Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Articling: The Last Day of my Law Articles

Well, it finally arrived, the last day of my legal training. As of today, and pending my bar call in June, I will have officially arrived at the destination that I set out nearly 6 years ago. Man, it feels good!

Monday, May 29, 2006

Law School: Law School Guidebook - extra copies

See my post not too far down below. I mentioned that I had some copies of my book that were not in perfect condition. I can't see any problems with them. Perhaps a smudge or two. You won't even notice. A bunch of you asked for some. Thanks. I still have a few left. I have no use for them. The bookstores won't take them from the publisher unless they are pristine. I'll give them to y'all for $7 plus $10 shipping anywhere in Canada. Period. Stop. What a deal! Won't last long. Shoot me an email.

Success Stories: Inspiring law student and mother

Check out this brief article about a successful law student, activist and most importantly, mother. I love hearing about those who beat the odds and make great lawyers. Know any great stories similar to this one?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Admissions: Next LSAT (Law School Admissions Test) Dates

A recent comment post asked how and when you register for the next LSAT. You can access LSAT Dates & Deadlines here. The next test is Monday, June 12, 2006. The deadline for registration was May 9. Late registration had a deadline of May 10-19, 2006. Sorry if you missed the deadline.

The following LSAT session is Saturday, September 30, 2006, and the deadline for registration is August 29, 2006. Late registration is from August 30 - Sept 8. You can register either by mail or online or by telephone.

I need to update the dates on the www.canadianlawschool.ca website.

Read this post from March for more guidance on the LSAT - Law, Eh? Law School in Canada: Mastering the LSAT - How to Score 160 or More. Some great answers were given on www.lawstudents.ca. I also posted some information on writing the LSAT back on January 9, 2006 - Law, Eh? Law School in Canada: The LSAT.

Let me know if you have any questions about writing the LSAT, or otherwise. Good luck in June and September!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Teaching the Charter to youth

I have volunteered to give a presentation to a group of Boy Scouts on the Canadian Constitution, and especially the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It's an intimidating project. It's hard to pare down volumes of legislation, commentary and case law into a 1-hour presentation. I've been thinking that I will probably provide a very brief background after playing a role-play game (a la Lord of the Flies, perhaps?) where the youth will startup a new country that has no historical law, people coming from all different countries and ethnically backgrounds, and a wide open space to live in. It's hard to imagine that this is the situation that our fore-fathers faced. I think they did a pretty bang-up job myself, although many of my colleagues would beg to differ. I don't recall learning too much about the Constitution or the Charter in my grade-school years. Do you? How would you approach this challenge? It's one thing to teach it to adults who have some background...I think it's great that these boys want to learn about the law, and have some interest in our history. I did find a great resource - a Youth Guide to the Charter, which would probably be a welcome bit of information for any first year Canadian law student. Happy reading.

Admissions: Canadian Law School Admissions Web

Check out this relatively new site that I was made aware of today - Canadian Law School Admissions Web. A welcome addition to the Canadian law school online resource pool.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Articling: Articling - Ah, the end is near

Only 6 actual work days left in my law articles! I can taste the end! Wow. I will officially become a lawyer on June 23. My new practice will open its doors unofficially on July 3, and officially on August 1.

I was quite elated to see the following new review of my book on Amazon.com the other day:

(5 stars) Fantastic Book, May 16, 2006
Reviewer: F. Voisin (Ontario, Canada) - See all my reviews

As a future Canadian law student, I was frustrated with the lack of guide material available to Canadian law students. All of the material I was able to find was aimed toward American students. Since there are some differences between the way the two countries educate their lawyers, it was important to find a book like this that addresses the particular elements of Canadian Law School. I highly recommend this to anyone contemplating law school in Canada.

Thanks F. Voisin! I really appreciate your kind words.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Lawyers: What do lawyers do anyways?

Lots of prospective and current law students have been asking me what the daily life of a lawyer is like. Well, I can't speak for every lawyer out there, but I can tell you what my life is like, and what my colleague's lives are like. I'll probably post a few entries on this topic, and will add it to the second edition of my book.

