Daniel Schutzsmith: Follow Thy Checklist and Prosper

During FITC Toronto 2015 I had the opportunity to hear Daniel Schutzsmith talk about project management in creative enterprise. In case you’ve never attended an FITC event, part of FITC is about dreaming big and fearlessly taking on life-changing projects. Another part of FITC is about actually getting them done. (For a full conference re-cap, click here.)

Daniel Schutzsmith’s talk was strongly in the second category. The main theme was that in a creative enterprise (or legal one), chances are that you’re not running short of great ideas. What may be missing, Schutzsmith says, are the processes that help you consistently deliver great results.

Checklist
Use a consistent check list for routine tasks and quality assurance

Background

After working for 17 different studios and co-founding digital creative design agency Mark & Phil, Schutzsmith shared his wisdom on what it takes to bring process into creative firms. The first step for entrepreneurs and agency owners is to get processes out of their heads. Answering over-the-shoulder questions on how to do things works when a company is five people or less. Larger teams quickly swamp managers, eating up precious time with questions that have been answered many times before.

That’s why Schutzsmith recommends we all live by DRY: Don’t Repeat Yourself. Documenting processes in an organization is that simple. In the early days, it actually helped save lives. Doctors eventually adopted a “checklist mentality” after realizing that doing every operation from memory led to some awful mistakes. Now every routine operation runs by checklist, and so should your business.

Clean Up the Mess

To start, Schutzsmith recommends documenting roles in your business. People generally like knowing what’s expected of them. Writing down what’s expected of each team member helps develop a work ethic and builds morale. It’s positive on all counts.

After roles are mapped out, everyone’s attention should turn towards the business. Schedule three sessions over beer or coffee, ideally at least a week apart:

  • Talk about everything that’s going wrong.
  • Talk about everything that’s going well.
  • Decide what the team would like to see working better.

That helps align everyone towards making things work better. Maybe there are things going wrong you’ve never thought of. Invite the usual gripers and the quiet ones. Find out how to clean up the mess before you’re running tight against a deadline.

Plan the Process

After your team has identified critical areas for improvement (for example, sales, HR or training new employees), it’s time to make a process. The final product should be documented, ideally in something simple like a checklist or flowchart. Schutzsmith recommends you find someone on your team who can help get this done. They can’t be too process-focused; it’s important to make room for creativity and freestyling. Similarly, he recommends defining tools but making space for people’s unique favourites. Balance is key, all with a DRY mentality.

A great example Schutzsmith featured in his slides was a checklist for the complete sales cycle. This list could be integrated into a CRM system, so initial contact with a prospect dropped the list in a client manager’s inbox. Processes don’t need to be stifling—ultimately they make time for more creative things.

Share, Evolve, and Scrap Every Process

Once your firm has a basic handle on its processes, Schutzsmith recommended they be openly shared, discussed, tweaked, and ultimately… scrapped entirely.

That’s because processes are living, breathing things. Sure, they change. They should be reviewed every six months. Steps might get obsoleted as teams find better ways. And they should be. Schutzsmith recommends that teams go a step further and throw processes in the garbage every five years. Building on the same skeleton only works for so long. If the entire process isn’t re-invented, we risk becoming dinosaurs.

Schutzsmith ended the talk with a call to action: go do it. Just write down a process. So what’s next on your list?

Design Firms Do Conferences Differently: FITC Toronto 2015

This past Sunday, April 12 through Tuesday, April 14, Toronto hosted the 14th annual Future Innovation Technology Creativity (FITC) conference. Now in its 14th year, FITC caters to a more design-heavy technology group, featuring equal parts technical workshops, wild parties and inspirational talks. I was able to attend the event as an “official blogger,” or volunteer media personnel. I really enjoyed the introduction to the world of design and digital art–the people who make tech beautiful and easy to use.

Why was I there? I wanted to learn more about creative firms and the challenges they face, because I’d like to have creative agencies as clients one day. If I learned one thing, it’s that a traditional legal marketing approach (focusing on expertise, stuffy speeches and pinstripe suits) is completely foreign to people in the design community. The experiences they share are more raw and honest.

