Gaining courtroom experience and communications skills are themes for this year’s students
With one week left for our 2017/2018 articling students, we thought that we would wrap up their time with the firm by having them answer some questions about their experiences over the past 10 months. The firm would like to thank Alex, Francesca, Julia, Pearce and Stefani for their contributions and dedication.
We look forward to welcoming our 2018/2019 Articling Students in the next few months. Our recruitment process for the 2019/2020 articling term starts in June 2018. Check out the Student Program area of our site for more information.
Q&A with Beard Winter LLP 2017/2018 Articling Students
- Tell us about yourself. Where did you study? Why did you choose law?
Alex: I began my undergraduate career as a mechanical engineering student at the University of Waterloo. Fortunately, I quickly realized that I wasn’t cut out to be an engineer and transferred to the Legal Studies program at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT). After immersing myself in what was essentially a “pre-law” undergrad program and gaining legal experience by volunteering at local law firms, I soon discovered my passion for advocacy and client service. That passion led me to study law at the University of Windsor.
Francesca: I have wanted to be a lawyer since I was 16 years old. Originally, I wanted to pursue criminal law and chose to study Criminology at York University. Although I still find this area incredibly fascinating, I realized during my time at Windsor Law that what intrigued me about a career in law was the ability to advocate a position in court. My experience at Beard Winter LLP has affirmed my interest in pursuing a career in litigation.
Julia: I studied kinesiology and business at Wilfrid Laurier for my undergrad and then studied law at Osgoode Hall. I went into law because I want to be doing something every day that challenges me and that involves solving people’s problems. It also doesn’t hurt that I am a stickler for rules and don’t mind a good debate.
Pearce: I received my undergraduate degree and JD degree from the University of Western Ontario. I wanted to pursue further education and figured a legal degree was useful whether I practised or not. But, my ambivalence towards a legal career has turned into great excitement at the prospect due to my law school and articling experience.
Stefani: My route to the law was quite unconventional. I completed a Bachelor of Music at Queen’s University and a Masters of Music in Piano Performance prior to studying law at Western University. Although music was always my passion, I did not see myself pursuing a career in piano performance or teaching. On a more personal level, my parents divorced when I was quite young. Through this experience, I met several lawyers and mediators who I really looked up to for helping my family through such a difficult time. This sparked an interest in the law in me quite early on. I decided to pursue a career as a lawyer because I find it very fulfilling. Not only is it an intellectually challenging and stimulating career, but it will allow me to help others in the way that those lawyers helped my family. Not to mention, there is quite a large performance component in litigation, which is reminiscent of my piano performance days.
- What’s been the best part of your articling experience?
Alex: The best part has been the courtroom exposure that’s offered to the students. On average, I appeared in court about once a week, which is substantially more court time than most students get at other firms. Although appearing in court was daunting at first, by the end of my articling term I felt extremely comfortable appearing before both judges and masters.
Francesca: The best part of my articling experience has been working with one of the firm’s senior partners, John Olah, on the prosecution of a defendant for five offences under the Conservation Authorities Act. The trial lasted over six months, which gave me countless opportunities to watch a seasoned litigator in action and assist on many different aspects of the trial, from witness preparation to the drafting of closing and sentencing submissions.
Julia: The best part about articling has been meeting the people at Beard Winter LLP. I have met some incredibly supportive lawyers who doubled as mentors and friends. Something that I value equally is the experience gained because of the level of responsibility that was given to students.
Pearce: The best part of my experience has simply been putting my legal education into action. So much of what lawyers do cannot be taught, so it has been great to absorb the experiences of all the lawyers at Beard Winter LLP.
Stefani: I have appreciated the ability to interact one-on-one with clients as well as develop strong advocacy skills in court settings. I have represented clients at the Small Claims Court, argued motions at the Superior Court of Justice, and attended at examinations for discovery and mediations, among so many other experiences. I feel comfortable that I am starting my career as an advocate on the right foot. I would also like to mention the friendships that I have formed with the other articling students. These friendships took my articling experience to the next level as there was always someone to talk to about a difficult file or go for coffee breaks with. Articling can be difficult at times, and it really helped to work in such a collegial environment with others going through the same experience.
- Any challenges that you care to mention?
Alex: Litigation timelines can definitely be challenging. When involved in a lawsuit, knowing what needs to be done and when it needs to be done by is critical. You definitely don’t want to miss a key deadline. Fortunately, the firm provides its students with helpful litigation guides and the staff are always willing to help.
Francesca: Articling is a marathon, not a sprint. The beginning can be tough, even if you summered at the firm as I did. There are new challenges and responsibilities that can make for a stressful transition. Learn to be patient with yourself. Getting discouraged early on in your articles because of a small mistake will only hinder your ability to perform. It is much more valuable to you, and the firm, to have a good attitude and a willingness to work hard.
Julia: The learning curve was quite steep. At times, the combination of tight deadlines and holding myself to high standards made it easy to get overwhelmed. The silver lining is that this taught me to better manage pressure and find a balance that worked for me professionally and personally.
