Exciting Times

August 27, 2007

It is with great pleasure that I am announcing a new thing here at Canons of Destruction. Prepare yourselves, for we are recording a podcast! That’s right, Lefty and I will be recording it this coming week and posting it for your listening pleasure before the first day of classes.

Features will include (but will not be limited to) the great laptop/pen and paper debate, why 2L sucks: a retrospective, and plenty (and I do mean plenty) of witty banter.

Clear off your ipods, folks – exciting times ahead.

More Unsolicited Advice

August 19, 2007

So, school is fast approaching (again), and this time around, Lefty and I are both in 3L. We’re 66.666666% done law school, and I think it’s high time we handed out a little more un-asked-for advice to any of you reading who may be prospective law students or who may be going into 1L or even 2L.

This might take a while, and Lefty is, um, indisposed (MIA for real!) at the time being, so I’m just going to talk about one very important thing today: Friends. I feel like neither Lefty nor I adequately addressed this last year, so I’m going to do my best right now. Here goes:

I know it sounds trite, but trust me when I say that the absolute most important thing you’re going to get out of law school is your circle of friends. Sure, a law degree is a valuable asset, career-wise and will give you the skills and confidence and analytical thinking ability to succeed at just about anything, but still, none of that is as great as the friends you’ll make.

Assuming your school either is my school or is something like it, you will spend 1L in a group of about 60 people or so going to all your classes together. This is fantastic because it really helps you to meet people, and maybe not just the people you thought were cute or hot or cool-looking at orientation. You’re going to be sitting next to the people in your section for about 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, plus more if you hang out in the library at all, and you’re not going to be able to help but like at least a few of them.

You won’t realize at first what a huge impact that group that you’ll end up with will have on your life, and that’s okay; looking back and being completely astonished is part of the experience, I think. My group of friends included a small-town radical feminist who had spent time teaching English is Korea and travelling in South America, a Vancouver transplant who had worked for the government and gave up a cushy position to travel to cold, hard Edmonton for law school, leaving her long-time boyfriend behind (happy ending – he moved here last year), a Torontonian computer engineer with massive obsessive tendencies, a penchant for fine food and wine, and a love for squash, a very young Edmonton-born Hindi, who was, besides me, the only person in law school who didn’t eat meat (that I knew of, anyway), a gambling, womanizing, yet surprisingly engaging jock, a devout Muslim scientist who looked something like Beyonce, and some other characters who tended to float in and out of our group.

We were (many of us, anyway) unlikely friends, and now that we’ve been through two years together, I can’t really imagine my life without them. They are who I call when I need to talk; more than one of them has talked me through more than one breakup; one of them even let me use their car to start learning to drive in. My law friends really do mean the world to me, and not in a “we get wasted at Hudson’s and talk about torts” kind of way.

Here’s where the advice starts: I’m sure all of you will feel at least a little like I did on my first day of school looking around the room at the people you’re going to be spending a lot of the next three years with- out of place, hopeless, lost, alone, generally weirded out, etc. None of my friends looked like my friends when I saw them for the first time. That is, none of them had tattoos or dyed their hair black or were really into Black Flag. Though I thought it did at first, that kind of stuff really doesn’t matter. Once I let down my guard a little, my new friends quickly became indispensable. They became my community.

All this is not to say that I don’t hang out with any of my non-law friends anymore. I do, and they’re very important to me as well. It’s just that as me and all my friends from bands and my old job working in a trendy cafe get older, we’ve all started to gravitate toward other things, different things than drew us together in the first place. For me, that has been law school and my friends there. I identify more and more as a member of the legal community, and I guess it only makes sense that that makes the bond I feel with my law friends even stronger.

What I want to say is that you shouldn’t pigeon-hole yourself. Don’t be afraid to grab lunch with the jock, the IT nerd, and the fashion-obsessed art girl. Don’t be afraid to chat up the tattooed weirdo or the guy who wears a suit to class every day at the bar. Don’t avoid all the law school functions because they’re not to your usual taste (which is a mistake I’ve made these past two years and am rectifying on the First Friday Back at school this year). Take advantage of all the opportunities you are given when you start law school to make some of the best friends of your life. You won’t regret it.