When I arrived at FITC, I noticed right away how different it was from an ordinary conference. The design-conscious organizers made the Hilton’s basement conference zone look like a rock concert. Party lighting brought some energy to the otherwise neutral hotel concourse. The dress code was casual but stylish. Mohawks were not uncommon. Attendees included coders, designers, artists, and entrepreneurs, and they were all friendly.

FITC’s 14 years of success showed. The event ran like clockwork, with large teams of volunteers registering, ushering, collecting feedback, and directing the day. In particular it was nice to see breakout rooms for sketching, dancing and creative pursuits. FITC isn’t all about sitting down and listening–it was more like a supportive community coming together to share lessons, jobs, tools, and good times.

As part of my role, I got to cover a few specific talks:

  • Gavin Strange, Bristol UK-based animator for Wallace & Grommet’s creator Aardman, talked about pushing boundaries with “one-nighter” projects and new media.
  • Shawn Pucknell, FITC’s CEO spoke candidly about bankruptcy, failure, and how to survive.
  • Kim Alpert, a creative strategist and artist, talked about breaking through limits and refusing to be defined by anyone’s expectations.
  • Finally, I learned about Flickr’s ongoing growth and transformation following its acquisition by Yahoo. It was a great story about shifting competitive landscapes and leadership.

For anyone interested in design, technology or startups, I highly recommend connecting with the FITC community. Ideally I’d like to attend next year as a volunteer again or a speaker. If I do, one thing is for sure: a standard legal precedent walk-through won’t cut it.

Finally, big thanks to the FITC organizers for inviting me as an official blogger this year, it was a great experience.

Technology and Innovation Events: Surprisingly, Still Analog

Digital media has made industry intelligence more accessible than ever: Twitter feeds, webcasts and shareable slide decks seem like they’ve made conferences obsolete. Yet in 2014, Las Vegas alone hosted 22,000 industry conventions with over five million delegates in attendance. The number has been growing annually and seems set to surpass peak pre-recession levels.

Why is that? Ask most people and they’ll say that not every experience can or even should be experienced digitally. Webcasts, online video, photographs, Slideshare and e-zines seem to augment live events more than they replace them. When given the choice, digital simply hasn’t caught up with the energy and excitement of in-person events. Maybe we’ll have to wait until both performers and audience members can attend as holograms or network between sessions in virtual reality.

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What is it about digital experience that fails to replicate live events?

Surprisingly, the business, startup and technology event space has kept a similarly strong analog flavour. Yes, audience members at tech-savvy “unconferences” may follow events remotely via Twitter, but they seem to equally enjoy the chance to meet presenters and attendees in person. I’ve had the chance over the past few months to attend events that apply lean manufacturing principles to law, discuss crowd funding trends and opportunities in Canada, and most recently, the Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable technology. Each event was recorded and experienced online, but also featured rich in-person engagement that any digital observer would miss entirely.

What I’m saying isn’t novel or brand new. I only started to think more about the analog/digital interplay at conferences after my last event. I was there in person, but while tweeting about the event I started a conversation with someone in the room. Here’s what happened next:

Maybe that interaction was pretty rudimentary for folks who’ve used Twitter for a long time as a communication tool. For me it was next level.

During that presentation there was no opportunity to meet the people two seats to the left, right, in front or behind me–except in a virtual extension of the conference. For me that was made possible by Twitter. Yes, Twitter has its faults. It’s still largely text-based. It presents itself in a torrent that’s hard to make sense of without practice. It’s also still largely confined to static text and pictures. Despite those weaknesses, Twitter’s main benefit stands: people can absorb conference insights without taking a Thursday afternoon off work, or travelling to Toronto like I did.

Thinking years ahead, we’ll likely see more in-depth ways to experience and live events like conferences or lectures. Right now human beings are manually punching words and photos into handheld devices to record them online. An archive of the event is then available by hash-tag for later review. The problem is that relying on humans to live-tweet everything means we miss out on the uniquely attention-grabbing perspectives and conversations. Everything that pulls people’s eyes off their phones: networking, handshakes, meetings and “wow” moments–escapes digital archiving because we’re living the moment.

