Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Law School: Do your own CAN or Outline

Even if you find the very best CAN (Condensed Annotated Notes, also known as an outline) in the world for a particular course, you will want to create your very own, from scratch; CAN before you hit the exam room. You may think that you can get away without this step (and there may be a few of you out there who can do this), but for most of us, this is a necessary step in the learning, synthesizing and memorizing process. By physically writing your own review notes, you will most likely be able to recall information more quickly and efficiently. This is especially true for closed-book exams. For open-book exams, writing your own CAN will allow you to be more familiar with the information, and you will be able to flip more quickly through your notes during the exam.

I always found writing a CAN from scratch after studying my class notes and other materials to be an invaluable exercise to help me see where I am. I started with a fresh piece of paper or computer screen, and simply wrote out as much of the course as I wasable to in as little space as possible. I included all relevant cases, statutes, and supplementary information as possible, all the while trying to make as many links in the information as possible. I tried to remember why a particular case or statute was important in the big picture, whether it had altered or developed the law, and what the potential problems or solutions might be as a result of the reasoning of the case or statute. I may have included some personal comments about where I thought this case or statute may come up in an exam question, or would write myself little notes that would help me to readily recall a piece of information come exam time. Whatever helped, I included it. I tried to keep it as concise as possible, while trying not to omit potentially important information. This is a tough balance to strike, and it may take you a few times to get it figured out. The important thing is to avoid relying upon other people’s work in hopes that it will get you by. The truth of the matter is that it usually will only just get you by, or slightly less. To succeed, there is no better alternative than putting in that effort and making it happen for yourself.

A Word from the Wise – Practical Experience from some colleages of mine:

Unless you have a very bad and disorganized professor and you have to teach yourself the course, other people’s CANs are not the best or most efficient way to learn a course because it is actually the creation of the CAN that helps you learn the material much more than simply studying someone else’s. That said, it is better to read a commercial CAN or someone else’s CAN than nothing at all.
— Robin Penker, University of Alberta

To prepare for law school exams I would go through my notes and create my own “CAN”. Once that was finished, I would compare that to the commercial CAN and look for discrepancies. The next step was to create a list of cases from the course with a one-line explanation of the ratio. When I started, I would spend less time organizing and more time trying to study by reading the notes repeatedly. As school progressed, I found it more effective to spend much more time organizing notes and continuously revising them as I studied.
— Jaime Johnson, University of Alberta

What is your favourite way to prepare for an exam? (I know some of you like to keep it a secret, but remember, sharing always results in rewards later on - I speak from experience).

If you want some CANs/Outlines to help you get started, go to http://www.canadalawstudent.ca/cans.html where you will find links to CANs from different law schools, and all of my CANs from law school. Happy downloading!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Law School Admissions: Deferring law school in Canada

Many prospective law students do not realize that there is often an opportunity to defer your studies for up to one year. Note that not all law schools offer this option. However, it may be a good option for you. Some examples of good reasons to defer law studies for a year are:

1. Finishing a graduate degree. I know of one classmate who attempted to finish a Master of Arts degree concurrently, without joint-degree status, and ended up spending both summers tackling the issue. Had he taken a year off before studying law, he might have circumvented the high stress he experienced. He also would have opened up his summers to potentially work in the legal field. Another student attempted the same with a Master of Science and ended up spending her first summer doing something that she did not feel would help directly with her law career. However, both of these individuals had made a commitment to finish their graduate degrees.

2. Getting an offer for a job that you just cannot refuse. I had a friend who received an offer to work for the Liberal Party in Ottawa – something he had always wanted to do. He managed to get a deferral from some of the schools that he had applied to and was able to try the government job. It was a great résumé booster, and a fantastic opportunity that he would have missed otherwise.

3. You need to save up for school. Now you can take up to a year to work full time, get prepared, and the pressure will be off, because you have already been accepted.

Be sure that you apply for deferral in plenty of time, and that you put forward a very strong case. Do not just assume that a school will hold a spot for you once you have received an offer. Also check into tuition fee hikes or differential fees that your faculty may have scheduled. If waiting an extra year will add thousands of dollars to your cost, you should consider this in your decision-making.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Success Stories: Trailer park to law school dean: The journey of Mayo Moran

If you are looking for some inspiration today, consider reading this article, written in the globe and mail about the University of Toronto law school's new dean, Mayo Moran. I was grateful to read that she is bucking the stodgy trends set by her predecessors and by the Bay-street firms. I hope that she can achieve some of her lofty goals to set a higher standard for our profession. She says Canadian law schools must rise to the challenge of producing a new generation of lawyers who respect "the significant ideals of our profession" and are fortified by "formidable intellectual strength and rigour." I especially liked her stated mortification of the classrooms that, in her words, have morphed into clattering "typing pools" with students clicking away on laptops.

