Ultra Vires


The Most Optimistic Story You’ll Read Today

The biggest refrain we 1Ls tend to hear whenever the subject of summer jobs comes up is just how comically low of a chance any of us have at getting one. I therefore decided to disregard that fact and plow ahead with a much more optimistic topic: What are the various types of 1L summer jobs actually like once you have one? I spoke with upper years Carlie Fox, Christie Campbell, Benjamin Iscoe, and Peter Flyyn, who in their 1L summers worked for DLS, the municipal government, Denton’s and a Professor, respectively, to find out.

What kind of work were you responsible for?

Carlie (DLS): Summer case workers carry a full case load – the number of files will vary depending on division. For example, caseworkers in Refugee and Immigration will typically have fewer files than caseworkers in Criminal Law. Although students have all of their work approved by their supervising lawyers, the buck really stops with students to make sure that files are being handled carefully and diligently and clients are contacted consistently. In addition to file work, all students are expected to join committees. The summer is a great time to implement new initiatives at the clinic, update the wiki and training manuals, and plan events for the school year. Summer students (not just the exec) make all this happen.

Christie (Government): I was responsible for prosecuting parking and traffic violations. Stop signs, red lights, and also the occasional drinking in public. This would involve making plea bargains, running trials, and fighting 11b charter motions for delay.

Benjamin (Denton’s): I did a variety of work.  Legal research and drafting various documents (memos, statements of claim, articles, etc.) were the most common duties.  Some of the more interesting things I did in my first year included giving a presentation to the Financial Services Department and editing a CFO’s speech to shareholders.

Peter (RA): I worked as a research assistant for professor Jacob Ziegel. A lot of the RAs do a lot of different work, so it’s dependent on who you’re with. A lot of my work was helping him update one of his Bankruptcy and Insolvency textbook. A lot of that meant going through the drafts of chapters as he updated them, going through the case law, the citations, the articles, making sure that they were up to date for section of the book and making sure he hadn’t missed anything or misspelt anything. A lot of it was content and asking “is this the current state of the law?”

What did an average “day in the life” consist of during your summer?

Carlie: The average day at DLS varies depending on your division. The Crim students were in court several times a week, while most other students are only in court or tribunal several times a summer. Summer caseworkers spend 2-3 hours a week handling the phone intake lines, maybe several hours a week meeting with clients, and the rest of their time doing file work. Summer students also attend several outreach events over the course of the summer. Most students worked either 9-5 or 10-6 Monday to Friday, and it was rare for students to come in on the weekend. If students did come in on the weekend, it was usually out of hearing prep paranoia.

Christie: When I would arrive at work, I would pick up my list of people to prosecute for the day, as well as any motions and requests for disclosure. I would then go to the courtroom, and talk to all the defendants or their representatives to see how they wanted to proceed (guilty plea, trial, or adjournment). When court started, I would call people to the front of the court and then we would proceed with the guilty plea, trial, or adjournment.

Benjamin: It really varied day-to-day.  Usually there would be some assignment on the go, so when I got into the office, I would pick-up where I left off.  If there is ever a situation where I finished something the night before and had a clear plate the next morning, I would come in a little bit later, and then knock on doors to see where I could help out (either other students or practitioners).

Peter: It was really self-directed. I prefer working a bit later usually so I would try to get to school for about 11, on the days that I did go to school, because you can work from home (though that depends on your prof). We had a bunch of RAs that would hang out together at a table, everybody sits there and does their research and has a little chat. Then lunch, then keep working on the chapter I was working on. Then go home, and maybe do some more work after supper. It’s very self-directed. However many hours you have a week, you can get them done however you want to get them done. I worked with a very flexible professor—as long as I got the work done he was happy. So for me it was good because if I wanted to go off on a weekend I could work a bit more Monday to Thursday, get my 35 hours in and I could take a Friday off. In terms of supervision, he was very hands-off. We met once a week and would go for lunch together and chat about the progress, about life general, about legal stories. But the relationship will really depend on the kind of professor you end up working with.

What was your favourite (and least favourite) part of your job?

Carlie: My favourite aspect of being at DLS was the degree of control we had over our files. For those of us heading to large firms, we likely won’t be in that position again for many years.

Christie: Favourite: the practical experience and opportunity to be on my feet all day everyday in a court. Least favourite: the steepness of the learning curve. And parking court on a bad day.

Ben: I really liked the environment—I actually liked the work.  It was challenging and stimulating.  I was asked questions about legal issues that no one knew the answer to.   I had to figure out how to effectively go through a variety of resources to get the answer. Bit by bit this vast world of the unknown becomes more focused, and at the end of the day you come back to a top-notch lawyer with an answer to a question they didn’t know.  There is something very gratifying about this process and it validates that you’re on the right track. There’s also all the firm outings they take students on which any summer student will eagerly discuss. My least favourite part [is that] when starting researching, it’s a great abyss.  It almost always takes a bit of time until I can hop on the research trail I want to be on.  Although no one expects an answer to a complex research question right away, I still have this defeatist feeling for the first bit. The flip side is that once I finally found something that discusses what I wanted it opened up so many doors and the exercise starts to become a lot of fun.

Peter: My favourite part was getting a chance to really talk to professor Ziegel—I really enjoyed those lunches. I miss those—it was a really good opportunity to get to know him on a personal basis. My least favourite was probably footnote checks. It’s monotonous, you have to look through every single one. And footnote checks include making sure all the cross referencing is correct. It’s a big hassle looking through every single cross-reference to make sure they all correctly line up to the correct citations.

What is one piece of advice about your type of job, or 1L jobs in general, that you think every 1L should know?

Carlie: Book your days off on your first day! If you don’t, you’ll end up with court appearances all over the place and you’ll feel like you don’t have any weeks during which you can take vacation.

Christie: Apply to everything, and try to get some experience doing what you are interest in. But if you don’t, that is perfectly fine too – it will all work out.

Ben: You’re not expected to know everything about the law; in many cases there is no assumption that you know anything about the law.  There is no harm in saying “I don’t know” (I said it a lot).  Also, don’t feel pressured into doing a 1L firm job.

Peter: Make the most out of it. You get a lot out of the RA position that you put into it. If you have an interest in the area that you’re working in, or even if you don’t and you find an interest, it makes your work a lot more enjoyable. So rather than looking at it like “Oh, it’s a tough slog, I have to go through all this and read a bunch of chapters today”, look at it as an opportunity. It’s the summer, it’s not as hard as a 1L firm job, it’s an opportunity to grow and explore something that you’re not getting graded on but are responsible for. Take you’re time, get into it and actually start to enjoy reading about that area of law. Sometimes you might not be interested in the specific work you’re doing on a specific day, but try to find your Muse each and every day for what you’re doing.


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