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Law grad gets variety of experience in clerkship opportunity

Q&A: Alastair MacKinnon on working with Alberta Court of Appeal
October 22, 2013

Alastair at work at the Alberta Court of Appeal in Calgary.

Alastair MacKinnon at the Alberta Court of Appeal in Calgary.

You may think that after a student finishes law school he is immediately hired by a big law firm. However, there are many other great opportunities for law school graduates, including clerkships with the various courts across the province and the country.

Alastair MacKinnon (JD’13) is currently participating in a clerkship position with the Alberta Court of Appeal here in Calgary, a position which allows him to experience a different side of the legal profession and let his passion for the law shine. We spoke to Alastair about his experience with the Alberta Court of Appeal.

Q. Can you please describe what a clerkship is?

A. After graduating from law school, all students who want to become lawyers have to complete an articling term, which is essentially an apprenticeship under the direction of a practicing lawyer. A judicial clerkship involves working for a judge rather than a lawyer for part or all of the articling term.

Q. Why did you choose to do a clerkship following graduation?

A. I attended a clerkship seminar hosted by Professor Jassmine Girgis during my first year of law school. She said something to the effect of “clerking is how law nerds prove they’re top nerd,” and I was hooked. I really enjoy delving into the nitty-gritty of a legal problem, and clerking provides a wonderful opportunity to work on complex legal problems in an exciting working environment alongside brilliant legal minds. Also, as an aspiring litigator, clerking provides a tremendous opportunity to see both sides of the litigation process—from the advocacy from the lawyers who argue cases to seeing how the judiciary works to decide the legal issues.

Q. Tell us a bit about a typical day in your clerkship?

A. My work is generally divisible in two categories. First, I provide pre-hearing research to the court based on the written materials submitted to the court by the parties to a case. Secondly, I provide post-hearing research support, which generally involves investigating issues or questions that arise during the hearing of an appeal. Other jobs include drafting court orders, proofreading judgments and checking citations, and assisting the judges with speeches or presentations.

Some of the small things are the coolest part of the job. While most lawyers will never argue in front of the Alberta Court of Appeal, I encounter the judges in the hallways of the office and they know my name–which I think is pretty neat. It’s also cool when a judge calls you into his or her office to discuss a legal issue or debate a question. I’ve been working at the Court for two months now and I’m still in awe every day when I get up and get to go to work at the Court.

Q. Why were you interested in clerking with the Alberta Court of Appeal?

A. I was attracted to the Court of Appeal for several reasons. As the top court in our province it’s faced with a diversity of cases from virtually every area of law, providing me with exposure to many areas of law. Unlike trial courts, which are generally concerned with determining what happened and who is at fault, appellate courts tend to focus more on the interpretation and application of the law. I really enjoy engaging with legal problems on a principled basis and considering the broader ramifications of legal questions, therefore the Court of Appeal was a natural choice for me. On a more personal level, Alberta has been my lifelong home and Calgary is where my family and friends reside. Being able to clerk at the Alberta Court of Appeal in Calgary was a perfect fit for me.

Q. What are your plans following your clerkship?

A. After my clerkship I will complete my articles with Bennett Jones LLP. I hope to launch a general litigation practice after being called to the bar. Beyond that, I have ambitions to attend grad school one day, but after eight consecutive years of university I look forward to working for a while first.

Q. Anything else you would like to add about participating in a clerkship or your experience?

A. It is very rewarding (and downright cool) to work directly for judges and have them rely on your research in formulating their opinion on a case. As cliché as it may sound, I feel as though my work has a direct impact on the administration of justice in our province. This is both exciting and somewhat terrifying, and it therefore inspires me to give my very best effort every day. As a result, I have a challenging job that I greatly enjoy and I’m in a constant state of learning. I would strongly encourage all of my fellow law school colleagues to consider clerking!

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