However, if we had devices that were auto-recording or capturing events, capturing themes automatically in “hash-tags” (or live chat-rooms) both attendees and non-attendees could experience the event from a drone’s view, for example, while reviewing live commentary from experts and enthusiasts. Combined with virtual reality, this experience could be extended to sounds and movement–the event itself could be paused or rewound to make more time for in-depth analysis or discussion.

I think one day I could be meeting new people at a conference “face to face” while we’re both watching a presentation from other sides of the auditorium. Or, I could broadcast my live experience to friends, family or coworkers to have company while attending alone.

I’m not sure that experience will ever be “better” than attending events live in real-time (with all its unexpected meetings and events, like my meeting above). Chances are that technology will just continue augmenting live events’ excitement and energy. Only time will tell.

Wearable Tech Out of Sight, In Mind at Genesys’ Toronto Tech Summit

Wearables, user experience (UX) design and the internet of things (IoT) took the stage at Genesys technology’s first Toronto Technology Summit this April 2, 2015. Attendees were guided through afternoon talks and discussions by Betakit’s high-energy senior editor Tom Emrich (@tomemrich). I attended the event to learn more about Canadian startups pursuing opportunities in the area and I wasn’t disappointed.

Surprisingly, the event wasn’t all positive on wearables: the theme was that IoT has a long way to go before it reaches its full potential. Wrist wearables like Fitbit and the Apple Watch have the same problem as phones—they take our eyes away from the world. IoT is really about freeing people from a reliance on visuals for data. We won’t see the best IoT until we’ve fully unlocked our other senses’ potential to interact with our environment, including movement, sounds, touch, breathing and yes, thinking.

When entering the tech summit’s venue at 87 Elm Street, I couldn’t help but notice one thing: Genesys’ Markham team was out in full force. I have no relationship to Genesys but I have to say they did a great job organizing the event. The event was free and the staff were friendly—it was hard not to like the bright-eyed co-op students who came to talk about their first job. Many were from the University of Waterloo. For software developers, UX designers and tech folks out there, Genesys also made it very clear that it’s hiring.

Genesys Toronto Tech Summit

The event started out with casual networking over a great lunch spread. I met a few Genesys employees who seemed genuinely excited about their jobs. They explained that the company makes call center software that uses your voice to direct your call. As a Genesys spokesperson later explained, there’s more to it. They want to move to a point where customer service calls going “off the rails” can be detected in real time. For example, Rogers could hear customers threatening to transfer to Bell immediately so supervisors can save the day. Not a bad idea.

The tie-in to wearables, IoT and Genesys is this: technology like voice-detection is about building more efficient links between the physical and digital world. Whenever it’d be faster to think, breathe, talk or gesture rather than push a button or click a screen, there’s an opportunity for wearables and IoT to speed things up. It’s about building technology that’s passively aware and responsive. In a similar fashion, great UX design is intuitive and lets people interact naturally with digital displays. The Summit speakers did a great job elaborating on those three themes.

Wearables can monitor your brainwaves

The first headliner speaker at the event was Jay Vidyarthi (@jayvidyarthi) from Toronto-based startup Muse, the brain-sensing headband. I hadn’t heard about Muse before, but their idea is worth talking about. They’ve designed a headband that measures the Electroencephalography (EEG) waves emanating from our heads. As Jay said during his talk, EEG technology has been around for a long time. The Muse difference is that it offers clinical-grade EEG for $299 MSRP, instead of a $30,000+ hospital setup.

The device’s measurement capability provokes some interesting questions. For example, could we use it to monitor and predict oncoming epileptic attacks? Jay said that the company is talking to research institutions all over the world who are interested in using the Muse headband to study EEG waves.

The primary use Muse is going after is helping people meditate by making them more aware of (and therefore control) their brain waves. They liken Muse to a gym for your mind. The device can help you monitor your attention span and strengthen it over time. Personally, I thought that use was interesting but its benefits need scientific support. What did stand out about the company was its exceptional use of customer-centric reviews and feedback loops to improve the product. It was a great intro to the next topic, which was about making design methodology core to a business.

