Thursday, 30 October 2014

Do not be a Law School Mean Girl! Welcome a Transfer Student Today!

          Unlike my arrival at Ludlow Hall last year when I knew nobody, upon my return in September, I was welcomed back by familiar faces. The overwhelming experience of meeting all new people in 1L meant transfer students were invisible to me. Everyone was new.

          Not this year. For better or for worse, at a small law school like the University of New Brunswick, transfer students do not have the luxury of flying below the radar. They are noticed. But I question whether they are sufficiently acknowledged by current students.

          The thought of a transfer student reminds me of Mean Girls starring Lindsay Lohan. In the cult movie, Lohan’s character transfers from Africa to the U.S.A. where she loses her identity while getting caught up wanting to integrate among a crowd of popular high-school girls led by the hateful self-absorbed Regina George.

          Similarly, law school can be a tough place to join midway.

          Read more in my most recent Ab Initio column in Canadian Lawyer Magazine

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

See no students, hear no students: are law societies listening to us?

          There is rising doubt as to whether the voice of law and articling students is being heard in respect to decisions pertaining to the future of the profession. Case in point: the Law Society of New Brunswick’s special meeting on Sept. 13 to reconsider the council’s Trinity Western University accreditation decision.

          The meeting was convened upon the council’s receipt of a petition by hundreds of members dissatisfied by the council’s decision earlier this summer to permit Trinity Western’s law graduates to practise law in the province. The decision doesn’t sit well with many members since the university’s mandatory code of conduct discriminates against homosexuals by upholding the sanctity of marriage between members of the opposite sex.

         The code is offensive enough that the law societies in Ontario and Nova Scotia voted against accreditation earlier in the year. The petition included a motion to revisit the decision.

          Speaking and voting privileges at the meeting were given only to law society members. The rule excludes a key stakeholder: the student. Law students at the province’s two law schools — the University of New Brunswick and Universit√© de Moncton — as well as New Brunswick’s articling students were unable to speak to the motion at the special meeting which was eventually endorsed in a remarkable vote of 137 to 30.

          Generally speaking, student viewpoints skew more progressive and lack cynicism. We, many of whom will one day be practitioners and members of a provincial law society, represent the future. And while we are still finding our sea legs in this ocean of law, we are solution oriented. Our interests are great and our perspectives are valid.


          “At the end of the day, they have to follow what is in our legislation. It was a members’ meeting. They’re the only ones able to speak,” says Marc Richard, executive director of the Law Society of New Brunswick. “If we decide to open it up, when does it end because members of the public also wanted to attend but it’s a members’ meeting. We have to follow the rules.”

          Read more in my Canadian Lawyer Magazine Ab Initio column this month.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Balancing Scholarship and Activism

          In this Ab Initio column, I elaborate on the challenge and satisfaction of taking a stand while studying law, putting my education to work.

http://www.canadianlawyermag.com/5187/Balancing-scholarship-and-activism.html

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Branching Out! Boardroom2Classroom is Evolving

          Today, my first Ab Initio column ran in Canadian Lawyer Magazine. "We are more alike than we might think" traces my start to law school and the commonality of my experience with fellow law school students. Happy reading!

Saturday, 19 April 2014

8 Reminders I’m a mature student

          As classes wrap up this week, followed by ten days of final exams, I catch myself reflecting on moments of humour and contemplation during the year when my age was obvious. It sometimes felt like a game of “one of these things is not like the other.” I felt old in class when…

1 …professors would frame the Mulroney Years (1984 to 1993) for students as a time long, long ago. I remember them well.

2 …it became clear I was among a handful in the class that meets Senate age eligibility (30+)

3 …jokes by profs about how our grandparents would react to our newfound legal thinking over Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner that didn’t make me laugh as much as my classmates. In those moments, I missed my now deceased Nana, Buppy, Grama and Grampa.

4. …I noticed classmates stealthily darting between social media sites and messenger apps on their laptops during gaps in a lecture, always of at least often with a sixth sense of when the professor says something relevant, then returning to their word doc to capture the idea. (I felt even older when visiting Facebook myself during lecture and then, transfixed on the content, surfacing moments later and wondering what the hell I’d missed that everyone was busy typing down; clearly I’m not as skilled a multi-tasker!)