More unsolicited advice to come – as soon as I can find Lefty…

Confidentiality

August 7, 2007

One of the hardest things for me to do is keep information confidential. No, potential employers that are reading this, this doesn’t mean that I routinely give out confidential information or do anything improper or unprofessional – I don’t. What I’m getting at is that every person has their strengths and weaknesses, and one of my weaknesses is that I’m an emotional talker.

 Here’s what I mean: I don’t bottle things up well. I’ve been working to improve my technique over the years, but for the most part, I simply can’t keep my emotions inside, so I end up randomly spewing them all over anyone whose ear I manage to bend. This can be disasterous.

When I was in 7th grade, I had a GIGANTIC crush on a certain boy. It was my first real crush on anyone, and pretty soon, the whole school knew simply because I could not make myself shut up about it. It was horribly embarassing for me and, I’m sure, the target of my affection. Needless to say, it never worked out – we slow danced one time (to Meatloaf, no less), and that was as far off the ground as things ever got. I hear he’s married now.

Though more than 10 years have passed since then, I (unfortunately) still behave the same way when I have a crush on someone, or when I’m really excited about something. The pressure of keeping my thoughts inside begins to feel like trying to plug a hole in the Hoover Dam, and since I’m evidently not that strong, I inevitably crack.

How is this even remotely related to law? Well, as you will know if you have read any of the older posts by me, I’m going into criminal law. I’m going to be making my living working on cases that will often be reported in the news. It stands to reason that I, as a (future) criminal lawyer, will face more pressure to talk about my job and the cases I’m working on than, say, a tax lawyer.

What amazes me is that, so far, I’ve been really good about keeping all the sensitive stuff I’m privy to as part of my job confidential. I do occassionally talk about the legal principles or vague fact situations that bring up moral/ethical issues, but I’ve never said anything that would/could identify a client; I’ve never breached confidentiality in a professional capacity, and I’m proud of that!

Why, then, can I do this in one capacity but not the other? Why can I keep a lid on my professional emotions but not my personal ones? My professional stuff is no doubt about one million times more interesting than my personal emotional life, and while this bodes well for me not being disbarred later in life, it does make me wonder what the hell my problem is.

It seems there’s a foregone conclusion about people like me: Eventually, we’re all going to see the plastics man about getting our tattoos removed, get sensible haircuts, jump ship to the big firms, buy houses, have kids, get married, and otherwise “settle down.” Punk rock, alternative lifestyles, and idealism are seen (apparently) as youthful, even childish things that only really exist so that later on, when you’re 45 and married, you can say, “yeah, man, I used to LOVE Bad Religion! I saw them with the Casualties, and I used to have a mohawk and stuff!” and feel like you’ve still got… well… some kind of claim on something dangerous and different and “alternative.”

This is where I’d like to get on my high horse and scream “death to false punk!” and rant and rave about how if this is how you’ve ended up, you were probably never punk in the first place, but nobody ever reacts well to this sentiment, so I’m going to try and elucidate some.

The way I see it, there are a couple different kinds of punkers out there (and I don’t mean the crusties vs. the skate punks vs. the anarcho punks, etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum). I mean that there are those for whom music and clothing and lifestyle are the be all and end all of punk, and there are those for whom punk is something that they simply can’t stop being, regardless of how many pairs of Dockers they buy. To this latter group, punk tends to be a lifesaver, a reason to live, and, simultaneously, a giant fucking millstone.

I think it’s likely that all people who consider themselves punk rock in some way start out in the same kind of place – the record store. My introduction to punk rock was through my first boyfriend, who played me the Dead Kennedys and made me a mixtape with Propagandhi, Bad Religion, and Hi Standard on it. I was hooked, and I went out to what used to be the punk record store in my town (Sonix RIP) to look for, well, something. I wasn’t quite sure what it was I wanted, except that I wanted IN. I wanted to affiliate myself with punk rock, because Jello Biafra had somehow spoken to me. What I got at the record store was not so much a record (or, more precisely, DK’s Frankenchrist CD) as a small, intimidating glimpse into the punk dude at the counter’s existence. I noticed his clothes, hair, nail polish, odor, demeanor, and what he was reading, and I decided to model my punkness on him. Consequently, I ran around high school looking, most of the time, like a mix between a cross-dressing Sid Vicious and a complete crazy person. This was how I expressed my new punk-ness.