Design culture is about simplicity and efficiency

The second headliner at the Toronto Tech Summit was Joel Grennier (@jgrenier05) from Ottawa’s You.i. Joel switched gears away from wearables and focused on design as a business methodology. You.i created the design cross-platform multi-device UX you’ll see on Canada’s new Netflix competitor Shomi_. From what Joel showed us in his very sharp looking slides, the UX on Shomi is formidable.

Joel had a few pointers on creating well-designed products. The first was that truly responsive “infused” design processes take time to build. Companies can’t add a designer to a software engineering team and call it a day. The management at You.i made a conscious decision to build an integrated design-programming team culture. Joel warned that your company needs both willpower and dollars behind a design strategy before it will amount to anything. However, if design is taken seriously and built into a true capability, it can “change a company’s trajectory.”

How does a company do that? Joel had two great examples. At You.i he said that HR had to make “design” a sought-after language, just like in software. The company had to be able to recognize design talent, seek it out and retain it. I liked that idea, but I liked the second one even more: You.i took all the art and pictures off the walls. Every wall is covered teams’ ongoing work product, to create a culture of transparency and generate discussion. Talk about an embedded focus on design.

Toronto has leaders in UX design and wearables, but there’s work to be done

For the rest of the afternoon, the Toronto Tech Summit continued on with other great speakers:

  • Macy Kuang (@macykuang), an expert developer for Google Glass/ Google Cardboard;
  • Leor Grebler (@grebler) from The UBI, a platform that integrates voice commands and language interaction with IoT devices;
  • Renn Scott, Founder and Chief Designer, Daily Goods Fashion Tech;
  • Nick Van Weerdenburg (@n1cholasv) from io Inc.; and
  • Director of IoT at Telus, Sachin Mahajan.

During the talks, topics like the Apple watch and Fitbit came up. However, the audience piped up and was quick to point out the current limits on wearables and IoT. The wrist-bound tech that’s entering the mainstream market has all the flaws of the phones they’re meant to replace. What consumers want is to be able to freely interact with their environment while also benefitting from the information that tech makes available.

Although the legal and privacy issues inherent in wearable tech and IoT never made an official appearance at the event, it was a success all the same. I’m looking forward to attending Genesys’ next Toronto Technology Summit this coming Fall 2015.

I Failed in Law School and You Can Too

Originally published on Canadian Lawyer 4Students online

Nobody is perfect. If you came to law school believing that you were, chances are that the first year gave you doubts. Every year law school classrooms get filled with brilliant, hardworking and competitive young professionals. Being just one in the heap can be a difficult adjustment, especially for those who came from places where they were considered exceptional. It certainly was for me. I failed at more things in law school than any place I had before. Those failures helped me learn that missing the target is alright. I failed in law school and you can too.

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For most of us, failure is felt quickly and often in law school. Anyone familiar with the grading system knows that actual “F’s” are uncommon, but ask any law student and the feeling is rampant. We often mentally assign ourselves “F’s” for failing to meet our own expectations. Whether it’s about grades, body image, career, extra-curriculars, or relationships, law students tend to have high expectations live up to.

Law students’ monumental expectations start much earlier than 1L. They likely coincide with being asked to beat out thousands of applicants to be allowed to attend. Maybe our first acceptance package goes to our heads—we expect to be able to keep up the “top ten to twenty percent” pace indefinitely. The tragedy is that once we join the top ten to twenty percent, our success is redefined as the top ten percent of that group. Comparing ourselves to others is a losing game; it can only end in disappointment.

Before I graduated, I fell into the “other law students” comparison trap many times. Early on I spent most of my energy trying to be like the “others” out there. If you spoke to me about who I was measuring myself against, I would describe the group of law students who had it all: great relationships, lots of friends, supreme fitness, straight A’s, buckets of energy, and made law review. Whenever I dropped the ball in one (or all) of those areas, which I did frequently, I felt like I was way behind.

The problem was that that group does not really exist. If I had actually stopped and broken it down, it was actually an amalgamation of all the people in my class. I had magically combined many uniquely talented individuals into one person. In reality, nobody has it all figured out.

