By Charlie Gillis - Monday, February 4, 2013 - 0 Comments
Do-it-yourselfers flood a system set up for lawyers and judges
She has been threatened with abduction, shaken down for bribes and stopped at gunpoint by hostile police. But nothing in Alison MacLean’s work as a combat camerawoman in Afghanistan has proved as scarring as the legal battles she has waged on her own behalf in B.C.’s family court system. They began in 2008, when after a messy divorce, MacLean learned at the last hour that her ex-husband was applying for the forced sale of their house. She was in hospital at the time preparing for a knee-replacement surgery. Instead, she raced to Vancouver’s Robson Street courthouse in time to attend a registrar’s hearing, where she succeeded in getting the action set aside. “My lawyer told me she couldn’t go speak for me that day,” recalls MacLean, 53. “I had no choice but to go. It was the first-time I self-repped, and it was a success. For me, that was a turning point.”
Three years on, MacLean is still fighting her ex in court, representing herself in all but the most complex proceedings. “I’m your average, middle-class working mom,” she says. “I don’t have access to huge amounts of money.” And while she’s honed her skills over 10 court appearances, familiarity hasn’t enhanced the experience. The justice system, she says, is set up for lawyers, judges and clerks—more than a few of whom make no secret of their exasperation with self-represented litigants. She can research case law, swear an afﬁdavit and ﬁle documents as expertly as a paralegal. But when asked what it’s like to navigate this bewildering subculture on her own, MacLean doesn’t hesitate: “I prefer being in Afghanistan.” Continue…
By Charlie Gillis - Thursday, September 13, 2012 at 5:00 AM - 0 Comments
Ontario’s shortage of positions has the law society considering radical alternatives
Mathew Mezciems thought he was doing everything right. He got into one of the country’s premier law schools and set his sights on extracurricular activities that would set him up for a job on graduation. Big firms look for leaders—or so goes the conventional wisdom. So at the end of his first year at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., Mezciems ran for a junior position on the law students’ society, and won. The following year, his peers elected him president.
The job consumed a surprising amount of time. “There are meetings during the week with faculty,” says the 27-year-old, “and office hours where students can come and talk to you.” By the end of his second year, his grades had slipped into the Bs, and Mezciems found himself without one of the all-important summer student positions that serve as entryways to articling. After graduating this spring, he still couldn’t find an articling job—a predicament that not long ago would have been unthinkable for such a prominent student. “I’m trying not to be worried,” he said last June from his home outside Kingston, the strain audible in his voice. “You have those moments of panic, but I’m trying to stay positive and not get too overwhelmed.”
Mezciems might have felt left behind, but he’s in good company. As many as 15 per cent of Ontario’s roughly 1,750 law graduates may fall victim this year to an articling shortage in the province that is having a ripple effect for firms and students across the country. As recently as four years ago, more than 94 per cent of Ontario’s law grads were able to land the 10-month apprenticeships, which are required to get a licence to practise, and often led to positions as associates at the same firms. Those halcyon days are over, as students jockey frantically for coveted spots, and cases like Mezciems’s multiply. In a 2009 survey, only 661 of 7,749 firms contacted said they were offering articling placements, and more than two-thirds of those were located in Toronto and Ottawa. At last count, more than one in 10 of that year’s law graduates had not yet landed articling jobs.