|The Legal Profession has a unique rite of passage known as ‘articles’, wherein an aspiring law student is pledged, or ‘articled’ to a senior lawyer (known as a ‘principal’) for a period of a year- its sort of a cross between an apprenticeship and indentured servitude, and functions as an extended session of mentoring, and an opportunity for the student to watch and learn, and occasionally spread their wings to attempt some actual lawyering under the watchful eye of their principal.
A good set of articles puts the finishing touches on a law students education, and teaches the things that no law school can, while exposing the student to the full breadth of the law, the better to choose the path they will later follow, whether to the court room or the boardroom.
Although it is a crucial, and indeed mandatory part of becoming a lawyer, it is sometimes difficult for students to land an articling berth, as senior lawyers are often reluctant to invest the extra time to be a mentor.
Our Rebecca Darnell is an exception.
Where most small firms will accommodate a student only occasionally, and often only on a shared basis with another firm, our Rebecca always has a student- sometimes two. I’ve lost count of the many students who have earned their wings through Rebecca’s mentoring. She told me once that she felt that it was her obligation to a profession that had treated her well, and was her way of giving back.
My purpose in writing is not however to heap praise upon Rebecca, (I wouldn’t want it to go to her head!) Rather, it is to mark the passing, over the Christmas season, of my own principal, Ronald Francis Theres McIsaac.
It was 45 years ago, so memories fade, and the practice of law is much changed, but Ron was another one who believed in always having articled students around- in his case it was I think less altruism than sloth. He was a pure litigator and loved nothing better than being in the court room, and the sound of his own oratory, and he hated nothing worse than the tedious preparation that preceded it. That’s what articled students were for! He couldn’t function without at least one student by his side to carry the brief case, do the research, interview the witnesses, and prepare the case for trial. He would show up on the morning of trial, expecting the case to be ready to be tried and won, and woe betide the articled student who dropped the ball.
Ron believed in the “throw ’em off the deep end, and see if they can swim” theory of legal education. which led to a terrifying, but ultimately exhilarating year of articles. Within a half hour of joining the firm I found myself tasked with wading through a throng of angry loggers to serve an injunction on the local leadership of the striking IWA, and wondering what I had gotten myself into. Ron took on all manner of cases- civil, personal injury, family, criminal- it didn’t matter whether the case involved blood and guts or corporate intrigue, as long as he got to go to court- and to be his student was to be exposed to the whole sweeping panorama of the law, dealing one minute with a salvage claim of a ship washed ashore on a wild west coast beach, and the next minute visiting the cells to interview a murderer. It was an incredible set of articles, and provided me with insights and a tool set that have lasted me through a long career.
Ron’s official obituary can be found here
but in truth it scarcely scratches the surface of his legacy within the legal profession, He is generally credited with reviving the civil jury in the Province, but frankly his greatest achievement, in my mind, is that he introduced generations of articles students, myself included, to all of the possibilities that the practice of law offers. Those students are today senior members of the bar themselves, and more than a few have become judges, but all carry with them still the lessons learned during their articles. The legal profession is better because of Ron, and I am sorry to hear of his passing.