This seems to be the way for a lot of people. They fall into punk rock in some way or another, and they feel some intense pressure to signify to the “others” just how different and crazy and, well, punk they really are. It’s probably a pretty normal developmental stage for many people, just as run-of-the-mill as playing football or drinking underage, and I don’t look down on any teenager who feels a need to demonstrate their kind of thinking in the way they dress or what kind of music they listen to.

The thing is, though, that as much as the crazed, hormone-fuelled, alienated, confused, angry, sad, happy, aggressive teenagers would like to this it, this is not punk rock. Punk “fashion” and being punk rock have only a link, not a causal connection. Sure, there are “true” punkers who dress like archetypical punks from 1976, but that doesn’t mean that dressing like a young Joe Strummer ever makes you a “true punk,” the definition of which I’ll get to in a minute.

Nowadays, and maybe this has always been so but I’ve just very recently gotten old enough to see it, there’s a disturbing trend which involves 20somethings and 30somethings on up looking to the teenagers for fashion advice. This is a bad idea for a lot of reasons, but since this isn’t a style column, I’m not going to go into all of them. The end result is that you’ve got all kinds of people dressing “punk” without really scratching the surface of what that label means. You’ve got Hot Topic, Nike buying out Converse, and Good Charlotte opening for Justin Timberlake. Barf, but whatever. Edgy is in right now, and while I think it’s tacky, I’m not going to complain (too much).

The thing about fashion is that it changes. Keeping fashionable is a futile, soul-less struggle, but I’m destined to keep doing it until I die. So too, eventually, will all the people who bought the bootleg Ramones shirts and the chucks look at those items in their closets and despair the fact that everything they own is hideous and out of date and awful. Hell, they may even look at their very bodies and think the very same thing about the tattoos they got or the piercing holes that are starting to sag.

The thing, though, is that all of this stuff, this peripheral, inconsequential worrying and consuming has nothing, really, to do with punk rock. Like I said, if you’re a punk at heart, no amount of ass fat is going to change anything.

Now that I’ve gotten to this point, I’m having a hard time defining what exactly being punk really IS. I think it has something to do with your convictions and your willingness to believe in something alternative to what’s handed to you. Perhaps it’s nothing more than a willingness to live on the margins in some way forever, or even some kind of bizarre psychosomatic quasi allergic reaction to the shitty times we’re living in. Whatever it is, once you’ve really got it, it doesn’t let go of you.

Admittedly, compared to some of you out there, I’m not very old. I haven’t had kids or been married. I have some cats, but I don’t even get to live with them anymore. I’m sure that many of you would think I’m really, really immature. Even so, I don’t see myself changing up for some more “mature” ideals anytime soon. I don’t always like a lot of things about myself, but goddamn, I’m really happy with my idealism and with my belief in an alternative, and I’m not about to let go. In fact, the further I get in my law “career,” the more in love with the “punk” part of myself I am. Lots of punk kids dream of having the power to give the cops a hard time or put on shows, or having something actually useful and worthwhile to write zines about, and I finally am starting to have the power to help out my community. I think maybe that’s what punk means to me, actually – using the power you have to help out your homies.

I guess that when you get married, you do it because you’re convinced you’ll feel a certain way about someone forever, so you commit to that feeling (and, obviously that person). Not everyone who gets married is right – that is, not everyone who gets married is correct in their feeling that they will love and/or stay with their husband or wife forever, but I dont’ think that lessens the sentiment at the time of the ceremony. I guess that if I’ve ever felt that way about anything in my life, it’s been about what I see as punk rock, and so I guess I’m willing to put myself out there and say (even if I’m wrong later) that while some things about me will change, I’ll always be a punk rocker in some way - even if it is buried under 50 pounds of saggy baby weight.