Yesterday, the biggest thing that I did was to help one of our clients settle a claim for a substantial amount of debt. We did it through a 4 way negotiation, whereby the lawyer for the debtor (other side) put forward some information and an offer to settle the debt. We asked a bunch of questions, then caucused for quite a while. In the end, we ended up agreeing to the offer, as we felt the risk of trying to pursue the remainder was too high. Our client would end up with about $0.70 on the dollar, and I guess they were willing to take that. It probably would have ended up costing them a lot more to try to pursue the remainder, and the interest. One of the biggest parts of the practice of law is advising clients on risk. That was my main job in this matter. There was a chance that all could have been lost. All parties ended up fairly happy, and the matter was finalized very quickly. Had it gone to trial, everyone would have been very unhappy.

Today, I completed a quantum assessment for a personal injury file. Basically, what I had to do was an exhaustive search of case law that typified the type of injury and the circumstances of the accident. I gathered this information and analyzed it, coming up with a range of potential general damages that might be awarded to our client. We will then bring that analysis to the other side and see if they would like to negotiate a settlement. The reason for doing this quantum is to show the other side that indeed the courts have awarded $ for similar incidents.

Today I also completed an application for a new non-profit society, and am in the process of completing two applications for trade-marks. Other stuff I have on my plate right now include a huge donation to a church, which includes just a ton of paperwork; an application for registry of a federal corporation; a sale agreement for some agricultural equipment; a residential tenancies issue; an ongoing debtor-creditor litigation matter which involves some tricky arguing about Limitation periods; drafting of a contract for an online publisher; and a breach of contract matter. Lots of variety. Lots of challenges.

Tomorrow I have to go and make an application in Masters Chambers at the courthouse for an order to release some property. It's not all fancy courthouse stuff in my practice, as I tend to do a lot more solicitor's work, and most of my litigation matters never reach trial.

More later...back to work.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Survivor "Settlement"

Jarvis Googoo, a law student at Dalhousie posted the following at his blog, The Coco Banana, today. He has given me permission to reprint it here at Law Eh? I appreciated his candor and his first-hand take at this controversial topic:

Adam Letourneau blogged not too long ago about the Residential School settlement and the payments made out to the lawyers. I won’t reiterate what he wrote here because he did a good job himself. Rather, I want to yak about the actual payment a survivor is to receive.

First off, I must inform my readers that I and the people in my immediate family have been fortunate enough to have never attended a Residential School. Unfortunately, many from my reserve have.

Anyway, each survivor is to receive about $30,000 on average. In a way, I’m glad that a so-called “settlement” has finally been reached. It’s about time the survivors got some sort of compensation for what they were forced to go through.

However, as an Indian, I’m absolutely insulted that it’s an average of $30,000 per survivor. $30,000?!? What the hell is that? For years of physical, emotional, cultural, sexual, social, and spiritual abuse, this is an insult. For a lawyer, $30,000 is only about half/a quarter/a fraction of what a lawyer [probably] earns in a year. To many Canadians, $30,000 is what one may earn a year (perhaps a little more). So you mean to tell me that, for years of abuse, survivors are given a salary equivalent to one year? For losing the way your people used to live, $30,000 makes up for it? That’s pathetic! While some may feel the lawyer’s contingencies were ridiculous, perhaps settlements and payments need to be reformed so as to consider legal fees. Why should the lawyers be able to collect the settlement of the survivors? The federal government should’ve paid for the legal fees of the lawyers separately from the settlement. The $80 million itself should be divided amongst the survivors, and the feds should pay the lawyers of what would be their contingency fee of the $80 million (but not from the $80 million itself that goes to the survivors). This may sound awful, but how do you think a Residential School survivor feels about this?

Sadly, at the end of the day, perhaps the survivors felt as if they had to take what they can get. As time goes on, more and more survivors (like all humans) pass on. Perhaps they felt that they had to take what they could for now because they were not going to survive long enough to see anything else. $30,000 may sound like a little (it does to me for today’s living standards), but to a Residential School survivor (some of whom are living in poverty, just like many Aboriginal people), $30,000 may be just like a million dollars.

