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Friday, August 29, 2008 – Registration Day

A great day! My first impressions of the 2012 BCL-LLB  class at McGill have been overwhelmingly positive. What a group of interesting, intelligent, and friendly people! Registration Day was a mandatory event happening at the law school, where Orientation activities were spelled out in detail for those students participating, where free stuff from law firms was given out, where certain non-course-related administrative details were taken care of, and where we were fed copious amounts of delicious catered finger-foods. The whole milieu was conducive to meeting and greeting which, given the mutual curiosity and articulateness of the people involved, was a lot of fun.

Then there were the addresses from the Dean and the Assistant Dean, which were at once funny and thought-provoking, and which imbued us with a sense of McGill’s tradition as an institution espousing social and intellectual responsibility in civic life, while encouraging us to make this tradition our own and to carry it forward into our yet un-charted future. If that sounds in any way stuffy, the humour and humanity of the speakers made it, at least to me, anything but. Guest speakers today included a prominent lawyer, a judge from the Superior Court of Ontario, and the Privacy Commissioner, all graduates of McGill, who spoke, among other things, about the quality of education McGill offers to its students, the value of a trans-systemic approach in all aspects of the legal profession, the continuing rise of women in law, access to justice, and alternative careers for a law school graduate.

By the end of the speeches I was getting tired, so I decided to skip the soccer game planned for the first year students. I have decided that since I have been living in Montreal for a year now, and huge social events are frequently more a source of stress for me than a source of enjoyment, I will not take part in the Orientation activities, although almost everyone in my class is. Despite that, I have no worries about fitting in or making friends because almost everyone I have met today has been so open and friendly.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008 – Second Day of School

After my second day of school, I am feeling a bit tired and agitated because I still need to buy one or two books and I’m frustrated to have to look up so much course information on my student account – I don’t like reading on a screen (blog readers, can you sympathize?).

Other than that, I am excited about my courses so far – I have had the first class in five of the six courses I’m taking this semester. First off the bat yesterday was Constitutional Law. On first impressions, I will enjoy this class. The professor is funny and engaging, and the class environment seems positive and supportive. From what I gather, the approach will be largely historical. Then came Extra-Contractual Obligations/Torts, a class which I enjoyed because the questions posed by the professor encouraged a lot of class participation, getting people both intellectually and emotionally involved. We also laughed a lot – the prof is really funny.

Today, we started our day with Intro to Legal Research and Writing, or “Legal Meth” as it is more commonly called. This class will probably be pretty dry, because it is all about the rules of process in legal work. The entire first year class was there (as opposed to the other courses, which are divided into sections), but we will be divided up into tutorial groups. The second class was Civil Law Property, which will definitely demand a lot of concentration because I am taking it in French and a lot of the vocabulary is unfamiliar. This was the class I probably enjoyed the least so far, but I’ve been told that the material will be fairly straightforward, so hopefully it won’t be too bad. After lunch, Contracts. This was a very stimulating class. I am lucky to have so many professors with a good sense of humour!

I already have readings and have to get myself organized, so I won’t write more just now, but this has been a summary of my first impressions so far. Once I have done a few more classes and gotten into the substance of the courses, I will post again. À la prochaine!

Thursday, September 4th

I have just completed the second day of class as a 1L.  Tuesday was Orientation at U of T so there were no classes and the day was full of information.  All day we were told about the various clubs, journals, and clinics that the school has to offer its students.  Even though I have only been a law student for approximately a blink of an eye, I am confident that there is an extracurricular activity at this school that could interest just about anyone’s interest.  I have tried to make an agreement with myself to take it slow on joining many extracurriculars before I actually understand what the workload will be like.  However, it seems extremely difficult to ease in when many of the activities have their orientation days coming up within the next week.  I’ve decided on a journal and a clinic that I have a lot of interest in, and I am also considering a human rights working group which I hope will aid my legal research skills.  At UofT, your legal research requirement is not until the upper years and although many professors have stressed that we will have a good exposure to legal research, I would like to matters into my own hands.

Wednesday we began classes.  At this point it is hard for me to give any concrete ideas of what the classes will be like, however, each of my professors has been  welcoming, excited to be teaching first years and very interactive with the students.  My favourite class (undoubtedly) will be my small group.  U of T, being a relatively small program already, splits the first year class in half so for each course there are 2 classes of about 65-70 students and 3 small group classes of about 15-20.  This small group can be in any of your subjects; for myself, the class content is not why I know I will enjoy the class the most, but the idea of the intimate setting and low professor to student ratio.  It is a very safe space for a nervous first year and class to test the waters of legal reasoning.