Pearce: The biggest challenge has been prioritizing tasks. As a student, you work for everyone at the firm so it is important to understand the task from the outset and create reasonable timelines in which you can deliver a solid product. The expectations of each lawyer vary, but none are happy with a rushed product.
Stefani: Articling was quite a steep learning curve. I found that law school taught me to think critically and understand the law generally, but it did not prepare me for the procedural aspects of practising law. There were so many times that I was given a file or task to work on, and had no idea where to start. Although I quite often found myself outside of my comfort zone, it was a great learning experience. I learned to communicate clearly and effectively with those around me and learned when to ask for help, which is a skill in and of itself. My fellow students, the staff, and the lawyers at Beard Winter LLP were always so welcoming and provided help whenever I needed it. By the end of the articling term, I was able to confidently tackle any challenge thrown my way.
- What skills have you learned that you’ll take with you?
Alex: Again, the courtroom skills I developed while articling here will definitely serve me well in the future. My communication skills have drastically improved, and I’ve also learned how to effectively organize multiple files simultaneously.
Francesca: Most valuable to my growth as a young lawyer were the many opportunities I had to work on my written advocacy skills. This taught me how to write more effectively, and research more efficiently. My experience in the courtroom allowed me to truly understand how important it is to be prepared, even for the unexpected. The court’s time is valuable and there is no excuse for wasting it by being unprepared.
Julia: BW definitely sharpened my advocacy toolkit. The lawyers here primed me to be a strong litigator through exposure to all aspects of litigation, including discoveries, mediations, arbitrations and trial. Secondly, articling has taught me to be resourceful. I feel as though I can look into any issue effectively and efficiently.
Pearce: Courtroom skills. Beard Winter LLP gives its students tremendous exposure to the courtroom. There are a plethora of opportunities in law school to simulate the courtroom experience but there’s nothing quite like actually advocating before a master or judge on behalf of a client.
Stefani: Articling at the firm has allowed me to develop into a confident advocate both in and out of the courtroom. I learned the essential building blocks of being a great lawyer – clear communication, effective multitasking, and strong advocating skills. More importantly, I have developed strong client management skills through my direct communications and relationships with the firm’s many clients. Building and maintaining client relationships is such an important part of being a lawyer, and I feel like I was able to really develop these skills through practical experience.
- Being a Student-at-Law is hard work. What do you do for fun outside of the office?
Alex: To stay active, I play in a weekly volleyball league and try to get to the gym four to five times per week. To relax, I play the guitar, watch sports, or binge-watch my latest favourite Netflix show. During the warmer months, you’ll usually find me at my family cottage.
Francesca: My time outside of the office is usually spent at the gym or at the yoga studio. This time by myself after a hectic day has been extremely beneficial to my overall health. I am able to reflect, relax, and keep myself active.
Julia: Some may not call this fun but I like to work out every day. I use it as a mental break to keep myself focused. Also, working downtown facilitated my love for food and staying current on the Toronto restaurant scene. I play soccer and piano and I enjoy painting and event planning.
Stefani: Living in downtown Toronto has been such a fantastic experience during articling. When I’m not at the office, I love trying new restaurants in the city – most of which are actually within walking distance of the office. I also love walking my (tiny) dog at The Beaches, High Park, or Trinity Bellwoods Park, especially when the weather is nice. I have continued to play the piano since completing my music degrees, and find that playing music has been a great outlet for me on stressful days or just to have some fun.
- Any advice for students starting their articles this Fall, either here or elsewhere?
Alex: I recommend getting involved in as many different assignments as possible. Meet with clients, sit in on an examination for discovery, take notes at a mediation, or help draft a complex agreement. You won’t know what type of lawyer you want to be until you experience the work first hand.
Francesca: Your articling year is truly what you make of it. Don’t be scared to take on a challenging assignment just because of your lack of experience. Lawyers are aware of our limitations and won’t fault you for it should you make an error. We will spend our whole careers attempting tasks that we are unfamiliar with. High risk reaps high rewards.
Julia: Get involved in as many different things as possible and offer to help with work you haven’t done before. People welcome assistance and proactivity. I learned the most during articling from watching the lawyers in action and doing things outside of my comfort zone. There are so many excellent resources at your fingertip and you only article once.
Pearce: During articling you are given the benefit of ignorance in a lot of situations be they within the firm, with other lawyers, or the courts. Once you’re a lawyer more will be expected of you and being able to draw on prior experience will be an asset (or so I am told).
Stefani: Start building your network early on as you never know where you will end up later in your career, and it doesn’t hurt to have references in your back pocket. Also, befriend the staff. They are the ones who know the most about each file and will help you deal with procedural issues when they arise. Take advantage of teachable moments or learning opportunities like shadowing lawyers in client meetings, attending on examinations for discovery, and observing litigators at the court. These are experiences that will be so helpful later on in shaping how you practice as a lawyer. Other than that, try not to stress too much and remember to rely on your fellow articling students for support. Having a supportive network is so important for mental health and overall enjoyment while articling. Try to go for dinner or drinks at least once a month with the other students, you won’t regret it.