Acceptance to a Canadian law school does not require that law students obtain a specific undergraduate degree. Any degree will do. This allows law schools to take a more holistic approach to selecting candidates from a wide range of backgrounds, making the legal field fertile ground for cross-competence and intellectual diversity.
At Harrison Pensa, our articling students are no different. We are a reflection of the intellectual diversity that makes the practice of law so interesting. I asked my fellow students how their backgrounds helped prepare them for articling and the practice of law, but I suppose I ought to start with myself:
Clayton Brent: Court Reporting, Philosophy
In 2011, I graduated from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton and began working as a Court Reporter; it was my first taste of work in the legal field. Over the next few years, I attended and transcribed hundreds of discoveries and hearings and even had an opportunity to provide CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) for the hard-of-hearing and deaf communities. I learned about legal procedure and etiquette, and I experienced my fair share of interesting cases and curveballs.
In 2015, I applied to the University of Windsor’s Philosophy program. As a Philosophy major, I acquired a variety of practical skills, such as how to identify, develop, and critically assess arguments; how to read, write, and understand complex language; and how to explain, connect, and present ideas. However, the real value of Philosophy was more abstract: I learned about consciousness, human nature, and the foundations of justice, ethics, and logic. Most importantly, I learned how to think, not what to think. I notice daily how these skills transfer to the practice of law.
With the supportive environment cultivated by my colleagues and mentors at Harrison Pensa, my education and experience continue to develop and flourish.
Katie Warwick: History, College Instructor
As a History major, I found myself in a research-intensive program that required meticulous navigation of deep, nuanced topics. Developing skills that I would later use for efficient legal research and case briefing, I would often find myself scouring volumes of complex materials in an attempt to pick out the most concise and salient points. I also learned why social change happens and how to predict peoples’ behaviour in stressful or momentous circumstances. As an articling student, being able to anticipate stress-induced conduct before it happens has become an invaluable advantage.
I also spent time practicing as a College Instructor, where I taught a variety of subjects. The most meaningful experience I had was teaching Communications in the Academic & Career Entrance Program. ACE is a program for individuals who need admission requirements to apply for a college program or to upgrade workplace skills. My students often struggled and came from disadvantaged backgrounds. This allowed me to develop communication skills that I would go on to use with clients and gave me the tools to accommodate a variety of learning styles and enhancing access to justice: As a lawyer, it will be my responsibility to ensure that clients understand the legal process and the laws that affect their lives.
Derek Hambly: Integrated Science
My undergraduate degree was in Integrated Science, an interdisciplinary program that challenged students to solve problems from multiple scientific perspectives. Legal challenges are as multifaceted as scientific ones. This has become particularly clear as I work on estate files. Estate Law is inherently interconnected with Real Estate Law, Family Law, Tax Law and, in many cases, Business Law. Consideration of each area of law and collaboration with lawyers from different departments is important to serve our clients’ needs and mitigate legal issues.
Scientists and lawyers, however specialized, cannot successfully practice in a silo. Integration of approach and teamwork were academic virtues instilled during my undergrad that have become professional fundamentals as an articling student in a collaborative, full-service law firm.
Lauren Frijia: Criminology
I graduated from Western University’s Criminology program in 2017. While my degree focused more heavily on the criminal justice system, I found my interests piqued by the broader perspective I gained about Canadian society – particularly by studying the social impacts and causes of crime in Canada.
My education allowed me to develop skills in organizing and interpreting meta-analyses, extrapolating conclusions from complex and varied sets of data and statistics and applying those conclusions to nuanced and fact-specific case studies.
During my time at Western, I also had the opportunity to volunteer at the London Abused Women’s Centre, which catalyzed my passion for women’s rights and sharpened my advocacy skills.
Omar Chahbar: Political Science
During my master’s major research project, I conducted a critical review of the major literature assessing the Islamic legal code’s compatibility with democracy. This project strengthened my competence at researching, synthesizing large bodies of work, and conducting critical analyses. Oftentimes, a lawyer may ask students to go through a number of cases or medical documents and synthesize large documents down to a few sentences. Without question, the critical analysis skills I developed during undergraduate/graduate studies have assisted me in this respect.
Lawyers may also seek out your assistance in relation to proofreading or editing final products. Through serving as an editor for Western University’s undergraduate political science academic journal, I refined my editing skills and sharpened my attention to detail.
Procuring and encouraging well-rounded candidates from an assortment of backgrounds allows the legal field to remain dynamic and flexible, growing and evolving in pace with shifting cultural norms and society as a whole. At HP, our teamwork-focused environment allows us to take advantage of each other’s varied perspectives and skills, to stay on the cutting edge of practice and procedure.
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