 Also, my tattoos aren’t going anywhere.

Unsympathetic

July 20, 2007

As I may or may not have mentioned, I am spending the summer with a small, largely criminal law firm. We do almost exclusively Legal Aid work, and hot damn, do we ever have some interesting files. I have so far worked on everything from summary conviction sentence appeals from a theft under to murders and long term offender cases. My eyes are being opened, and I am grateful for the experience, despite the fact that the office can be somewhat disorganized and that I am in a perpetual power struggle with the criminal legal assistant (who, I hear, has NO training whatsoever but insists on going to court instead of me).

Since we are a tiny firm, everyone pulls some phone duty, which means I end up talking to a lot of our clients who are in jail or in remand. Let me tell you, while I have lost none of my passion for criminal defence practise, some of our clients are Grade A Douchewhistles, and (it appears) that most of them are also guilty.

This very likely sounds uncharitable, and maybe it is. However, something I’ve learned about working in a criminal law office is that while some of your clients are innocent, and some of them have been treated unjustly, and some of them are just terribly, catastrophically unlucky, the vast majority of criminal law (or at least the kind of stuff we do, which, granted, is different than other firms) is damage control, and the stupid people keep you in business. You are hired by people who have committed some sort of offence, and it is your job to make sure they get a fair shake, legally speaking, anyway.

Our clients often ride the low side of the IQ curve. I don’t mean that in a derisive or patronising way, either – they just aren’t a terribly smart group of people on average. That’s probably why they get caught so much and keep committing crimes. The thing about this intellectual skew, though, is that it can be difficult for myself and the lawyers in the office to effectively communicate with some of our clients. It’s a fine line between being clear and direct and being condescending, and man, it’s a hard one to walk. The law is (as I’m sure most of you are aware) a complicated thing. I am now 2/3 of the way through law school, and I don’t get it, so I wonder what it’s like for people who HAVEN’T been to law school to try to grasp the complicated legal concepts that their lawyers spew at them at 500 mph.

I suppose the point of this post is to reflect on the “service” element of any legal job. While many lawyers would chafe at the thought, we are really no less in the service industry than the baristas we order our (soy) lattes from in the morning. We are hired by our clients, whether they are petty criminals or giant multinational conglomerates, and we have some obligation upon us to serve them and keep them happy. Sure, we can fire our clients if we have a problem with them, just like baristas can kick out unruly customers, but if we want to make our money, we all need to put up and shut up at least a little, and sometimes that means slowing down and trying to help out your clients on their level once in a while – even if it’s annoying.

This probably sounds unappealing, since, if you’re anything like me, you viewed your law school acceptance letter as your ticket OUT of the service industry forever. The thing is, interacting with people, even annoying people who call you a cunt on the phone, is a necessary part of being a human. Lawyers seem to like to pretend that we’re something more than human, that we’re somehow above all the petty humanity that grovels at our feet for legal advice, when really, we’re just a different kind of petty human.

I don’t want to sound like I’m working into some kind of “why can’t we just all get along” thing here. I’m not, and I hate that hippie shit (ha HA, doubters! You thought all vegans were hippies, didn’t you?) I just hate that soul-less shit too, so let’s all just try not to carve a path somewhere between bleeding-heart hippie morons and vacuous corporate whores, and just be humans as well as lawyers, eh?

MY Two Cents

July 19, 2007

So it appears that my distinguished colleague has stirred up a bit of a shit storm with one of her recent posts.  As the co-founder and absentee father of this little blog I thought I should weigh in with my thoughts on the matter.

 

First off I would like to state that the opinions expressed on this blog are those of the poster and do not always represent all parties involved.  That being said, while I don’t always agree with what Gozer has to say, I will always support her right to say it.