I would also like to see the bar set higher for law school education. I would like a return to the more active, engaging style of lecture that one might have seen in The Paper Chase, a movie about the first year of law school at Harvard. All too many students get caught up in the details and forget to see the law through the forest. One of my favourite law school classes was one where the professor provided the class notes on-line the day before each class. This allowed you to download the notes, supplement them with your preparation reading, and then to truly listen and engage yourself each class. It was so much nicer to just plug in a few comments each class to further supplement your notes. Students engaged in dialogue more often, we covered far more material in a shorter period of time compared to other law school classes, and I genuinely enjoyed the class because of all of these things. Typing notes like crazy does not help you to learn legal concepts. Engaging in serious, and often difficult dialogue creates better students and better lawyers.

It was also refreshing to read about a legal education leader who has high ideals, who is not afraid to put up a fight for what she believes in.

If you know more about Dean Moran, feel free to leave a comment. Or, if you have a comment about a law professor or dean from your law school, I am sure that the rest of us would like to hear about it.

If you want to see other's ratings and comments about law professors at your law school, or a prospective law school, visit http://www.ratemyprofessors.com/SelectSchool.jsp. It is pretty amusing to see how various professors have been rated. I was surprised at how accurate the ratings were for some of my former law professors.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Law school proposed for Ontario's north and Aboriginal Law Students

Plans are underway for a new law school in Thunder Bay, the first in northern Ontario. It will be built at Lakehead University. Supporters of the plan believe establishing such a law school would make it easier for aboriginal students to pursue careers in law and encourage more lawyers to practise in northern communities, where legal services are often non-existent. I think this is a fantastic idea.

Apparently the university hasn't yet met with provincial education ministry officials to discuss accreditation requirements. If built, the institution would be Ontario's seventh law school and the first built since 1969. A 2004 report for Ontario law deans on the impact of tuition deregulation found the number of law students from the north had decreased between 1997 and 2002.

On the topic of Aboriginals law students...

There is a misconception held by many that Aboriginal students get a free ride in University, and subsequently in law school, and that they are somehow treated differently. There are rumours that Aboriginal applicants are guaranteed spots in law school if they apply, and that once accepted, they are graded differently. This is not true at all. I will try to shed some light on these preconceptions, while at the same time, providing information that will give Aboriginal applicants every advantage and opportunity to pursue a legal education.

The truth is that Aboriginal peoples are underrepresented in almost all areas of the Canadian economy. This underrepresentation is especially felt in law, an area where Aboriginal peoples require greater Aboriginal representation for all areas of law, including criminal, civil, and constitutional rights. More and more cases are coming forward and being heard in Canadian courts dealing with Aboriginal rights. Aboriginal peoples have unique rights entrenched in the Canadian constitution. As a result, there is a much higher need to have lawyers that are aware of, well versed in, and passionate about the rights of First Nations, Métis and Inuit. On the other hand, Aboriginal lawyers are needed to work for the Crown. Additionally, as more Aboriginal peoples are becoming involved in business ventures, there is a need for corporate and commercial lawyers who can be trusted and who have a good relationship with Aboriginal communities and individuals.

It is true that many law schools in Canada allot a certain percentage of spots available for Aboriginal and/or mature students. This percentage is often 10%. However, that does not mean that they always fill these spots or that the school is obligated to fill the spots with Aboriginal and/or mature students. The 10% number is a goal rather than a rule. As such, it is often the case that not all spots are filled by Aboriginal or mature students.

Some schools seem to attract a larger number of Aboriginal applicants. The College of Law at University of Saskatchewan and University of Victoria both have a relatively large contingency of Aboriginal law students. The University of Alberta does have an Indigenous Law Program, but the number of students was only 14 in 2004/2005 (out of a student body of about 500).
The process for applying to many law schools for Aboriginal students is a two-pronged approach. Aboriginal applicants have the option of attending a pre-law program at the University of Saskatchewan the summer before law school. Success at this program can lead to a conditional acceptance to some law schools. The program is aimed at preparing Aboriginal students for law school, in terms of study habits and curriculum. Attendees take property law. Successful students will get credit for this class, thus taking off some pressure during 1L. Acceptance is conditional on the student succeeding (in other words, passing) 1L. There are Aboriginal students who come out of the Saskatchewan program who do not succeed. However, the program supposedly does help many students to prepare and attempts to single out potential achievers amongst its attendees.

Aboriginal students can also be accepted unconditionally. This is often the case. This means that the Aboriginal applicant is rated alongside every other applicant. This happens before a conditional acceptance is considered.

Now, here is the truth of the matter. I believe that if you are an Aboriginal student, if you show sincere desire, and if you have a relatively decent GPA and LSAT score, then you stand a better chance than most applicants of obtaining acceptance to many law schools. Law schools that indicate that they encourage Aboriginal applications cannot say that they favour the idea of accepting an Aboriginal applicant. However, it is in their best interest to do so, as it looks very good for the law school when they can claim to have a decent contingency of Aboriginal students amongst their student body. However, remember this is the opinion of the author and that any reputable law school in Canada will never admit this idea. I just had to say it because I believe it to be true, and because I want to encourage any Aboriginal potential candidate to apply for law school because there really is a very high need for Aboriginal representation in law school and in the legal community.

