Sunday, February 11, 2007

3Ls Looking for Articling Positions Part 2

(Normally I reply to comments within the comments section, but this one became so long that it deserved a separate post.)

Thanks Lawgurl (nice blog, BTW) and all the others who have shared their insight! I agree: to a certain it is due to programing and cognitive dissonance. My main concern is for the students who say "just for a few years and then I get out." They want to pay off their debt and have the street-cred from working at a big firm, but they have dreams of changing the world for the better. (Incidentally, I was at a cocktail party and I mentioned to a Partner that I was interested in positive social change and she dryly shot back at me, "we don't do that here.")

My concern is that, gradually, the firm culture takes over and the students never realize their dreams. Patrick J. Schiltz wrote a letter to law students chalk full of sound advice (I've added the bold):
After you start practicing law, nothing is likely to influence you more than "the culture or house norms of the agency, department, or firm" in which you work.

No one will tell you, as one lawyer told another in a Charles Addams cartoon, "I admire your honesty and integrity, Wilson, but I have no room for them in my firm." Instead, the culture will pressure you in more subtle ways to replace your values with the system's.

Here is an example of what I mean: During your first month working at the big firm, some senior partner will invite you and the other new associates to a barbeque at his home. This "barbeque" will bear absolutely no relationship to what your father used to do on a Weber grill in your driveway. You will drive up to the senior partner's home in your rusted Escort and park at the end of a long line of Mercedeses and BMWs and sports utility vehicles. ... You and the other lawyers will talk about golf. Or about tennis. After a couple hours, you will walk out the front door, slightly tipsy from the free liquor, and say to yourself, "This is the life."

In this and a thousand other ways, you will absorb big firm culture --a culture of long hours of toil inside the office and short hours of conspicuous consumption outside the office.
This situation, we are told, leads to stress, alcohol and divorce. And, in my view, it starts even before law school begins.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Linking with Quebec

I have a soft spot for Quebec. As a country, we are truly fortunate to have the culture, language and perspectives from Quebec. Even though I grew up in Alberta, all my classes in elementary school were in French and these language skills have served me well over the years. Even now, I'm very interested in the Quebec civil law system and forging ties with Quebec.

At Queen's, we have an exchange with the University of Sherbrooke. Queen's students can spend one year in Quebec and receive a Civil Law degree and their Quebecois counterparts come here for a Common Law degree. This year, there are 12 students from Sherbrooke studying law in Kingston.

I would also like to mention a sharp blawg from Quebec: Class Action Quebec. It is written by Abraham A. Tachjian, a third year law student at Université de Montréal. It is a professional, well-designed piece of web real estate with a wealth of information on class action lawsuits in Quebec. Thank you Abraham!

Friday, February 09, 2007

In Praise of "Generic" Skills

A visiting judge recently commented on the "wonderful generic skills" we learn at law student. They allow lawyers to associate with clients from diverse backgrounds, to critically assess myriad issues and to even change professions, if we like. Another point he raised was that after 20 years, we may be bored of what we're doing and, simply as a lawyer, there may be other options available.

In a practical sense, this insight echoes the comment from the previous post: cast a wide net for articling applications. As the student aptly notes, some students become so focused on one area of the law that they can't see themselves doing anything else. They apply for positions only in Construction Law, for example, because that's their passion. And then they end up without any offers.

With all that said, I believe that it all works out. The combination of our so-called "generic" skills, with the motivation that got us into law school will probably lead every law student into a satisfying career. (Getting rich while maintaining high ethical standards, on the other hand, is another kettle of fish.)

Thursday, February 08, 2007

3Ls Looking for Articling Positions

I want to respond to a comment that was made in the previous post in this fresh post because this is an issue that deserves attention. I believe there is a common misperception that all third year students have articling positions lined up. This is simply not the case. In fact, there is a good portion of my class who are still searching. My own theory is that it is the result of 4 factors:
1. firms demand a strong "fit";
2. there are a limited number of positions for a greater number of applicants;
3. some students realize they actually don't want to be a lawyer and they skip the entire Bar Ads/articling process; and,
4. the Bay Street-centric sessions on career building put the onus on students who are interested in other law jobs.
I would like to expand on the second point. As the economy fluctuates, so does the market for new lawyers. I wouldn't say that we're in a recession, but the economy is not red hot. During my summer interviews, I met students (yes, more than one) who graduated in '06 and they were going through the articling interview process for the second time. One student is spending her year prior to articling working on a Master's degree.