5 …when professors patronizingly talk about expectations and standards “in the real world.” Having worked in “the real world” for the better part of a decade, it often took great willpower to keep from rolling my eyes.

6 …I routinely forgot that all our course materials are online through a secure portal. This online feature was not available in my first two undergrads. The ultimate in convenience!

7 …a professor, lecturing on liability in rental car agreements, asked if anyone in the room had rented a car before and five out of forty five hands were raised. WHAT!? Most of these kids haven’t rented a car before!?

8 ...a professor talks about the 70s then says we’re all too young to know about the 70s and my saucy classmate, Amber, seated in the front row, cranks her head around, makes eye contact with me and laughs. Busted.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Mootin' On Up!

          
Robed and ready with my partner Sarah Peel.
          Last week I finished my moot. Dreaded or beloved, the moot is key element of the Ludlow 1L experience. The moot is a simulated courtroom assignment where we are assigned to role play a party in an appeal case and must argue in front of a panel of judges. The exercise is intended to give students a taste of litigation and the courtroom. I have come to learn in school that not all lawyers must appear in court nor in fact are most disputes resolved in a courtroom given barriers to the justice system, mainly the expense. It also helps students decide if they wish to take an optional moot course in upper years.

          Hearsay suggests that most Canadian law schools assign the moot in second year when students have a better handle of the legal labyrinth but not UNB. Each year, 1Ls cobble together their mere six months of legal education in an effort to come off like The Good Wife. <momentary pause in respect of Alicia Florik>

          It is important to state that the moot is only one portion of a half credit course called Fundamentals of Advocacy which apparently few employers consider heavily given the comparative importance of substantive courses such as Criminal, Contracts and Property Law. Upper year students repeatedly advised my class not to become consumed with the moot at the expense of other classes. However, given the type A over achiever personality profile of most law students, the moot might as well be the bar exam. It’s all or nothing with these people, and admittedly myself at times Okay, most of the time. Okay, okay, all of the time.

          Working with partners of our choice, 1Ls were assigned to represent a party (respondent or appellant) in an appeal case in January. All civil litigation cases (a dispute between two private parties), they covered various areas of law. My partner, Sarah Peel, and I were delighted with a property case where a dispute arose between two friends over a contest prize.

          Specifically, the case was modelled after Tim Horton’s annual Roll up the Rim contest where a guy buys two coffees for him and his friend and the friend’s cup wins her $250,000. They attempt to divide the prize but cannot settle on a fair split. So, the greedy pair head to court, both arguing for the full value of the prize. The trial judge found in our client’s favour but the purchaser isn’t having it; thus the appeal.

Prep

          Stare decisis is the name of the game in Canada’s legal system so Sarah and I got to work uncovering cases that replicated the facts of our case by pouring through sophisticated databases of jurisprudence (fancy word for cases upon cases upon cases). My first surprise was how many disputes over contests and lottery wins end up in court because at least one if not both parties were blinded by greed and unable to resolve the dispute independently. We also worked collaboratively with our opponents to broaden our research efforts. The four of us were guided by two bright and animated second-year coaches assigned to us by the Law Students' Society.

          As we prepared for the actual moot, I was fairly relaxed. Years of working in public relations and on air interviews assured me that I could do this. PR tactics such as preparing key messages, knowing my audience and staying calm all came back to me. My coaches advised us to treat the appeal court as a sort of conversation. “No problem,” I thought to myself. I’m great at conversations. I’m a solid listener. And over the years, I’ve become pretty good at tough conversations like disciplining an employee or negotiating a salary.

Practice

          Bahahahaha. Cut to my practice bench where we rehearse the moot in front of upper year students who enjoy preying on 1Ls. The practice included all the same formalities of the actual moot which immediately gave me a shot of angst. As the respondents, we argue second and I had the benefit/hardship of watching our opponents get a royal walloping from the judges who constantly interrupted their planned remarks with questions of clarification, hypotheticals and legal principles.