Job number one for law students should be to drop unfair comparisons. They are a distraction. Eventually I learned to measure myself against my own standard. For example, I had to learn the hard way that a heavy class schedule and multiple volunteer commitments did not leave enough time for a solid relationship. I started noticing how much I needed to sleep, study, relax, and see my family to feel successful. I also started noticing that I learned better outside class and away from the library. Perhaps most importantly, I learned that relationships take steady work to stay strong.

I only started improving in law school after I started focusing on my own priorities. Avoiding social comparison during law school helped me focus on what really mattered for my success. Refusing to compare myself to others still takes constant work. These days I still set goals and push myself, but my goals are grounded in reality.

Learning to measure ourselves by our own standard is the first step to overcoming a feeling that we are failures. Experiencing actual failure still feels terrible. It sounds cliché, failing a few times in law school helped me create some of my best successes.

My first law school failure was an actual “F” on a midterm. I attended class. I studied for the test. I read everything. Other people passed. I had no excuses. Even if it was not life-changing, it was a big deal. The first big deal in a legal career with many bigger deals ahead.

The real tragedy was what I did next: I avoided getting feedback. Instead, I ignored it and focused on the classes I thought I had a chance to improve in. At the time, that helped me avoid feeling like a failure. Later that year I came up against the same professor’s exam. I struggled and felt awful. Facing my failure earlier may have made that second test much easier. More importantly it would have helped me grow into a better law student.

Getting used to the idea that we can fail is important. In law school tests are temporary. In law practice the consequences can last a lifetime. Turning away from failure means we risk making the same mistakes later on. Failure intolerance makes us hesitate when we face challenging goals—the possibility that we could make a mistake is paralyzing. Procrastination is comforting because it prevents us from ever trying our very best, so we avoid true failure. Instead, if we make failure acceptable, we become free to do our very best and learn from mistakes as they happen.

It took me a long time, but I eventually built up the courage to acknowledge my failures head-on. That became critical during my legal job search. I was rejected from more than a hundred jobs and positions in law school before I secured a job at a great firm. The rejections were often impersonal. However, I also had rejections that felt devastatingly personal—after spending months networking and getting to know the recruiters and interviewers. My worst week started with multiple rounds of interviews, handshakes and dinners at several first-class law firms, and ended with the emptiness of zero job offers.

The last thing I wanted to hear was how I personally lost such great opportunities. The failure was deeply painful. I actually tried my very best and did not measure up. On the advice of a career coach, I eventually got the courage to follow up with a well-known recruiter I respected very much. I asked how I could improve. She candidly shared several key weaknesses that had proven fatal. It was difficult to listen to, but it helped me mature immeasurably. It is easy to walk away from failure with the belief that we bore no responsibility for the outcome. Instead I walked away with the very uncomfortable feeling that it was mostly my fault.

The upside was that owning my failure helped identify what I could control. Motivation to do better next time was still possible. The universe was not against me, nor was it 100% my fault. There were just some things I needed to improve before I could get where I wanted to be.

After picking myself up and getting back on the job hunt, I eventually landed a job at an excellent firm. A few rejections helped me improve enough to make a match. Learning to seek out and incorporate feedback helped me make my last semester in law school my best ever. I wanted to write this because I thought I spent most of law school trying to succeed. In reality, I spent all of law school learning how to fail. And you can too.

What is it Like to Write a Bar Exam in Ontario?

During law school I didn’t really think about writing the Ontario bar exams. There always seemed to be a more urgent exam or paper on the horizon. Eventually, the last year of law school came and went. Soon after the bar exams became the most important event on my calendar, I realized I had no idea what to expect. I wrote this article because there isn’t too much information online about the actual experience. If you also find yourself wondering, “What is it like to write a bar exam in Ontario?” then read on.

Law Society of Upper Canada Barrister Exam Sign
Signs point the way to the bar exam entrance

The latest sitting of an Ontario bar exam in Toronto was this past Tuesday, March 24th, 2015. For anyone unfamiliar with Ontario’s lawyer licensing process, there are two exams every domestic law school graduate needs to pass to become a lawyer here: the barrister’s and solicitor’s exam.

