually bring it into the house with them.

The question focuses on whether or not the accused were “using” the gun during the break and enter. If the courts find that they did, they are guilty of a second crime. Neither the statute nor the common law (that we’re allowed to use) answer the question, so it’s up to us to argue it out.  In real life, the Supreme Court of Canada found that the accused did “use” the weapon even though it was not on their person during the break and enter, but in the moot assignment, that Court found the opposite.

It’s a pretty enjoyable (and educational) task, but if this was a real case, we’d look through past court cases to help find guidance or authorities for our arguments. Here, we’re not allowed to do that. So while there are some fun educational pieces to the moot, this one seems to hold to the “we only trust you with baby steps” approach to first year law school. As before, I still believe we can set better educational tasks that involve more realistic practice. But of course, given the current approach, that is a potentially unrealistic discussion … I’m sure there’s a term for that

A change from previous years, the moot factums are due early this term. My team (we’re the Crown) has their written assignment due this Tuesday, Jan 18. I’m thankfully done most of my submission, but I know a lot of my other law peers will be hitting the books pretty seriously this weekend.

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…