          Witnessing the slaughter, I became terrified. Properly terrified. I could feel my face warming, my mouth dry and my hands tremble. I didn’t want to look like an idiot in front of my upper year peers but was pretty certain that was the scenario that was about to unfold. As our opponents wrapped their arguments, I sought some reassurance from my partner whose calm and reason I admire. “I’m scared” I wrote on a piece of paper. “Me too” she responded. Oi.

          Up I went to the podium and stuttered through my opening comments. Then came the first question from a judge. My coaches’ advice – be brief and on topic – occurred to me and I answered the question succinctly. Then came another. And another. And another. Tough ones that made me think though nothing was coming to me. As I fidgeted at the podium, I could feel my armpits getting sweaty. “Oh gross,” I thought to myself.

          Fully rattled, I clung to the words of my prepared remarks like a life preserver. The thought of establishing eye contact with the judges went right out the window as I read verbatim from my notes. Then came another question. This time, not tough but completely over my head. It might as well have been posed in Swahili.

          My immediate response: laughter. Full on, unadulterated laughter. I looked at five sombre faces – three belonging to the judges and two belonging to my coaches – and quickly stopped. This in turn made the situation that much funnier which then caused another burst of “hahahahas.” Then I got stone cold serious and attempted an answer.

          The practice bench achieved what it was supposed to: lessons to learn from. And my list was long but one key theme emerged: be respectful of the court. Apparently, appeal court’s conversational tone still means counsel needs to do a fair share of grovelling.

Performance

          Ten days of moots kicked off on February 21 and the first group got a royal spanking by the judges. Rumours of an abusive and insulting judge who caused doubt, angst and even tears among the student counsellors before him quickly spread through the 1L class (as most scuttlebutt does given UNB’s small size). This put most 1Ls on edge; myself included.

          When our moot day came, I suited up, received a pep talk from the coaches and stepped into the classroom-turned-courtroom. Thankfully, our judges included an inquisitive but respectful professor, an astute third year law student and a sharp lawyer whose demeanour and humour reminded me of Nathan Lane. Again, given the speaking order, my partner and I had the benefit of observing the line of questioning our opponents had to tackle.

          The questions lobbed our way tested our preparation and reasoning. The judges asked my position on several convoluted scenarios which mimicked our case. One was about the reasonableness of someone keeping the porcelain tea cup used to hold their tea when hosted in a friend’s home. I tried to distinguish the scenario from the case at bar and couldn’t help thinking how much I’d rather be enjoying tea at a friend’s in that moment even though I don’t particularly care for tea! But as the questioning and testing continued, it became rather fun and I found myself at ease.

          The judges later recessed and returned to deliver their decision: both parties were to split the prize money and neither would receive costs (the reimbursement of legal fees). So, everyone won!
Afterwards, the judges met with us in a lounge to offer their constructive feedback which was largely positive. I was told my confidence and speaking style was good (yay!) but some of my answers lacked substance (woops!).

          I’m trusting that the substance will develop over time. In the meantime, I find myself on the fence as to whether I will take another moot course.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

New Year’s Resolutions: a few Lessons from First Semester

          With the strike over and a return to classes last Monday, it’s a fresh start to the academic year! Having survived my first semester with a few bruises, there are lessons learned and advice received that I am keen to apply as I soldier on to on to April finals. I don’t want to give away all my tricks (my competitive streak is beginning to develop) but these are my top three:

1. Consult secondary sources. On most course syllabi, professors suggest secondary case or textbooks in addition to the required resources which are available on hold at the law library. As exams approached, I flipped through a couple which in some cases helped to crystallize concepts. I plan to make this a more regular routine throughout the second semester.

2. Make each case a story. The list of cases to know in law school seems endless. The fact that many are mind numbing does not help. On the advice of my cousin, a lawyer in Los Angeles, I applied a storyline to cases I struggled to memorize, complete with a protagonist (usually the plaintiff), villain (often the defendant), narrative etc… Admittedly, some were bloody boring stories but the technique generally worked and I want to continue applying it.

3. Exercise OUTDOORS. Fredericton’s winter weather doesn't make outdoor exercise easy but taking breaks from reading and school during warmer weather breaks to jog along Waterloo Row and the St. John River always distracted me and let me think of something other than law school and the goings on at Ludlow Hall.