The Barrister and Solicitor Exams

The distinction between “barrister” and “solicitor” material is a tradition from Ontario’s English legal heritage. In England, barristers traditionally had exclusive rights to make oral argument in court. They were the original “trial lawyers” we know today as litigators and criminal lawyers. Solicitors were responsible for paper-based legal work like real estate conveyancing, corporate structuring and transactions. Modern Ontario lawyers are all licensed to do both, although most practitioners tend to specialize in one area.

Ontario’s barrister competencies include civil litigation, criminal law, administrative and family law; while the solicitor competencies survey business law, real property and estates. Both exams include scattered questions on professional responsibility and ethics.

Each test is seven hours long, broken up into two 3.5 hour blocks. Each 3.5 hour block goes by quickly, but both are physically and mentally demanding. One block is in the morning and the other in the afternoon, separated by a one-hour lunch break. The barrister exam sitting usually comes two weeks before the solicitor exam sitting.

After registering for the exams, Ontario law students pay for the required study materials. The barristers materials for the 2014-2015 exams total 843 pages while the solicitors are a hefty 1,086. Anything in the materials is testable, but the exams are open book. While the actual exams are open book, the questions are timed to provide one minute and forty-five seconds per answer. Since that’s generally not enough time to look up every answer, law students do need to know the basics.

Arriving on Test Day

If you’re writing the bar exam in Toronto like I did, chances are you’ll be attending the Toronto Congress Centre near Pearson Airport. (For a full list of Ontario bar exam dates, times and locations, click here.) The Congress Centre is actually a sprawling campus with multiple buildings. Navigating it isn’t difficult–there are staff and signs posted along the entranceway directing drivers where to go. My exam was in the North building, which faces a massive parking lot. There should be no parking shortages on test day, but keep in mind that a late arrival may mean a long walk to the front doors. Parking is free. Nice.

All test-takers are supposed to arrive, get registered, pass security screening and be seated by 8:30 a.m. in advance of the 9:00 a.m. start. Registration opens at 7:00 a.m. The total entry process took 15 minutes for me, although it could have taken much longer. The March exam sitting is reputed to have only 500-600 test-takers. The June sitting is much more popular, with closer to 1,600. With that many attendees, I’d expect the process to take more than 15 minutes.

Everybody entering the Ontario bar exams has at least two things: a freezer bag containing any items allowed inside the exam and a pile of indexes and materials they can use to look up answers in the exam. No bags are allowed inside the testing area, so many people used disposable paper gift bags to carry their materials. Since no coats, hooded sweaters, or bags of any kind are allowed inside the testing area, those articles need to be checked. I left my coat in my car because I didn’t want to be bothered with coat check. It was cash only, which I imagine was a hassle.

When you walk into the first room, the registration desks are separated alphabetically in a massive airplane-hanger sized building. It’s a convention centre, so picture the auto show with zero displays. The only things set up are signs and desks with law society personnel. Most lines are marked out with red concession ropes, but the law society folks wearing green smocks direct the traffic. After you present your bar exam ID card and your registration is confirmed, you get tagged with a brightly-coloured wristband identifying your seat number, and then you proceed to the security line.

Security

Although I’d like to describe what the security process was like at the bar exam, I’m not allowed. After communicating with Law Society personnel on the matter, they made it clear that I can’t share any details about the security protocols in place. All I can say is that the LSUC explains online what items are prohibited and allowed inside the testing area. The rule list is posted here.

One comment I will add (based on the public rules) is about the paper cost to the exam. Test writers can bring in any paper assistance materials they want into the exam, but can’t bring any paper out. While it may save the Law Society the expense of writing new questions in the event a test is copied, the “no paper” rule creates a lot of waste. I estimate I printed roughly 2,200 pages to have on hand during the exams. Assuming there were 500-600 people writing the March bar exam in Toronto, roughly 600,000 double-sided sheets of paper were consumed that day.

An electronic test (like the GMAT and MCAT) would make all that paper unnecessary.  Surely it wouldn’t be any more expensive to the law society than printing those 600-1,500 tests every three months and renting out the Toronto Congress Centre, would it?

