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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Tai

Law Review, Leadership, and OCIs: Lessons from Ottawa Law Review's Vol. 54 Editor-in-Chief

Hello! Please introduce yourself.

My name is Matthew Tai. I am an incoming articling student at Stikeman Elliott LLP in Toronto with an interest in corporate, competition, and foreign investment law. Prior to law, I had experience working in the private, public, and non-profit sectors in public affairs and government relations.

I studied at Western University and Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, before receiving my Juris Doctor from the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law, where I graduated with the Common Law Section Dean’s Award.

While at law school, I served as the Volume 54 Editor-in-Chief of the Ottawa Law Review. I also had the privilege of representing uOttawa in London, UK, at the Foreign Direct Investment International Arbitration Moot, where I was awarded Honourable Mention Advocate (5th out of 235 oralists) and came in 5th place as a team (out of 72 global round teams and 120+ teams overall).

Outside of work and when I’m not on uncle duty to my two adorable nieces, I’m active in Canadian politics and enjoy playing the piano or spending my time planning my next trip abroad.

What made you want to become a lawyer?

Despite all the lawyer jokes out there, I really do think that law is a highly valued education, even beyond the legal world. Lawyers confront and handle the most pressing issues of the day, from climate change to reconciliation, to regulating emerging technologies and the transactions you see in the headlines. From the board room to the courtroom to the public forum, lawyers are an integral part of the legal, business, political, and social fabric of our society. That’s why you see many lawyers also become policymakers, community leaders, entrepreneurs, business leaders, activists, and so much more.

Ever since I was young, I knew that when I grew up, I wanted a seat at the table to help drive the deals and decisions at our country’s forefront. I think law is a great avenue for that, and going to the University of Ottawa — just steps away from Parliament Hill and the Supreme Court of Canada — further fueled that desire. At law school, I was taught by an incredible range of legal experts and faculty members who, on any given day, would be seen testifying before a parliamentary committee, providing expert commentary in the media, or contributing to public policy debates. Even after graduating, I’m still constantly inspired by the interdisciplinary nature of studying and practicing law.

What was your experience like in law school?

I began law school during the pandemic. Starting law school over Zoom was terrible, I’ll never deny that. But I loved how my peers and professors went above and beyond to find ways to provide an enriching learning experience. My classmates were friendly, supportive, and all-around amazing people who, to this day, I consider to be among my very best of friends. I loved learning in an environment where people from all walks of life and educational and professional backgrounds could come together and learn from each other.

I learned more in law school than at any other time in my life. In particular, law school was great for teaching me three indispensable skills.

  1. How to write: Writing is one of the most transferable skills and something lawyers use every single day, from writing emails to drafting legal documents. Being a good writer is essential to being an effective communicator, and I’m truly grateful to my professors and my experience on the Law Review for helping me become a better writer.

  2. How to think critically: Law school teaches you the ‘ratio decidendi’ a.k.a. “the point in a case that determines the judgment.” Basically, how to read hundreds of pages of information, sift through them, find the most valuable piece of information/ratio, and synthesize it.

  3. How to debate: Being great at debate isn’t about being good at arguing one side really well; it’s understanding both sides of an argument and using that to converse. Mooting not only taught me this but also gave me a unique opportunity to enhance my advocacy, legal research, and writing skills while connecting with other law students around the world. Although the workload can definitely be demanding, there is nothing quite like mooting in a law student’s experience. I’ve never met a mooter who has regretted it.

Part of what made law school so rewarding was immersing myself beyond the classroom (see below!). Inevitably, part of the learning experience required stepping outside my comfort zone and being comfortable with sometimes feeling like an imposter. I remember throwing myself into situations - whether they were conferences about topics I had no idea about or courses with subject matters I was not initially well-versed in. However, one of the benefits of being the least knowledgeable person in the room is that everyone becomes your teacher! You learn so much that way, just from talking to the people around you.

University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law, Common Law Section - Class of 2023

How did you find your first law-related job?

As someone who wanted to end up on Bay Street, I applied for the 1L Toronto recruit but was unsuccessful like most. If you are currently in the same position, know that there are so many other things you could do in your 1L summer and that the results of your 1L recruit are not indicative of your chances of success in the 2L OCI process. After some networking, I ended up working as a Government Relations Intern at McMillan Vantage Policy Group - a full-service, national public affairs firm affiliated with McMillan LLP. In this role, I gained broad exposure to a wide range of highly regulated industries and their associated regulatory, legislative, and legal developments. Working in the intersection of law, public policy, and business taught me how to develop outcome-oriented and client-focused strategies to resolve problems.

I eventually joined Stikeman Elliott through the 2L Toronto recruit, where I gained exposure to a wide variety of practice groups, including Corporate, Competition & Foreign Investment, Litigation, Employment & Labour, Real Estate, and Technology. In my opinion, this flexibility to explore areas that interest you is one of the best benefits of joining a full-service firm.

