Recently Omar Ha-Redeye and Simon Borys (that’s me) (both contributors to this blog) were interviewed by Michael McKiernan for Articling How To, an article in the Canadian Lawyer4Students magazine. In it, Michael discusses how students can set themselves up for an articling position in the midst of this present articling crisis.
He talks about doing something to set yourself apart from the crowd by “thinking small” (Omar’s topic), “taking the initiative”, “knowing your options”, “embracing old technology”, and “embracing new technology” (my topic).
In terms of “thinking small”, Michael wrote:
Bay Street firms run their articling programs like a well-oiled machine and provide a large chunk of the available spots, so it’s no surprise that they’re front of mind for law school career counsellors, says Toronto lawyer Omar Ha-Redeye. But the 2011 Ontario call advises more students to think small. “I think for people who are going into litigation, smaller firms are better options. I was in court more than anybody I know. I was really thrown into the mix and was on my feet the whole time,” he says.
In terms of embracing new technology, Michael wrote:
In a competitive articling environment, you have to make yourself stand out. And the earlier, the better, according to Simon Borys, a second-year law student at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., who has put a great deal of effort into building his online profile. “Everyone comes to the table with law degrees, so you have to demonstrate to future employers what you bring in addition. Online activities are a great way to showcase that,” he says.
Borys highlights his own history as a police officer on his blog, which he uses as a platform to link up with fellow students, senior practitioners, and potential future employers. He’s also active on Twitter and participates in online legal discussion groups. And it’s paid dividends, because he’s already secured a summer position at a criminal law firm, with a strong chance to return to complete his articles. “It’s been very well received and I’ve made lots of connections,” says Borys.
All of the things Michael discusses in this article are highly relevant to students currently seeking articling, especially considering the present scarcity of articling jobs. It’s not enough in this day and age to come to the job market with just a law degree and your hand out and expect that someone will give you a job. You don’t have to use new technology, like I do, but you have to do something! Read Michael’s article and think about what might work for you.
Simon Borys is a law student at Queen’s University in Kingston. He is also a former police officer and an an aspiring criminal lawyer. His Blog, Simon Says, focuses on dispelling policing myths and demystifying the law.
Recently Alexandra Kozlov wrote a great article for Canadian Lawyer 4Students on how law students can boost their job prospects with a good online profile.
Much has been written about succeeding in law school, but not as much has been said about remaining healthy and sane while succeeding. Having just finished my first law school exams this past December, I thought it beneficial to engage in much needed reflection on study habits and things that worked and did not work for me in my last semester. In recalling and pondering my previous exam and study strategies and the effectiveness thereof, what stuck me most was the considerable physiological and physical toll that the stress of exams had on my body. Coincidentally, I recently stumbled upon an old blog post from Adam Letourneau, which reminded me and should remind all of us that it makes no sense to sacrifice health for wealth now in order to spend my wealth to regain my health in future. Health is wealth and whatever stress-reducing routine we practice now as students will be much more easily carried forward when we are lawyers. Although he writes from the perspective of an established lawyer, his tips are attributable to the life of a law student and many of them have worked for me personally in times past:
Lately, I have been pushing hard, trying to make everything work at the firm, trying to become accredited as a mediator and arbitrator, trying to keep my publishing house on track (we just signed 3 new authors), and coping with having four children. At work , we are trying to focus our practice towards 2 or 3 areas, rather than being a general practice. It’s really paying off, especially as we forge strong relationships with business partners. We are also opening up a mediation/arbitration/coaching centre in our law office, and that is really exciting. The world is my oyster, so to speak.
However, all of this takes its toll. I went out for supper a couple weeks ago with some classmates. They seemed genuinely tired of the lawyer life. Long hours, high demands, boredom, difficulty with senior lawyers, etc. My demands are not quite the same. I do have stress, the requirement of a steep learning curve, high customer service expectations, and the challenge of keeping a full staff.
I thought I would comment on how I cope with the stress.
I work as little as possible. For me, that means a 40-50 hour work week, usually closer to the former. I learned early on in my practice that anything more for me, personally, brings with it too high a cost, to health, to mind and to my relationships. When I am at work, I try to work really hard, really fast, and really smart.
I manage my time like a freak! Every morning, I review my week’s goals (which I set out on Monday morning). I review my daily affirmations (I have 7 goals that I repeat to myself 3 times each day). I then do up my daily task list, reviewing the previous day’s list and accomplishments. I then prioritize that list. Then, I set aside some time to check and respond to emails, to return phone messages, and to get updates or update my staff. Once I am satisfied that the day is set out properly, I start to attack my list. I try to avoid interruptions, using my staff to screen calls, mail, faxes, etc. I try not to move down the list until the top priority items are completed. If I think that an item is just not going to happen, I make a note on my list, and then move on. I review the list at the end of each day (giving myself a grade out of 5), and then try to leave work at work.