The Actual Test

After you make it to your desk, you thump down your material stack and sit down. Depending on how early you checked in, you might have a long wait until the test starts up.

Most students take the first few minutes to set up their test shrine: the semi-circle spread of books, paper, water bottles, snacks and tissues surrounding their seat. If you’re curious, yes there will be enough surface area for all your stuff. Each test-writer gets a Costco-style fold-out table to his or herself (if 72″ x 30″isn’t enough room for your stuff, well… wow).

The tables are set up in square clusters with two law society personnel assigned to each one. These folks will be wearing blue smocks. They are there to help you—their role is to make sure you don’t do anything dumb that disqualifies your test (e.g. fill in your Scantron test sheet with the wrong ID number). Both teams I had were super friendly, so be nice to them.

Looking up, you’ll see three huge timers displayed across the front wall of the air plane hanger-sized testing area. I brought a plain-faced watch into the test, but didn’t need it. The chairs are comfortable, but tilted a little too far back for a test-writing session. They’re the padded chairs you might lay out at a banquet-style conference.

If you checked in on time, you should have between 8:30 a.m. and 8:45 a.m. to go to the testing-area washroom and try to calm down after all the entrance procedures. Around 8:45 a.m. someone at the front of the room on a stage starts talking about the test and the rules. Ideally you haven’t already popped in your earplugs. Even if you did, the microphone is so loud you can probably still hear what’s being said.

Not long after, the tests are handed out. The stage tells you what to do. When to open the package, what to write, when to write it, and when to turn it over. Listen up and don’t do anything dumb. If you’re like me, you might not have written a paper exam since you graduated from your undergraduate program. It’ll come back to you.

The test is Scantron-based, so beyond getting the right answer, there’s also a small (but very important) technical element to making sure your Scantron sheet doesn’t get spoiled. The law society indicated that they do not check the actual paper test, so it sounded like if you filled out the Scantron sheet wrong, you were in deep trouble.

Once the stage says “you may begin,” then a paper thunderstorm erupts. It quickly quiets down, but the accumulated noise of 600 people shuffling and flipping paper is difficult to ignore. I highly recommend earplugs even if you never used them in law school. Besides the paper, when people move their chairs it sounds like little trumpets blasting off in different corners of the room. Coughing fits and sneezes occasionally break out. During the first half I barely noticed. Half-way through the afternoon sitting, my attention span and willpower were waning and it was hard not to.

The Physical Element

To prepare for the test I mostly focused on the mental element: the test content, the prep material, organization and timing. What caught me off-guard was the physical nature of the test. Most of my exams in law school were limited to three hours. I never had more than one law exam in the same day. Before a three-hour exam, you might be able to get away with an all-nighter, no breakfast, or no water—bad habits might not catch up with you until a day later. When you’re writing a test all day, those things matter.

Sitting for seven hours in one day with attention locked was surprisingly taxing. By mid-afternoon, I found myself re-reading questions I would have blown through in the morning. Looking things up in my index, I had to murmur to myself, “L M N O… P” when flipping through. Tiredness made my thoughts sluggish. For that reason alone I recommend having sugar, fat, protein and water on hand to give you a burst when you need it. Depending on how you react to caffeine when you’re tired, coffee might be a great or terrible idea.

Sleep also makes a huge difference. Before the first test, I got a great sleep. Somehow I slept through the entire night, and I’m glad I did. Before the solicitor’s exam I didn’t—for some reason I woke up at 4:00 a.m. and had trouble falling back asleep. I felt noticeably more crappy during the second afternoon. At times my mind started wandering and my focus was more easily broken by the people around me. So, know yourself and what your body needs to stay tuned all day. It will make the experience more humane.

The Aftermath

Test day was physically demanding. What really caught up with me was the intensity leading up to it. Both were more exhausting than I realized.

Like most optimistic scholars, I expected to take the morning off after the first test and be back at the books that afternoon. I was wrong. The seven-hour test knocked me down. The four days before that test I was writing a 2-3 hours of practice questions nearly every day (and reviewing the answers for hours after). Delaying rest and recovery meant I had to do it after test day.