Going through the OCI process and in-firm interviews is a particularly grueling process. It’s fast-paced, high-pressure, and there’s always a bit of imposter syndrome, insecurity, and anxiety. That being said, the best advice I received before my interviews was to be genuine and be yourself. Being authentic to yourself and your career goals will help you determine where you will thrive. For me, it came down to culture and comfort - Stikes was the place I felt most “at home” and where I could identify common core values such as the focus on excellence, opportunity, diversity, and collegiality.

To get ready for interviews, you should obviously know the basics about the firms you are interviewing with and have questions ready for the interviewers you meet, but really, the key is to know your resume inside out. Anything on your resume is fair game for your interviewers to ask about, so make sure you can talk about everything on your resume in a relevant way. Once you are comfortable with that, see if you can get a trusted friend or someone who has gone through this process before to give feedback on your answers. Practice can not only improve your comfort level with the interview process but also help you refine your answers.

During interviews, one practical tip is to ask interviewers questions about topics important to you to build connections and provide insight into how the firm’s values align with yours. The most important part, however, is listening carefully to their answers and asking follow-up questions to show that you were listening. Remember, anyone can ask a question from a list you found on Google of what to ask your interviewer, but fewer people can actively listen and respond. As a lawyer, that’s a very helpful skill to have.

Finally, try to have fun and embrace the experience! As grueling as it is, this is a time for you to make new connections, to learn, and to grow from the experience. The process becomes much more enjoyable when you appreciate it for what it is: an opportunity for you to learn more about a firm while allowing them to get to know you beyond your application materials.

Stikeman Elliott LLP Toronto Office Summer Class of 2023

Can you tell us about your experience serving as Vol. 54 Editor-in-Chief of the Ottawa Law Review? What qualities or skillsets helped you succeed in that role?

Joining the law review was an invaluable addition to my legal education, and I highly recommend it to all incoming and current law students. The experience exposed me to top-notch legal scholarship while providing opportunities to expand my professional network, enhance my legal skills, and establish a strong foundation for success as a future lawyer.

Throughout my time as an Assistant Editor, Associate Editor, and Editor-in-Chief of the Ottawa Law Review, I had the opportunity to be involved in the selection of articles and their preparation for publication from start to finish. This included critically evaluating articles submitted to the journal to determine whether they are acceptable for publication, and once accepted, locating and fact-checking sources referenced by authors, and coordinating text and footnote edits. However, the experience extended beyond mere editing. I also got the opportunity to run and lead an organization with a budget, make challenging decisions, solve problems, and learn how to work with others.

When I was Editor-in-Chief, I often got questions or comments about how I managed to keep myself motivated, driven, and determined to succeed with everything on my plate. If you know me, you are aware that I do not and will not stop until I have achieved what I set out to. If you were part of the Ottawa Law Review, you would also know that I always emphasized that it was everyone’s job to operate with the highest standards of quality and professionalism in everything we did, irrespective of our positions. Being a law review editor instilled in me a culture of collaboration and a commitment to excellence, which not only helped me eventually succeed in my role as Editor-in-Chief, but I know it will be very valuable assets in my future career as a lawyer, especially as a junior associate, where the ability to be able to effectively work with others and being detail oriented are crucial.

If you could only give one piece of advice to prospective or current law students to help them succeed, what would it be?

Spend law school trying to get as much value as you can out of it. Going to law school is so much more than the courses you take or a ticket into a well-paying job - you are building a set of transferable skills and tools for your future self. As I mentioned previously, law school is where I learned how to write, how to think, how to debate, and how to apply the law. Be flexible, curious, and explore your interests. Take advantage of internships and clinical externships, mooting, research opportunities - such as conferences and publications, and any other active learning opportunities to broaden your mind and develop practical experience.

Law review and mooting were a huge part of my law school experience. I was also a Dean’s Legal Research and Writing Fellow, a Technoship Fellow to Professor Michael Geist in internet and e-commerce law, and a legal intern at the Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC). I joined various clubs and extracurriculars. I have personally learned so much more by doing and participating in comparison to sitting in a classroom lecture. Taking part in these experiences became the highlight of my time in law school.

If you don’t know where to begin, try starting by socializing with your peers at events and having conversations with faculty. At the very least, you’ll end up making new friends and expanding your social and professional network!

What are your future career plans going forward, and how can our readers connect with you in the future?

I’m thrilled to be articling at Stikeman Elliott. It’s a great firm with a diverse and energetic team of bright people where I can gain exposure to different practice areas and take ownership of my personal and professional development.

To anyone considering a similar path, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I would be more than happy to share my personal experiences and lessons learned along the way.


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