The political diary of an articling student

There is no doubt that law and politics are inextricably linked. The study of political science is often regarded as an obvious trajectory to law school, while Canadian law schools seem to overwhelmingly serve as a launching pad to political life.


While I was articling at Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP, I was offered the opportunity to work on Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential bid. We all know how that story ends. Despite its less-than-desirable outcome, it proved an engaging and rewarding experience, both personally and professionally.

As an articling student, I agonized over how and when to ask the firm if I could leave my busy rotation and head south of the border. Given our firm’s long-standing reputation for political activity, my request for a leave of absence was met with support and encouragement.

I arrived in Las Vegas and was quickly whisked away from the lights of the famous Strip to northern Las Vegas, where I spent three weeks working 19 hours a day and eating nothing but fast food — if I could find time to eat, that is. If the hours and the diet aren’t enough to make you green with envy, the accommodations with scores of inebriated fraternity boys may just do it. As punishing as campaign life can be, the reward is far greater, even if your candidate is ultimately unsuccessful.

Following Clinton’s victory in Nevada, I reported immediately to California headquarters, where I was assigned as a field organizer for central-coast California in Santa Barbara. On Super Tuesday, Clinton won that state by large margins, as predicted. I often joke of the uncanny coincidence of my departure and the subsequent demise of the campaign.

Despite the historic proportions of the Democratic race, this was not my first campaign. I have long been involved in campaigns, including those of ex-prime minister Paul Martin and former premier Bob Rae, to name a few, but never truly understood the relationship between law and politics until the Clinton campaign.

One is well aware that in the political arena, there are norms that no politico can sink below and survive. To ensure this buoyancy, candidates expect a certain level of professionalism. The candidates we work for must feel completely secure that matters discussed will be held in strict confidence. Sound familiar? It should. The rules of professional responsibility require that a lawyer hold all client information in strict confidence, subject only to very limited exceptions for permitted and justified disclosure.

With all the media attention on the Democratic race, one can only imagine the scores of phone calls and e-mails I received on a daily basis from people looking for the inside scoop. As any experienced politico knows, no good can come of gossiping. In politics, much like in law, at the end of the day all you have is your reputation.

Michelle Oliel has just completed her articles at Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP and is currently volunteering at an orphanage in Africa before returning to the firm in the fall.

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