After the barrister’s exam my attention span was shot for two full days. For me, burnout meant I could only look at a page for two or three paragraphs before I found myself looking out the window. That is obviously not where you want to be when you still have material to cover.

To prevent burnout, I highly recommend taking regular breaks and being kind to yourself. Working through burnout is inefficient and demoralizing (e.g., “Sigh… I only read four pages in the last 45 minutes… I’ll never finish at this rate.”) Know yourself so you know the difference between procrastination and real burnout.

No matter what, you’ll still make it through. If you have questions about the bar exam, comment after this post and I’ll answer them if I can. Thanks for reading and good luck!

Three Main Themes from NCFA’s 2015 Crowdfunding Summit

March 3, 2015 marked the first annual National Crowdfunding Association of Canada (NCFA)’s summit at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto. The event combined informative, strategic, and regulatory updates for entrepreneurs interested in the space as well as a live pitching competition for startups.

The core idea: entrepreneurs in Canada currently struggle to raise capital when the amount is between $25,000 and $250,000. Crowdfunding is an attractive oasis in Canada’s barren venture capital landscape, but as we learned at the summit, we have a long way to go before crowdfunding realizes its full potential.

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I was lucky to have the chance to volunteer for the event. At the registration desk and on breaks I spoke with sponsors, attendees, and speakers alike. The pitching competitions were also extremely popular (here is a full list of speakers, sponsors, and companies who pitched). The event had a live twitter feed at #CCS2015 which was great for updates from the three simultaneous session-rooms. Nikolas Badminton from FreeLancer.com wrote a great LinkedIn post on the event here, and James Daigle created a Twitter list of speakers and attendees to follow here.

Three main themes were repeated at the NCFA’s summit: crowdfunding is making capital markets more social, accessible, and challenging to regulate.

Crowdfunding is an inherently social investment tool

FundRazr’s CEO Daryl Hatton talked about how social media and crowdfunding combine to change the way people are investing. According to Hatton, Facebook makes up about 98% of FundRazr’s social shares. Investors want to promote their own investments to their friends.

The days where “angel investment” ended at local friends and family are over. Now early-stage investment can be fueled by dispersed networks with the strength of those community bonds. As one pitch competition judge put it:

Tonya Surman, CEO of Toronto’s Centre for Social Innovation talked about her experience crowdfunding “community bonds” to fund the centre’s real estate purchases. In addition to using social connections to boost business investment, it also has the power to share and spread ideas that help support communities. What a powerful combination.

Crowdfunding makes capital markets more accessible

Social investment may be a powerful promotion tool, but another theme repeated at the Summit was that Canadian business owners pursue crowdfunding because there is a scarcity of capital in our country. Although this may change as the startup industry heats up in Canada’s tech centers, for now, crowdfunding provides ready access to investors around the world.

There were startups at the summit applying the crowdfunding model to fund companies by connecting seed-stage startups with unaccredited investors (SeedUps.com) all the way to pairing private-equity ready businesses with high-value accredited investors (InvestX.com). All of them had one thing in common: they were capitalizing on the opportunity to provide easier and affordable access to equity (and debt) financing in Canada.

Crowdfunding is creating a regulatory challenge for Canada

Crowdfunding’s greater reach and accessibility creates a challenging regulatory environment, especially in Canada where securities regulations vary by province.

Vancouver lawyer and founder of Venture Law Corporation, Alixe B. Cormick, had an impressive presentation that outlined some current barriers to entrepreneurs in Canada seeking equity investment abroad. The complex interplay between US and Canadian securities regulations means that legal advice will be critical for business owners performing big fundraising rounds using crowdfunding. As a recent graduate and soon-to-be lawyer, it made me realize I need to keep tabs on this rapidly developing area.

In the meantime, I’m already looking forward to next year’s event. If you’d like to reach out to the NCFA or volunteer at a future event, become a member and reach out at NCFACanada.org.

Let me know in the comments: What’s your experience with crowdfunding? What would you like to see improved in Canada? Thanks for participating in the conversation.

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