Author: Duan J. Ash

So it begins. Early mornings, late nights and lots of coffee is what we hear through the grapevine during law school about the articling experience. Adding to the list unfortunately is the COVID-19 pandemic making this articling experience more unique than others have had in the past. My name is Duan Ash, and I am currently articling at BOYNECLARKE LLP in Dartmouth N.S.

Beyond BOYNECLARKE’s great reputation at servicing their client’s and community outreach initiatives, their articling rotation schedule provides clerks with the opportunity to gain exposure to a variety of areas of practice (8-9 rotations for the year). Having the opportunity to observe and learn in a wide variety of practice areas for one year, was one of the main reasons why I chose BOYNECLARKE to do my articles. It was an ideal situation for me because during recruitment I had no clue what area of law I wanted to pursue.

However, due to COVID-19, my fellow clerks and I are the first core group of graduates who are articling simultaneously during a global health crisis. Talk about your grand welcoming to the legal profession. Our experience so far has been informative and enlightening, but there have been minor challenges along the way.

How COVID-19 has Caused Minor Inconveniences

The pandemic delayed our articles to a 9-month schedule instead of 12-months, which meant that unfortunately certain rotations had to be cut short. The plus side is we still completed and finish our articles at the end of May as planned, so that’s a win.

Unfortunately, because nothing is normal in 2020-21, our firm admirably has been doing their part to keep pace with COVID-19’s evolving state by implementing health and wellness policies in the office. For example, before COVID-19 sprung on us, you could normally go up and down to different floors to see other colleagues if you had questions, wanted to meet up for lunch in the cafe or even attend group functions for holidays. But now, each floor is restricted to their own floor “bubble” which means that you can only interact with the people who are on your floor and are not given access to other floors.

I fully support the decision to restrict access in order to help reduce the spread of COVID -19 within the firm. However, it has been challenging for us clerks, at times, to meet up during the days to check in with each other and asks questions about assignments or to simply have your classic “venting sessions” about articling in the cafe with the other clerks.

Another policy that was implemented by the firm to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19 was no utilizing the microwaves or fridges in the kitchens. I believe the thought process behind this decision was to limit the foot traffic in the common areas where many people touch the same surfaces daily, which ultimately creates a higher potential risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19. This has been a minor inconvenience and I personally have had to adapt what I bring in for lunch time to time but hopefully we can all do our part to limit the spread soon so we can start bringing in left over Sunday dinners for lunch again (I can hardly wait).  

Virtual & Online Methods Have Slowly Become the Norm

Transitioning to a hybrid “work from home” directive has been a unique experience for the lawyers, articling clerks and staff. Essentially the pandemic has forced firms and businesses to adapt their business practices to an online and virtual model in order to remain competitive, continue to function and maintain/stabilize the economy. Now in theory this all sounds amazing, you mean now I have the option to work remotely from home and have less in-court appearances. Not so fast.

For some lawyers, depending on their area of practice, they may enjoy the flexibility to work remotely because they may be more productive without all the distractions that can occur at the office. Moreover, some probably prefer spending less time traveling to and from court by doing hearings/conferences virtually.

For others, the shift to a virtual model has been challenging because there has been less face to face interaction for discoveries, court hearings, client meetings, etc. The limitations on personal interactions have not only been challenging for the lawyers, but also us clerks. Trying to gain court experience by physically going to court has been minimal from what I’ve been told than in the past. Furthermore, the ability to sit in on discoveries or client meetings has not been as frequent as recent years which has been disappointing.

The Bar Admission Program Shifted to an Online Virtual Model for the First Time

Even the Bar Admission Program in Nova Scotia changed their articling requirements to a 9-10 month online model versus the traditional bar exam format. The purpose for shifting the Bar Admission Program was so clerks could receive a more practical approach in developing their skills and learn how to work through a client file from beginning to end.

Essentially, our graduating class of clerks were given a 4-Phase virtual law firm experience that required us to follow an articling rotation schedule that was similar to our actual articling rotations in our firm placements. Moreover, we were assigned various written, research and advocacy task to complete throughout the year in preparation for our final assessments.  

After completing the program in March and reflecting on it, I do feel the program was informative and overall it helped me develop my legal skills/competency from both a legal and practical perspective. However, I did find the program challenging, at times, to meet deadlines for assignments. The reason being was that our rotations in the program were simultaneous with our articles at our firm. Meaning that unless we scheduled time during our normal work day at our firm to complete assignments, majority of the time I normally had to finish many of my assignments either at night after work or on weekends.

The Firm has Supported us in Every Way

Now leaving the challenges of COVID-19 behind us, there are many aspects I have enjoyed so far about articling at BOYNECLARKE.

First, what is great about our firm is that they care about our health and wellbeing. They have gone above and beyond at catering to all our needs as best as they can to ensure that we can still function and produce quality work. The appropriate policies and protocols due to the pandemic have been instituted to make all of us feel safe in the workplace, even though I really would like to use the microwave, but I digress. We have remote access to our systems as mentioned, in case we have flu-like symptoms and need to self-isolate.

Second, they have provided us with boardroom spaces that we can book in advance when needed for bar course training, virtual client interviews and advocacy submissions. Moreover, they scheduled additional mentor check-ins and have given us extra training with our computer software systems. Also, lawyers have been available on-call in case they are working from home to answer questions for assignments and consistently asking us for our feedback for what they can do to improve immediately to make our experience even better.

I am very appreciative of the hard work and adaptability the firm has made and the hurdles they have leaped over, not only to make our experience great, but more importantly to remain open which keeps my fellow clerks and I employed. It may not be the experience we expected, but we are adapting and have had to embrace this new normal of articling.

Even though these are small steps to offset some of the minor inconveniences I mentioned earlier due to the pandemic, it speaks volumes to me personally and demonstrates to me that the firm is listening to our concerns and making every possible effort to make swift changes. Their willingness to adapt and change their practice behaviours incentivize me to work hard for them, so essentially, what I’m saying is everybody wins.

To find information about BOYNECLARKE LLP’S articling program visit our web page Articling .