I don't believe that firms discriminate against students who fast-track through law school. I imagine that, during the interview, they would be asked, "and what did you do during your free semester?" A good answer could give them a leg up.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Fast-track through Law School

I wanted to mention one option open to law school students at Queen's that, I don't believe, is only available at Queen's. The option is to fast-track it though law school and finish one semester early. Yes - a 2 1/2 year law school degree. The way to do it is a combination of the summer program in International Law in combination with maximum courseloads for 3 semesters.

At least 4 students in my class has taking this route. So what are they doing during their free (academically-speaking, not financially-speaking) semester?
Student A is studying for the New York Bar Exam. A will be joining a New York firm as a Junior Associate, thus skipping the Ontario articling process.

Student B has a successful business on the side and has interest in foreign languages and travel. B is back to running that business and relaxing (although I don't see much relaxing).

Student C is working in a law-related job. C is still looking for an articling position and now has more time to find it.

Student D is also still looking for an articling position. D is still involved with some clubs on campus.
To a certain extent, I can see the value of finishing the coursework early. It could be a valuable time to apply some of the skills that we're learning.

On the other hand, I would not do it (and didn't). There are so many fascinating courses available in law school - not to mention all the non-academic experiences - that I wouldn't want to forfeit the opportunity to take advantage as much as possible. I could easily fill another semester of interesting courses.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Macs & Low Quality Hardware

Over the past few years (I’m still amazed that I’ve been writing in this space for years), I have discussed virtues, myths and tips for Macs. Using a Mac at law school won’t put you at any disadvantage. The operating system is super stable. There are many more viruses, worms and nasty bugs that attack Windows. And the biggest myth: Macs are more expensive. As Michael Gartenberg writes (the article is from 2003, yet prices are about the same today):

Though Apple is certainly not a discount brand and will almost never offer the cheapest computers available, Macs are certainly price-competitive with PCs. Users do pay some premium for both the Apple brand and the innovation that goes into the company's often brilliant hardware design, but the premium isn't out of line with what users already pay for name-brand systems from vendors such as Sony, Hewlett-Packard or IBM. In many cases, comparable Apple systems are priced similarly, and in some cases they're even cheaper than the competition.
Anyhow, I’m not here to talk about the virtues of Macs. In fact, I would say that, I am currently not impressed with Mac hardware and reliability. My PowerBook G4 (the same computer that I gushed with praise here) has had every major component fail. Yes, that’s right: everything.

Here’s a rough sequence of events:
Purchased my PowerBook G4: May 2004
Hard Drive failed: June 2005
LCD Display replaced: July 2005
Battery replaced under the Sony recall program: October 2006
Optical Drive failed: December 2006
Logic Board failed: December 2006
Note that I purchased the machine in May, 2004, so all the components failed after the first year. Hence, none of the repairs would have been covered by the complementary warranty. Thankfully, I purchased AppleCare and so all the replacements were covered. (In retrospect, it was money well spent. The $250 for AppleCare paid for $2400+ of service and parts.) Also, I was very fortunate that none of the major components failed during exams.

But I must confess: I can no longer vigorously endorse the purchase of an Apple computer. The components on my laptop should not have failed so quickly in the first place. It seems that their effort to cut costs and compete with the PCs, Apple has sacrificed quality.

Friday, February 02, 2007


Thanks to everyone who have left comments on blog. I read everything. I have it set up so that I get an email whenever you post a comment on any post - including the posts from years ago (I can't believe that I've actually been blogging years!).

The truth is: third year is much the same as second. In a way, law school becomes routine. The courses are new and (sometimes) fresh, but I don't use this space to opine on particular areas of the law. The process of reading, briefing cases, learning terminology, identifying legal principles and (doing my best) to piece everything together is much the same. The lifestyle is ... pretty much the same. I suppose there is less pressure to perform and get the best grades in 3rd year, but by this stage it seems like we're studying for content, out of routine, and because we may actually use this material in a professional context. In fact, sometimes in class I think to myself, "yeah, I've dealt with a similar scenario." (Here, I would emphasize the importance of practical experience like legal aid.)

Lastly, third year has many of the same diversions as previous years. For example, my wife and I are about to get ready for a martini party this evening. What better way to motivate myself for (yet another) weekend of writing papers ...