 

As for the post in question I agree with the general premise.  It appears that the some of the really hard working and talented people in our class are being passed over for those who look more polished in their interview.  Now I understand the importance of being able to present yourself and your firm to clients but as someone who has been responsible for hiring employees before I know for a fact that a good interviewee does not always translate to a good employee.  I can only assume that the same can be said for the legal profession.  So how does one go about changing the hiring process so firms are able to cut through the crap and make sure the really talented people are being hired?  I have no idea, that’s for you lawyer-types to figure out.

 

What I really don’t understand is where all the hatred is coming from in response to Gozer’s post?  I’m mean, unless you’re a 2L or 3L at the U of A then none of her “insults” could have been directed at you.  Is it what she said about Big Law being soulless and life-sucking?  I mean surely this isn’t the first time you’ve heard this criticism before.  Do you go onto the sites of Opinionistas, Barely Legal, Tucker Max, Philalawyer, etc. who talk about the absurdity of corporate law and tell all of them how wrong they are too?

 

I guess what I’m trying to figure out is why someone who is completely content with their position in the corporate legal world would give a shit about what some law student thinks about Big Law?  If you’ve achieved the aspiration of all law students by securing a lucrative position at a corporate law office then why even bother responding to the insane rantings of some counter-culture slacker?  Who are you really trying to convince that Big Law is the place to be – yourself or everyone else?         

Lefty

I Stand Corrected

July 14, 2007

Apparently, a couple of people do read this.

I make no apologies for my last post, however. I know many of my opinions aren’t popular – they never have been, and they probably never will be. This is probably the biggest soapbox I’ll ever have (thanks to YOU), so there’s no cause for alarm.

I would, however, like to hear from more of you (though not if you’re just going to insult me or call me stupid – I can take it, but I don’t want to. Plus, if really you want to call me dumb, send me an email, and we can arrange a time for you to tell me to my face). Why does this kind of stuff rile you up so much? I can’t believe any of you would feel threatened by someone like me – I have no doubt that you are all more successful and better students than me and will probably end up with more money and maybe even nicer kids, so what’s the deal? What’s with all the hostility, maaaan?

xo
gozer

Aggro Friday

July 13, 2007

Notice to the Profession: Quit being such stupid douchebags!

Seriously, folks, let me break it down for you.

First, I know almost no one reads this. In a way, it’s very liberating to know that while some big law firms are trolling facebook and myspace looking for anti-social tendencies, I am standing here ranting and raving at them without being seen at all. That said, I want to address the big law firms for a second (this means YOU, Bennett Jones, Macleod Dixon, Blakes, McCarthy Tetrault, etc.):

You guys are idiots. Okay, your hiring partners are idiots.

With the biggest articling interview week of the year behind us, many of my friends are finally finding the time to examine what happened and the aftermath, and a lot of what I’m hearing sounds pretty bleak. Big firms, why are you not asking students about the things you are concerned enough about to not hire them for? Why are you spending all the time talking? Why are you uniformly turning off all the cool people who apply to your firm? You do know what the purpose of an interview is, do you not?

Granted, I don’t have a business degree, so maybe you do have some kind of brilliant strategy in there someplace and I’m just too ignorant to see it, but from where I stand (which is, by the way, where many other intelligent, talented, and damn good looking law students who you would do well to hire stand), your hiring practises look like they were designed by Michael Scott.Here’s the thing, Big Law Firms, I know the people you’re interviewing a lot better than you do. Sure, the ones you pick may have good resumes and good marks and look nice in suits, but I am the one who knows which ones are assholes in class, which ones have had everything paid for by Daddy, which ones can’t function if their wives pack them the wrong kind of sandwich for lunch, which ones are Nickleback fans, which ones spend contracts class staring at the professor’s rack, which ones are scared to talk to you without rehearsing first, which ones work their asses off, which ones are lazy,  and which ones would stab you in the back. Frankly, Big Law Firms, that’s stuff that’s good to know about your employees. Because I know about those things, and because you don’t care about those things, I can see that you’ve made a couple of major slip ups in your hiring this year.