I treat staff like gold, or at least the best that I can. Only my wife is more important to my success when compared to my legal assistants/paralegals. They make my world go round. I offer bonusses, flexibility, encouragement, and I share my thoughts, feelings and expectations with them as much as possible.
I do yoga. My wife is a yoga instructor, so that is a huge bonus. I attend her class once as week, and try to incorporate stretching, and some meditation throughout the week.
I sleep! Hardly ever less than 7 hours per night. More often closer to 8. I should try to get to bed earlier, but it’s hard with kids.
I exercise. At least 3 times a week, I hit the gym, strap on the running shoes, or do some other form of rigorous activity.
I practice my faith. I go to church regularly. I volunteer regularly. I read uplifting articles, books, and scriptures regularly. I read scriptures and pray with my family every day. I meditate on the larger picture often, praying at least three times each day.
I eat really well. My wife is a fantastic cook. Different members of our family have different food sensitivites or allergies, so we don’t eat much wheat, milk or sugar. My kids can’t eat sugar, so I eat less as a result. We eat a lot of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, etc. We eat few saturated fats or “other” foods. We all take our vitamins each day.
I am a very motivated person, not unlike most in the legal profession. Please don’t think that my comments above are meant to make me look like like a perfected being. I am by no means near perfection. These things have developed over time. I have failed at each of them on many occassions. However, my intention is to master these things so that I can maintain my health, my career, my sanity, and my family over the next 2-3 decades. My friends do often ask me how I accomplish so much with so many challenges and so little time. It is through this formation of habits, through an attempt towards self-mastery, that I find the energy, the drive, and the love for my life.
The above habits may be beneficial to you as you prepare for law school, as you push your way through law school, or as you establish yourself as a lawyer. I wish you the best of luck.
If there is something that you do to help you cope, please let all of us know. We can all stand to learn something new, positive and helpful.
It’s mid-October. I’m halfway through the semester, and a quarter of the way through first-year hell.
One of my classmates has taken the liberty of describing what these first six weeks at McGill law have been like. I would have written something similar, but I lack the time management skills and energy that my classmate possesses. And so, with her permission, I have recopied her note from Facebook and pasted it below.
N.B.: To my friends and family — if you find that when you phone me I sometimes sound tired, busy and unenthusiastic, this is why:
Three things to know if you are applying to law school
I’ve noticed that there have been quite a few people I know whose statuses recently read something about law school applications and/or LSATs. Some of you may have perhaps contacted me asking about law school. Some of you may have simply attempted to contact me to keep in touch and I haven’t yet responded.
There’s probably a couple things you should be aware of. I’ll be brief. My opinions now may perhaps change soon enough and probably differ from experienced upper years. But this is what I see so far:
1) It’s hard.
People who got into law school told me it was hard. Yeah, I didn’t believe them. So I’m telling you it’s hard. I suppose it’s out of sheer idiocy that by writing that, I’d hope you’d believe me.
Now why is it hard? There’s a lot of readings. Generally, in undergrad, I made it through generally not reading stuff timely. I’ve only recently just fallen behind in readings in law – but the consequences are much higher than in business school. Following along in class really does not work well. You’re not talking about what was the content of the readings but you’re applying it and creating new hypotheticals. You’re comparing legal scholars’ points of view. You’re comparing cases that have opposing judgments with seemingly similar facts. Not reading timely makes this nearly impossible.
2) You’re on your own
This won’t make sense to you if you didn’t do a group-based undergrad like business. There’s no group work. Currently, it seems like it’s you versus the above-mentioned hundreds of pages of readings (note: I’ve probably read two semesters worth of reading in the past month, I’m not exaggerating). Some people form study groups; others don’t. Studying individually has benefits in that your mark doesn’t depend on someone else, but there’s the disadvantage of having only your point of view on a difficult subject.
Students generally seem to now disappear at lunch to bunker down in the library. In some cases, it seems to me that this takes away from a sense of community. You’ll probably pass people in the halls that you somehow have half your classes with but have not said a word to in a week.
3) Stress is in the air
There seems to be a lot of similarities to the LSAT and law school. If you’ve done the LSAT, you’ll remember the amount of anxiety in washroom lines at the break. Nervous people chattering, attempting to compare answers or find out which section was experimental.
From what I’ve heard of upper years, this stress anxiety atmosphere is characteristic of first year law school. Apparently it gets better in upper years. But you can really see it in people’s faces that we’re all getting a little nervous somehow, sometimes. Part of it is a common fear that all our efforts currently are useless and we’re spinning our wheels into the mud.