For those of you who are not Aboriginal and who have read the above statements, please do not take a viewpoint that this is an unfair advantage given to Aboriginal students. The truth is that the number of applications from Aboriginal students is nowhere near what is needed to fill the 10% goal. It is also true that many Aboriginal people have faced extremely hard conditions in childhood and early adulthood, and that the odds are against them gaining access to university, let alone law school. I will leave the issue at that and hope that I do not create too much fuss.
If you are an Aboriginal applicant, I highly suggest that you do a lot of research on what each law school actually offers to its Aboriginal student body. Certain law schools claim to support their Aboriginal students in terms of counselling and study help. As much as you can, make sure that these claims are true. Also, do some research into what course offerings deal with Aboriginal legal issues. Most schools do not offer much in this way. However, in order to practice in this area, it is a very good idea to be as exposed to as much Aboriginal law as possible during your time in law school. The Kawaskhimon National Aboriginal Moot is an opportunity that is open to almost every law student across Canada and is a great opportunity to learn what it is like to research and practice Aboriginal law.

Mature students are defined as those who are 35 years or older. As with Aboriginal applicants, there may be a certain percentage of spots "held" for mature applicants. As well, special consideration may be given to real-life experience. For example, if you have some connection to law in any way, you should emphasize this in your application résumé and statement of interest. Again, mature students are considered alongside all other applicants first. If they are not successful in this round, they may be considered in a mature student round. You should be sure to contact your law schools of interest to find out particular mature student criteria and standards.

I think that if it is established, with proof that Northern sections of provinces are under-lawyered, and are short on Aboriginal law graduates, and if they think that a new law school within the proper vicinity will help, then go for it.

I look forward to your comments on the above items of interest.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Law School: Grades, Grades, Grades – or, does it matter?

Most of the literature that you will read about law school will tell you that grades are the single most important focus of your first and second years of law school. The competition is fierce for top jobs at law firms in Canada. Further, the competition is getting fiercer for jobs in general in Canada. I received better than average grades in law school, with improvement each subsequent year. I wish I had concentrated more on grades in my first year, but at the same time, I have little regret, and am well pleased with how things turned out.

Grades can be very, very important in 1L if you are vying for a summer job at a legal firm, which can subsequently lead to a guaranteed article at that firm. As well, stacking up your law school transcript before your second summer can be important in setting yourself apart to law firms. This is especially true in larger urban centres such as Toronto and Calgary. If it is your desire to work at a national or large city firm then make sure you put grades at the top of your priority list.

Although I believe grades are great indicia of commitment, hard work and intelligence, I do not think that they provide a complete portrait of the individual. This is why law recruitment committees also include such criteria as personality, experience, fit with the firm culture, and other personal definers in their recruitment material and information. Grades will definitely help you to get in the door of a law firm for an interview, but it is the interview that will ultimately determine your success in obtaining employment at a law firm. I am not aware of too many interviewers who would take an individual on the spot if they had a 4.0 GPA without interviewing them. Nor would they hire a 4.0 law student who made a terrible impression at an interview.

So, get your grades up as high as possible. This may be increasingly important as each year goes by, as article positions decrease, and as competition increases. However, do not ignore development of non-law related interests, skills, and personality. It is important to come across as unique, while at the same time convincing a recruiter that you will fit into their ‘team’. This is a difficult thing to achieve, and I do not have specific advice for you to achieve the perfect balance. My advice is to work hard. Work harder than hard. Achieve your very best. At the same time, try to remain sane, fun, excited, and exciting. Bring passion to school every day, and bring passion to your interviews.

Grades are obviously more important at top law firms than they might be at smaller law firms. There seems to be a pecking order in the recruitment process. Top firms usually choose the top students. Many of those students end up choosing those top firms. However, it is not unheard of to have a very good law student choose a mid-size or small-size firm, or another legal setting altogether. I really admire those who choose for themselves, rather than going to where they are expected to go. Some high achievers are afraid that they will not be challenged or well compensated unless they are at top law firms. I have done research that challenges this notion.

One example includes Canada Justice, or a provincial justice office. These environments can be extremely challenging and rewarding, include a very decent and predictable salary, along with very good benefits. As well, the ‘billable hours’ are usually less demanding, which can lead to a much better balance. Another example is going solo in a small community. I am personally aware of such sole practitioner lawyers who bill $300,000 to $400,000 a year. Even after paying their business rent, expenses, and support staff salaries, they can make a very decent 6-figure income, often while working a very regular 9-5 type schedule. A third example is corporate counsel positions. Often, people who work as lawyers for corporations can earn very high salaries, be highly challenged, while enjoying very regular and decent schedules.

All of these examples require a lot of planning. They are not something that is necessarily achieved immediately upon graduating, or even soon after graduating. However, my point is that it is possible to be very happy as a lawyer outside of the big firms.

Movie Screenplay

So, my wife and I have begun work on a new screenplay. It's law related, of course. I am pretty excited about it. It's something I have always wanted to do. Carpe diem.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


I went to write a post this evening, and could think of nothing important to write. So, I decided to post some pics of some people who are very special to me. Enjoy.