I suppose it’s okay, though, since YOU are the ones missing out. Your “rejects” will be too busy to miss you, I imagine. Many of them will likely discover areas of law they had no idea they would be so passionte about, and as a result, they’ll become better lawyers than they would have churning out contracts for your various “teams”. They’ll be happy. They’ll have relationships and families and sports teams and vacations. They will have fascinating, fulfilling careers WITHOUT the soul-crushing hours, the bullshit “culture,” and, most imporantly, without YOU, Big Law Firms.

Enjoy the next generation.

xo

gozer

Negotiation

June 20, 2007

As I wrote yesterday, I have procured an article for myself. I was called on a Saturday by the firm and given the offer, which I accepted on the spot. The partner who I spoke to expressed his satisfaction with all of this and then told me he would call me to set up a meeting where we could hammer out the details, which, I can only assume, means salary and start date.

Start date is easy. What I’m a little nervous about is salary. See, the articling handbook has listed the articling salary for the firm I’ll be at as the same for the last three years. Now, I don’t need a huge articling salary, but I’m living in my grandma’s basement right now, and I want to be OUT by the time I start articling.

The cost of living in Edmonton has risen DRAMATICALLY in the last three years, and I’m worried that I’m going to get offered the same salary as the person who articled three years ago when you could still get a decent apartment for $400 a month. Now, I’m looking at $700 rent AT LEAST if I want to live on my own (which I do)  and even more if I want to buy (which I actually do as well – why pay a high rent if you can get at least a little equity, right?).

I’ve never really been in a position to negotiate my salary before, and I’m not really sure how to do it. On the one hand, this is not a huge Calgary firm with oil money to burn. It’s a 10-lawyer firm, and while everyone there appears to do very well (as I’m sure I would if I were to get hired back after my article), they just don’t have an extra $10,000 kicking around, I’m sure.

I guess the bottom line is that it sucks asking for money, no matter who you’re asking, but it seems like it’s a necessary evil that all of us are going to have to get used to at least a little as we move into the practise of law.

Good luck, again, to any of you looking for jobs or articles.

xo

Big News

June 19, 2007

We here at Canons of Destruction are pleased to announce that one of us (and very likely the other of us very soon) has got an article. That’s right – you heard it here first: the tattooed freak got an article, and not a bad one, either.

I know I promised to write about the articling application/interview process, but really, I only did one interview and only sent out 8 applications. Why am I so stupid? Well, most of the firms I had planned on applying to were smaller criminal law firms that didn’t really have set dates for articling applications. When my laptop caught on fire a little while ago, my resume and other application materials were lost for a time, and I wasn’t able to send out any further applications until I had already gotten an offer and accepted. Apparently, the universe likes me.

I don’t feel terribly qualified to give advice on how to sucessfully procure a great article, but here are a few little tidbits from my (brief) experience:

1. Be yourself in your interview. Seriously. No, seriously. I decided early on that the only thing I would hide in my interview was my tattoos (and only because I kind of had to wear a suit), and apparently, that was a good thing. I talked about veganism, punk rock, my plans for a new metal band, my insecurity about living in my dad’s shadow, and my actual hopes and dreams for my career future.

2. Be prepared for ANYTHING, and don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know the answer to a question. I got asked a lot of very policy-oriented questions at both my first and second interviews (this might be more relevant for those of you wanting to go into criminal law, like me, but you never know – BJ might bust this kind of stuff out too), and they stumped the hell out of me. They weren’t the kinds of questions that you could really give a good answer to after only thinking for 10 seconds about, so I told my interviewers that I would normally think about the issue for a while and then gave them my preliminary thoughts. I guess that was an okay thing to do, and I was later told that interviewers would much rather you admit that you’re not sure of something than bullshit your way through.

I think that’s all I’ve got. In all honesty, it sounds like the thing you can do most about is your application package; once you get an interview, it seems like firms are looking (largely) for your personality (which you can’t really fake) and your “fit” (whatever the fuck that means) with the firm. So, I suppose that makes the moral of the story: Don’t freak out too much, and don’t skimp on your application packages, and be yourself. Okay? Okay.

Anyway, good luck to everyone else out there who’s been dealing with this. All the best wishes from me, and hopefully we’ll be back right quick to tell you all about Lefty’s article.

xo

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