A plea for collaboration
Whether you’re just starting out at Osgoode, entering 2L, 3LOLing or an LLM student, one thing is almost certainly clear to you by now: law school is competitive. Most classes are graded on a bell curve, there’s some kind of articling crisis happening, and there are only so many spots in club executives, moot teams and clinics/intensives. It’s a zero sum game right? Either you get ahead, or someone else does. Better to study by yourself rather than help others understand the material. Better to save that tip about the professor’s grading style than telling others. Better to maintain an edge over your classmates (and coworkers). Gotta look out for #1.
While on some level I (barely) understand this line of thinking, I will never agree with it. And that is why I’m using this little editorial of mine to reach out to you and beg you to be a team player from now on, until the end of your time at Osgoode and throughout your careers.
Still with me? Great! Here’s my pitch.
Let’s start with the rest of your Osgoode life. What is the point of law school? Is it to learn the law? To learn how to do legal research? To—as an associate at my summer job stated—learn how get stuff done fast and get it done well? To learn how to think like a lawyer? Truthfully, this is a question far beyond the scope of 700-1200 words. Fret not, this inquiry has a purpose. No matter what you think the purpose of law school is, learning to be a team player is going to help you.
Learning the law through cases can be a nearly futile pursuit. You know what makes it easier? Studying those dense tomes of ten-dollar words with others. As a group grows, so does the chance that someone in the group will be able to answer a question. A bigger group means a higher likelihood of someone knowing that ten-dollar word, or that Latin phrase, or that case Justice Abella is referencing.
Think you know more than your study group? That’s ok too! Explaining concepts to others is one of the best ways to know that you definitely have a handle on it. And, if you try to explain something and a question stumps you, you know what you need to study more. Likewise, helping someone hone their research skills or learn to read cases more efficiently will reinforce your capabilities. Everybody wins!
Now let’s turn what is often cited as the worst form of law school drudgery—the group assignment. Jeez, can’t we all just do our own thing and not worry about arranging schedules, delegating tasks and dealing with disagreements? How will we reconcile all the different writing styles? What a nightmare!
I want to push back on this understanding of group assignments. I must admit, I only have one summer of law firm experience. However, I can say that not one work product left that office without at least two sets of eyes reviewing and revising it, more often than not at least three. Whether a factum, an agreement, or an article for the website, everything has multiple people either writing the document, editing the document, or both. That translates in better work. So, learn to work as a team now. Learn how to resolve conflicts, learn how to divvy up tasks and learn how to being a useful meeting attendee.
Even if you’re planning to be a sole practitioner, one day you will face a question you can’t find the answer to. As a senior partner at my firm told me a couple months ago, “if you don’t know the answer you better know someone who does.” What about the first time you have to draw up a contract? Or the first time you have to write a notice of claim? Having the support of your colleagues is invaluable in those moments.
As an added bonus, both law school and work are way less stressful when you have the support of others! When I started work in May, I compared myself to the other summer student (there were only two of us). She stayed late two nights this week and I didn’t! That partner went directly to her to assign work, why didn’t they ask both of us?! Is she docketing more billable hours than I am? What if she is!? Before I completely dissolved into a puddle of uncertainty, I realised life is a lot easier when you see and treat fellow students as colleagues rather than adversaries. Check in with each other, offer to take on a task if you have a lighter workload, offer advice if someone is dealing with a topic you’ve worked on before, give them that tip you heard about the lawyer they’re doing work for.
No matter how tight the curve is, or how few spots there are at your dream firm, be a good friend and colleague to those around you. They say, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” I posit that more than that, what matters is who you know that likes you. I won’t pretend I wasn’t pretty burnt out by the end of the summer, but I can say that burnout would have happened earlier had it not been for the support I received from my fellow summer student.
So be there for each other. While you may think you’re holding people up now—and you might very well be—you never know when you’ll be the one in need of help. And you will need help because you’re human and like all humans, we’re not as bright as we pretend to be and law is goddamn difficult. Embrace it, because we’ve all been there and will all be there someday.