Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Week 13: trial!

Sat on my first trial ever yesterday and today.

Which also happened to be the first trial ever of Nice Lawyer, whom I was accompanying.

That's not unusual in family law, though. People usually settle, and you might practise for two years before you actually have a real proper trial of your own. And it takes about a year to get a date for a trial.

It was a custody case. I was all prepared with my laptop to take notes, we had a pretty good judge, trial was set for about two days, judge was a bit surprised that it was going to take that long given that there were no other witnesses except the two parties.

One thing I noted was that witnesses don't sit. They just stand there, facing the judge, although there is a little bench thing that they can sit on, but they just stood there for an hour and a half and talked. 

Note to self: cut fingernails the day before going to court and taking notes on laptop. I was making a helluva lotta noise typing, and I could've sworn the judge was staring at me for a while. I never noticed before how loud I type...

We took a break around 11. Went off to lunch, back at 2pm, and the parties tried to work things out.

Meanwhile, I was sent off to find a judgement by a Judge Maun, or Mann, that our judge mentioned but nobody quite understood the name and nobody wanted to ask the judge to repeat it.

Go off to floor 11, realize it's the wrong floor, trying to remember the floor the library is on, think it's 19, but then there's no floor 19, stops at 17, so I guess must be 17, get off at 17, run around in the halls because disoriented by the elevator's placement, find the CAIJ, chip card to enter, chip card for turnstile, grab a computer, log into CanLii to search caselaw...

ok now what... who was the judge?

GB Mann, nobody with that name. Whip up the Google-fu. Judge mentioned he died in 2000, so the ruling must be from 1998, 1999. Google judge superior court deceased 2000, somehow come across this bio, no idea what search terms and cannot replicate results, but at least I've got the name of a judge that sounds about right and it's Maughan.

Somehow I find the reference to the case, which is a "Droit de la famille 3213", which as it happens doesn't turn up in search. I want to try another database, I know the CAIJ has free access to paid ones, except I don't know how to access them. There are usually research assistants there to help you, but this happens to be lunch time, so their offices are all empty.

I finally manage to find one in an office at the very end of the hall, learn how to access the databases, find out how to charge my chip card, printing is 30 cents a page. Ugh.

Print, run down, find everyone discussing, trying to come up with an agreement, hand over the document, lawyer reads, find out it's not much use after all.

Oh well.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Week 13

Almost halfway through!

Time really flies, and I'm really starting to feel it.

I'm getting especially nervous looking back at the past 3 months and trying to figure out what I have actually done. Been to court a couple of times to ask for a postponement, file a consent agreement, sat on an interim, asked for a date, and still I don't know what the date was for.

I had a stark reminder of the intricacies of file management yesterday when Power-Lawyer called me in a bit of a panic, wondering what the F. had happened in one of her files which was set for a trial in early March. Which I guess is pretty much next week.

She had just printed out the file plumitif, which is the court record of things that happened in the file, and on it was written "inscription rejected - [our client's name]", except we never filed an inscription that day, and it was the opposing party's inscription, and now the court clerk says we don't actually have the dates for the trial, and what the fuck, and it says inscription filed 2 weeks later, which was our inscription, but I can't find the documents in my physical file which means there's nothing to prove we filed anything.

All in all it was a very uncomfortable ten minutes, while I tried not to panic as well, and tried to figure out what was going on, I see on our office server that there are backs saved in the client's folder, but nothing for the actual motions those backs belong to, and the backs are dated the same day the plumitif says we filed them, but then where the heck are these documents, someone must've typed them up and printed it from somewhere, and I don't know where our receptionist/assistant keeps the old court logs, so I can't even check what I filed at court that day.

And please please please let this not be my fault.

The problem was resolved a few minutes later, or at least part of it, as Power Lawyer actually found said documents in the folder, which was good for me cuz it means it's not my fault, and both our hearts got a bit of a workout.

On the other hand, I'm not quite sure what she's going to do with the trial date...

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Week 12

Practically spent the whole week helping another lawyer with her upcoming trial. Which is a nice change from Power-Lawyer, who prepares for days and nights at a rhythm I can't quite keep up with. Although I guess we can still end up preparing the night before this trial.

Anyway. I'm about to reach the halfway mark of my internship, and a trial is a nice way to mark the event.

I was given the task of coming up with cross-examination questions, and as usual, the instructions are pretty much "Give me 20 questions, everything is in the file." Except that said instructions were given by Nice Lawyer, who is not quite so blunt, which means it took me a minute or two to understand that she was basically asking me to read the file and make questions.