Today I only had one class so I decided to try a method of studying an upper year had used.  I went to the library at 9am and stayed there (minus lunch and a coffee break) reading and taking notes.  I have three days that are not packed full of class and I like the idea of a 9-5 schedule.  We’ll have to see if that ends up being a enough hours to cover all of the work.  The library is a step up from my previous institution’s; large windows, natural light and extremely quiet.  Imagine that…a quiet library.

Anyways, the students are all friendly, the Dean is very personable, the professors all brilliant. Most importantly they have not stopped feeding us since we walked onto the grounds Tuesday morning.  Two out of the standard three meals a day have been covered.  I am certain I have produce that is going bad in my fridge.  But as Dean Mayo Moran said, “…if there’s one thing we do right at U of T law, it’s feed you.”  The woman does not lie.

First week at UOttawa (Common Law – English)

After my first week at UOttawa, I feel extremely confident that it was the right choice for me. Prior to attending, I was a little nervous given the fact that it is the largest law school in Canada.I had read horror stories about how competitive law school is, and was bracing myself for the worst. Nonetheless, after meeting people in my program, I was pretty relieved to discover that the character of the school is very different than I had feared (kudos to the admissions committee). The orientation week was also very effective in helping me meet lots of people in my program and others. It gave me with an opportunity to meet professors and upper year students and get a more comprehensive understanding of the character of the school. As for orientation events, I assume they are similar to those of other schools (BBQs, orientation seminars, semi-formal gala at the court house, and lots of late night socials), but I had an incredible time. There was also a visible presence from big law firms, which gave out a lot of promotional and recruitment materials.

UOttawa is very committed to social justice, which was well demonstrated this past week. The theme for the week was Aboriginal issues, and there were some fantastic speakers on international law, land claims, and residential schools. I actually really enjoyed the theme and focus, but some friends (particularly those from a technology background) pointed out that they wanted to hear more about their interests, like intellectual property or the environment. That said, there are a lot of specialty focuses offered, and I think the orientation did a decent job introducing them. It definitely expanded my interest in some areas I never would have considered before.

Many in my class come from all over Canada, representing extremely diverse backgrounds of interests. As an English-only student, I was a little intimidated by the level of French in the school, but I actually found it a very inclusive atmosphere. For anybody that is concerned about not having an adequate background in French, I’d say there is not much to worry about. If anything, I would say the school goes out of its way to make everyone feel welcome.

Overall, I had a great week and am looking forward to starting classes on Monday (already have some readings and an assignment).

Turkey was yummy…back to the books

We are now firmly in our 6th week of school, and things are moving along. I have formed a study group with some colleagues, as we have a practice exam coming up in Public law in a week and a half. Beyond that, we have some assignments (legal opinions) and exams coming up. I am still managing to stay on top of my readings, but I am well aware of the exams approaching, and will need to carve out some extra time to start to organize my notes.

Most exams are open book, so you can bring cases and notes with you. The main skill you need is to be able to apply legal reasoning to the exam question. Based on previous cases that have set precedents, how would the courts decide the current issue? This is the type of thing we will someday advise our clients on, so it’s an extremely relevant exercise. That being said, I am trying to stay calm and not get too worked up about the exams.

As always, time is flying by. I cannot believe we have been here for 6 weeks, although because of volume, some days it feels like we have been here much longer. We have learned so much in a relatively short time period.

Tomorrow in our Criminal Law class, we are arguing a case. The class is divided into our small sections, and my section is arguing for the defence. Our class will lay out the crown and defence cases, and our prof will be the judge and rule based on how we presented the evidence. Should be fun!

I am in the library and it’s time to get down to preparing my case for tomorrow.

Ottawa (common law) – Week 7

Life at uOttawa continues to keep me busy with various readings and assignments. Aside from the amount of work, nothing has been overly challenging yet, but exams are still to come. I have my first one on Monday and I’m currently writing my exam summary for it. All exams are open book, so a good class summary is the key to success. At first I had no idea how to structure my notes for summary creation, but I think I have the hang of it now. Wish me luck!

As for social life, Ottawa could not be better in my opinion. We are a pretty tight group, and all of us hang out together when we get the chance (usually after class). There is always somewhere to go on the weekends, and the only conflict is when you are forced to choose. While there is a lot of hard work, you definitely don’t feel alone in your labours. Having a good social life has been really important for me and provides an incentive to keep on track. Safety in numbers!

Anyway, there are quite a bit of midterms coming up, so I’ll let you know how I manage.