Notably, we haven’t gotten to the point of Scott Turow’s fragility in the opening pages of One L:
“By Friday my nerves will be so brittle from sleeplessness and pressure and intellectual fatigue that I will not be certain I can make it through the day […] I am distracted at most times and have difficulty keeping up a conversation, even with my wife. At random instants, I am likely to be stricken with acute feelings of panic, depression, indefinite need, and the pep talks and irony I practice on myself only seem to make it worse.
“I am a law student in my first year […] and there are many moments when I am simply a mess.”
It certainly does not seem too far off from the possible truth. Let’s see how we’ll be in late November.
My two cents (since that’s all I can afford right now): Add to this post to the new words I’ve learnt (“scintillated,” “interstitially,” “res judicata,” “res nullius,” “stare decisis,” et al) and constantly comparing common law and civil law (two legal systems + two languages = twice the mental work and a headache), and there you have it — my first few weeks at McGill law. It’s unlike anything I have ever experienced academically. You will begin to question your intelligence and everything you know to be true (like justice, the state, and other airy-fairy notions). I still don’t know what I am doing, or how I should be reading this stuff…
Strangely enough, I love it!
If there is one word that distinguishes a simple undergraduate degree from a law degree, then that word is TIME.
As a newly minted law student, never before has time appeared so essential, so vital, and so treasured. The extra second or two of sleep after a long night of dense reading can seem like an eternity in the comfort of one’s bed.
In the classroom setting, if one loses focus for just a single second or just between the “tick” and the “tock,” then you may miss the ratio of an important case or fail to comprehend the professor’s explanation of a key theory. The great coefficient of human efforts does not ignore law students or legal professionals.
Looking ahead, time may become our friend or foe, as we write down how we spent our billable hour. In fact, our worth may one day be appraised by these “billable hours.” Whether one is working, listening, or studying, time always seems to transform into the one treasure that will measure who we are and what we will become.
For those law students vexed with their skilled procrastination tendencies (practice truly does make perfect) and who would like to turn a new page in their lives, then seek out and learn how to wrestle with time, so you can pin it to your wall (literally and figuratively). For those individuals still procrastinating after reading the previous sentence or who are genuinely interested in learning about the real oxygen of a law student’s life, this video will certainly be useful:
Ten days after law school started, I began to check off all the things that I needed to do in the first two weeks. Allow me to go through my checklist.
Settled in my new home, check. Made friends, check. Bought all required textbooks, check. Know where the washrooms are on the third floor, nope. Applied for summer jobs … WHAT! Who wrote that on this list?!?
Yes, we are less than two weeks into the first semester and there are emails, student service sessions, and peers buzzing loudly in my ear about 1L summer job applications that have deadlines on the horizon. Needless to say, this unexpected news startled me for a couple of reasons.
First, the time required for my alma mater to process my undergraduate transcript is four to five days – that does not include the number of business days needed for the transcript to be shipped to me. Unfortunately, many of those 1L summer jobs have deadlines that would have expired by then.
Second, the time needed for just one reference to whip up a stellar letter about me, albeit they could easily look up the numerous synonyms of outstanding – and copy and paste, is approximately one week, and that does not include the time necessary for them to reply to my “urgent” emails. Now some 1L summer job applications require three references. Can you sense my excitement about 1L summer job applications in the second week of law school yet?
Third, I’m not alone here as many of my peers have raised a similar yet pertinent comment: “Applying for summer jobs in the second week of law school is awesome CRAZY!”
But they (summer job applications) are not holding me by the wrists and dragging me to apply. Maybe we (law students in Canada) should accept the idea that this is a professional degree, where before you know what date all your exams are in December, you must know what date the deadline is to apply for summer jobs, which most students will miss if your alma mater’s printer can only crank out a transcript once every four to five days. Maybe we as first-years should make peace with the fact that many things in law school are on an expedited time frame; perhaps the best example I can construe is that we will apply for jobs well in advance of graduation.
To those 0Ls who will one day go through or are currently going though the OLSAS cocoon and will transform into 1Ls, this is what I wish someone told me before entering 1L:
1. Before you take your first step through the doors of law school, make sure you have an updated resume.
2. Before you take your second step through the doors of law school, make sure you have two or three individuals from your pre-law school era who can be on standby if a reference letter is needed or whose names can be used on your resume.
3. Before you even think about taking your first or second step through the doors of law school, radio your alma mater and ask them (way in advance) for your undergraduate transcript.
4. Last but not least, ask the administrative staff in your first week of law school whether they have any information about which organizations, government agencies, and law firms will require 1L summer job applications in September, so you can apply and put a neat check mark next to applying for 1L summer jobs: check!