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.


Wednesday, September 15, 2008 – First Assignment Due Tomorrow… and other things

Well, I have to say, so far, so good. Last week was intense for me because I had missed a bunch of readings for Civil Law Property in my first week, and it took me quite a while to wade through them, partially because they were in French (constantly having to refer to a 20-lb dictionary takes time), and partially because they were written in a dense, obtuse style that would have made my head spin even in English. I am still not sure if that time was well spent, because I got only fragmentary information out of those readings and their content was not covered in class, but the good student in me is still glad I did them… despite the hours and hours and hours I could have spent with my boyfriend, or cooking, or doing laundry…

Overall, we’re getting into the substance of the courses now. Classes are lively, and most of the material is being taught with constant comparisons between the common law and the civil law system. The Socratic method is not extensively used here, so we’re all pretty relaxed in class, free to speak when we have something to say, but also secure in the knowledge that we won’t be mercilessly grilled about something we only have a rudimentary grasp of.

And tomorrow, our first assignment – a case summary – is due for Legal Meth. It’s worth 10%, and it’s a baptism by fire – we’ll know how to do it right after getting it back with a grade. Not that we haven’t had explanations of how to do it… but the explanations have been brief and somewhat contradictory, coming one way from the prof and another way from the tutorial liaison (upper year student charged with teaching us the nitty-gritty). I kinda like this approach – one learns better from failing than from succeeding, right? And it’s only 10%.

Before I run to my contracts class, I wanted to also mention that Wednesday last week was Clubs Day – and there was a bit of a fair going on in the atrium of the law building with every student organization hawking candy and gathering e-mail addresses from perspective members. The variety was impressive – everything from the Business Law Association to wine appreciation to a theatre group to Avocats Sans Frontiers (Lawyers Without Borders). I joined a few things for which the time commitment would be manageable – the Womens’ Caucus, which involves female alumni and is a bit of a mentoring group (among other activities in the community), and the Human Rights Working Group, which has a number of smaller groups involved in community outreach activities. I can definitely say, there is a student organization for every persuasion. This is a dynamic place. On that note, I gotta run to class.

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!

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.