November at Queen’s

Well, I made it through my first law school exam in Public Law a few weeks ago. We will get it back either this week or next week. It was a practice exam and the final is in December (this is the only semestered course we are taking this year–all others have finals in April). It was a closed book exam which is new but they are trying it out. I also handed in a paper a few weeks ago in Torts and hope to get it back this week. I actually had fun writing it (I think that’s a good thing, right?)

Exams are just around the corner. I am trying to adjust my study time to include some time for preparing my outlines for the exams. I also have a few assignments due soon as well, so things are certainly busy. The reading is getting heavier for some courses but I know that in just over 2 weeks classes end and I can focus on exams.

That’s it for now. I’m in the library and will get started on some reading.

November 19 – Windsor

Most of the classes that were missed due to the strike have been made up and we are now preparing for midterms.  Some days are grueling as we have been having tutorial sessions – I’m finding myself at school for 12+ hours a couple days a week now.  Tensions are running hight amongst the students.  It seems like everyone is really stressed at this point.  I’ve come to the realization that trying to stay fully caught up with readings is unrealistic, and regardless of what the professors suggest in terms of doing all the readings, going to classes, going to tutorials etc., you have to be selective in the work that you choose to do.

Volunteering for Community Legal Aid has been a great experience.  I plan on attending one of the court cases that I’ve been working on with the second year student who will be litigating.  This should expose me to how things work ‘in the real world.’

Ottawa common law – Exams

The first term of school has flown by and I’m almost done exams (2 left). Looking back, I’d say the term was an enjoyable and rewarding experience, although certainly not without its challenges. I’m looking forward to having a couple weeks off for the holiday so I can reflect over it all from a distanced perspective.

As for exams, our class is fairly non-competitive, which helps with setting up study groups. That said, study groups are just one method (of many) for studying. They just happen to work extremely well for me personally. I’d say whatever method worked best for you in undergrad is the one you should use in law school. The class character did shift coming into exams, but we have a ritual of going out for a drink after each one and it definitely helps maintain the group mentality. All exams are open book, which I at first assumed would make them easier, but after some experience I realized that the professors expect very comprehensive responses and a much higher level of structure or organization. If there is any advice I could have given myself before they started, it would be that “law exams are not terrible”. Just make sure you put in the appropriate study time, and don’t worry about grades too much.

Anyway, I should get back to studying. This will be my last post until next term so have a happy holiday everyone!

Reflections on first term

It has been a busy semester so far. We’re in the middle of exams at the moment – two down, three to go.

About two weeks ago, I felt like I was in the eye of a hurricane. Many of my colleagues were having meltdowns, some due to the demands of school, and others due to collisions between school priorities and events in their personal lives. One of my friends had to miss two weeks of school because her aunt passed away in California and she is the executor of the will. Another friend, still living at home, was feeling overwhelmed by family problems while also struggling with her studies. I was hearing anecdotes every other day about people spontaneously bursting into tears at the library, although I never saw it myself. However, the few times I went to the library to do some readings between classes, it was difficult to find an unoccupied seat, and the tension in the air was palpable. As a result, I have done most of my studying outside of school.

As everyone around me seemed to be falling apart, I found myself strangely calm. Keeping up with readings and not worrying too much about grades have helped me to avoid feelings of panic. I have also been very lucky to develop a network of supportive friends, who share notes and study together. We help each other understand tricky concepts, push each other to keep going, and share a sense of humour that makes the work enjoyable. I can’t imagine slogging through some of this material alone. Honestly, some of this stuff is extremely dry. I have found group study with people I enjoy to be invaluable. The friends I have made are truly wonderful – I would not have been able to predict how rewarding that aspect of law school would be for me.

At the moment, I am taking a break from studying for my Civil Law Property exam. The last exam I wrote was a 48-hour take-home exam for Foundations of Canadian Law, a social-science-based course that takes a critial and very theoretical look at our legal system(s) under various different angles, in terms of its social functions, and in the context of other legal traditions of the world. This exam was a 2500-word paper. Most of my colleagues at school dislike this class because it is so theoretical, but it is exactly what McGill is all about. It is the most “trans-systemic” course in the curriculum.

Last Friday, we had our first exam – Constitutional Law. I was not too happy about how it went for me – I felt disorganized, and I think I missed the point of the first question. We’ve been learning how to pick apart legal reasoning and apply different legal tests to constitutional problems. However, when it came time to do that in the exam, I feel like I started analyzing the given problem from the wrong angle, which resulted in my wasting time and having to rush at the end. I am grateful that this exam is “to assist only,” and that I will be able to redeem myself next semester by doing an optional assignment. We learn from our mistakes – now I know how to avoid doing the same thing in my next exam.

So, it’s time to get back to studying Property. I will try to post again before going home for the holidays.

Cheers!