Coming up with cross-ex questions is much harder than I thought. The main problem is that in Family law, a lot of situations is your word against theirs. People seldom communicate in writing, so there's nothing to show that the person you're examining is lying.

In my mind, the best questions are the ones where the person looks bad no matter what answer is given.

When does the baby go to bed?
You don't know? You're the father/mother, how could you not know? Don't you put her to bed?
She sleeps early? Then what were you doing on that day at that activity, so late in the evening with the baby?
She sleeps late? Do you always put a 2-year-old to bed so late?

* * * 
We had the client in yesterday to prep her for trial. Prepping for trial is very similar to prepping for high school oral presentations. Everyone has their script, and you say it out loud pretending you're in front of the judge. 

The hardest part was to make the client understand that in a chief examination, lawyers aren't allowed to ask leading questions. You have to make them understand that when you ask "Describe your relationship with your ex" you actually mean "tell us why that person shouldn't have custody". 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Week 11: training

Our lawyer-in-chief just acquired a fancy file-and-time-management software for the firm, and we're getting 3 days of training to learn how to use it.

And being the stagiaire, and having unfortunately gotten the reputation of being somewhat techy, it pretty much means that I'm getting 3 days of training so I can spend the next month teaching everyone else in the office how to use it.

Power-lawyer has, naturally, decided that her client files were more important than this.

In other news, we also got a VPN installed, and everyone can breathe a sigh of relief for having caught up a little bit with technology.

In other other news, one of the lawyers has a court date tomorrow, and I'll be making puppy eyes and ask her to bring me, plz plz, with a cherry on top!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Week 10

Week 10 finally ended after 12 consecutive days of work.

Monday started with a hearing for a Leave of Appeal. The basic concept is, some decisions can be appealed "de plein droit", without needing to get anybody's permission, while other decisions can be appealed if you get an appeal judge's permission. A hearing for Leave of appeal is when you present your case to a court of appeals judge and hope to get permission to appeal.

The Court of Appeals is in a pretty impressive building a block away from the Montreal Courthouse. Everything looks pretty impressive, down to the judge who sits down, gestures vaguely towards your proceedings, gives you an annoyed look, and asks you what you want from him.

Good thing I was only watching, cuz I'd have been muy muy thrown off and would've run off to hide in a hole.

A hearing takes pretty much forever, and we were there all morning. The judge then took a break to read everything, came back at 2PM and ruled. No Appeal.

Power-lawyer was not happy, but in this business the show must go on and you have to move on.

She had another court date on Wednesday, so we moved on to that. There really isn't much to say, except that prepping for court means I'll be at work until 12:40 the night before the hearing, helping out on case law, exhibits, and so on.

Wednesday, spent the whole day in court, 9 to 4:30. The Courthouse being what it is, by the time we were referred to a judge, waited for the judge to read everything, waited during breaks, lunches, and so on, you get about 3 hrs of face time with the judge. From 9 to 4.

That was basically my week. Thursday and Friday were pretty quiet, given that all the big things were over.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Week 9: Everything a blur

Things are picking up!

Week 9 just finished today, 8:30 PM. The week was bu-zay.

I'm still not too sure what went on at the beginning of the week.

I was working in a file with Power-Lawyer, where we had to send out subpoenas.

I guess that's what I must've been doing at the beginning of the week, drafting subpoenas for banks and accountants, asking them to provide us the documents. Actually, technically, since they're subpoenas, so you're really telling them to send someone to court with the documents, but most people will just fax you the stuff you want, please leave me alone, I don't have time for court.

That resulted in a kerfuffle with our Senior Lawyer.

And this is why: the main printer in our office is a printer-scanner-copier-fax machine, and it only does one task at once. So our SL was NOT particularly happy to have the main unit tied up as it was receiving about 200 pages of documents, which in the end turned out to be more like 500 pages.

We were getting the docs piecemeal, so every 10 minutes or so, our SL would drop a pile on my desk.

And as the faxes came in, I was slowly being overwhelmed by piles of documents. Oh. My God. I'm going to have to go through all this.

Things don't always go smoothly, though, when you work with Power-Lawyer. To wit: some manager at a bank we subpoenaed called to let us know the docs were ready, but there were too many pages to be faxed, (200 pages only, the other guy did it, c'mon, you can do it too!), so could we please send a courier to pick them up. I arranged the pickup with our receptionnist-slash-office-manager (AKA the master-of-everything-that-needs-to-be-done), then let Power-Lawyer know the docs were coming in.

I didn't exactly expect her reaction.

"Wait, how come WE have to pick it up? Nononono THEY have to send it to US! The burden is on THEM. Call them back and tell them to pay for the courier themselves, or if they don't, then they can send someone to court."