In all, looks like the federal government played a smart yet deceitful delay tactic with the survivors; the longer it waited to try and reach a negotiated settlement, the more likely that survivors would die off, allowing the federal government to pay out less than what it would have had to. Too bad, eh? My sister’s grandparents were both survivors. They passed on some years ago. They never lived to be “compensated” for what they had to go through, and what they had to lose, in order to become “civilized.” Where’s the justice in that? There’s none, and if you’re fortunate enough to make it this far, you get a messily $30,000.

$30,000 doesn’t last very long. But then again, many of the survivors are passing on, so perhaps it’s a “take what you can” thing. Smart move feds! If you were able to delay the settlement for a few more decades, perhaps all the survivors would’ve died, and thus, you wouldn’t have had to pay out anything!

Lawyers: Why Start your own Law Firm?

A reader of my book recently asked me why, and how I was going to start a law firm so early on in my legal career. Great question. Here was my answer:

As far as starting my own firm, yes, it's true. Crazy, but true. I am starting it with a law school buddy of mine, who articled in the same city as myself. I became convinced very early on that I did not really like doing work in a subordinate role. I was a very successful business person before law school, and the large drop in pay, responsibility, and autonomy was too much for me to take. I also found early on that my favourite part of the practice of law was client interaction. I was lucky at my firm in that I was given the opportunity to jump into the deep end and fend for myself. As such, it made perfect sense to set up my own shop and enjoy the benefits of higher remuneration, more responsibility and more autonomy. I figured that if the Law Society says that I can do it, then it must be OK. I have known others who have started a solo practice after articling. It's rare. There are two main obstacles, I have found - $ - most people think that they don't have enough money to cover the first 3-6 months. But, I have found that most people who do start a solo practice do so by going and getting a line of credit for $20-30K and away they go. The second obstacle seems to be a timidness about running a business. Admittedly, many law students have zero background in business. I have an advantage in that I have run a number of businesses, or been an executive in a number of businesses.

Further, I am in an area of the world that is booming, there is no shortage or work, and a relative shortage of lawyers.

Lastly, Carpe Diem. Why not?

Post-note: I was extremely lucky to have such supportive mentors in my firm. As well, I have some fantastic friends in law who have promised support when required.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Lawyers: Outrageous contingency fees for lawyers?

In a quirky bit of fate, I read an article on CBC a couple of days after my last post, which dealt with mega-torts and mega-$ for lawyers through contingency fees. Often, lawyers will agree to take on a case based on a contingency arrangement, rather than a flat fee basis. The number has traditionally been 30% of the "winnings" in a case. Lawyers are careful to get into this kind of arrangement, because it can end up being a real gamble, unless the lawyer feels very strongly that they have a potential winning case. Contingency arrangements are common in personal injury law, because the potential payout has traditionally been quite high, thus resulting in a strong fee for the lawyer.

The article that I recently read told of the fees that would be paid out to lawyers for a recently settled case involving compensation for victims of residential schools in Canada - where many aboriginal children and youth were mistreated, abused and often neglected. The fees to the lawyers will amount to about $80 million. That's right $80,000,000.00. That's a lot of zeros! One firm from Saskatchewan, The Merchant Law Group, will receive about 1/2 of that. $40,000,000.00. One firm. They have 50 lawyers. That's $800,000.00 on average per lawyer. No doubt, the junior lawyers will see very little, if any of that money, and the partners will enjoy much higher yearly bonuses this year. The firm put forward that many of their lawyers had gone without pay for extended periods, and that they had invested over $2 Million of their own monies into the class action case. They represented about 9000 clients in the class action.

Hey, I'm all about making a decent living as a lawyer. I wouldn't have gone through the 10 years of education, and a year of articling if there wasn't some promise of a decent yearly take-home at the end of the rainbow. But $40M for one firm. That's outrageous. What makes it more outrageous is that it never even went to court. It was a back-room negotiation. The $40M firm admitted that it wished it had gotten more for its clients. I bet they wished that too.

The deal offers any former student a lump sum of $10,000 each, plus $3,000 for each year spent in the schools. An estimated average of about $30,000.00 for each living former student. It is estimated there are 80,000 people alive today who attended Indian residential schools, according to Statistics Canada. The total payout is about how much a secretary makes in one year. The average age of the former students is 60, but many are sick and living in poverty. This is compensation for many years of actual physical, sexual and mental abuse, plus years of post-abuse mental anguish. Now, consider that a large number of the victims are now dead, and no claim can be made. Do you think that the abuse suffered by residents of the schools has not affected further generations? I do. Here's why. My grandmother attended a residential school. I don't know how badly it sucked, but I do know that it did suck. We can all read victim stories to get an idea of what it was like. My grandmother did not get to be with her family for 10 months of the year for years. She got to go home for summer holidays. During the school year, she wasn't allowed to speak her native languages. That means that Cree was lost for her, for her children, her grandchildren and her great grandchildren. French was also lost, but luckily regained a couple of generations later through self-study.

I ramble on...

Here's the point. For something that affected an entire life, and the lives of the victim's progeny, the government is willing to hand out $30,000.00. Gee...thanks on behalf of all the claimants. For working really hard on the case for a few years, all the while servicing other clients, I would assume, 50 lawyers get to share $40,000,000.00. That's enough for many people to retire on. Retire well. Yeah, they worked hard, I am sure, but they didn't get what the claimants asked for. O the other hand, they chose to take a risk on 9000 clients and to put in a lot of time. But, in my opinion, the risk they took does not reflect 40 million dollar bills.

Am I off here? Am I crazy to think that this situation is really out of whack? Am I going against the grain too much as a member of the Law Society to say that this is bordering on immorality? Let me know.

P.S. How much is $40,000,000.00? It's hard to imagine for me, as I have been in student-related poverty for so long. Here's a funny post about how much $1,000,000.00 is. Here's some more trivia on the subject - how much does $1,000,000.00 weigh?

Monday, May 08, 2006

Law in Literature: The King of Torts - a short review

King of Torts
I just finished reading John Grisham's King of Torts. It was a very entertaining read and fairly creative. It was equally frustrating - almost maddening - to read. The main character, Clay, gets handed a supposed "lottery winning" opportunity, but he never really suffers any kind of ethical struggle with himself. I began very early on to think that he was a loser, just like his father who had been disbarred some years before. As usual, Grisham attempts to smooth over the ethical issues, and make it more of a struggle about taking risks to make mega-bucks.

I was pretty shocked by the $ figures peppered throughout the book. I had no idea of the extent of mass tort litigation, or the numbers involved. The book was convincing in many instances - i.e. that this kind of back room manipulation through tort litigation could make or ruin corporations. As well, it was pretty fascinating to read about what the life of mega-lawyers might be like. How anyone could possibly justify purchasing a $42M private jet is completely beyond me, and I would rather choose to live my life in a more simplified bubble than contemplate such things. I often have a hard time charging someone the rates that I do to write them a will, or do a real estate transaction. Taking 30% of a multi-million dollar settlement would certainly cause me to pause, I think.

One other thing that really bothered me about this book, as with some of Grisham's other books, is the seemingly easy transition from law school, or in this case, from being a lowly lawyer at the district attorney's office, to mega-law firm or mega-litigation. Again, Grisham glosses over the idea that it might take more than reading over a few rules of court, or asking a couple veteran colleagues what needs to happen to succeed. I think that you would have better odds of winning big on slot machines than of succeeding in the big leagues of law without proper and lengthy preparation (i.e. years) before taking on the big case(s). But, I guess that is what makes good American legal drama - that David vs. Goliath set-up, and in this case, that emulation of the fall of David from a situation that could have been so easy and ultimately satisfying.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

More Professors Ban Laptops in Law Classes

Here's something controversial (at least for law students). Some Penn State law school professors have banned laptops in their classrooms, claiming that students are too distracted as they surf the web, and in some cases, play poker during class. What do you think?

Myself, I found my laptop a very useful tool during law school, as I detested taking notes by hand. However, I also found it very distracting and rude when classmates would be surfing The Gap and SI.com or, worst of all, playing solitaire incessently.

Laptops are supposed to be a resource to help you in class, not a mode of distraction. If you are finding class so boring, go home, read your textbook. You'll get a lot more out of it.