Ten things for a law student (or any student) to think about

Posted to: 
Other Topics

In September, Chief Judge Gillespie gave a speech welcoming the Faculty of Law Class of 2025 at Thompson Rivers University. Her “Ten things to think about” were so well received that eNews persuaded her to let us share them.

“Congratulations and welcome to the next new and exciting academic and personal journey in your life.

In the coming three years, you will spend a great deal of time speaking about the importance of the rule of law and in particular, its vital role in ensuring that all persons are accountable to the law and the law is equally enforced and independently adjudicated. Discussions about justice in Canada and around the world will certainly include the challenging issue of improving access to justice for people who have unmet legal needs.

Access to Justice has emerged as one of the greatest challenges to our legal system. Inevitably, it has become increasingly important to talk about what the legal profession and the courts can do to modernize and improve access, perhaps by using technology as a tool to transform some court processes, but also by considering if there are alternatives to court proceedings for some.

The need to build new ways to reconcile with Indigenous peoples in Canada is also an imperative. Many conversations are now occurring to rethink innovations and changes to the justice system to begin to address reconciliation.

Diversity in the legal profession is also incredibly important. Canada is a culturally, linguistically, ethnically, and religiously diverse country. According to Stats Canada’s 2017 statistics, more than 20 percent of Canadians were foreign born. It is true that until very recently in Canada, our legal profession and judicial appointments did not even begin to represent this degree of diversity.

The legal profession and the judiciary must strive to be representative of the communities they serve. Having highly qualified lawyers and judges who are from diverse backgrounds and/or alive to diversity issues supports a fair, efficient, and innovative system of justice that is representative of all of the people who access it, while building confidence in the communities it serves.

I sat in your place in September 1986, wondering with excitement, and some degree of apprehension, what the future held for me. Nearly 35 years later and a lifetime of working in the law, I have a few observations. But, as with all advice and observations: listen carefully, consider what others tell you, and then take what works for you and chart your own marvelous course.

Look where you are now and think with an open heart and mind what the world ahead holds for you. While you do that, here are somethings to think about:

  1. You are not an imposter. You have earned your place in this law class at this law school at this time. Never doubt that, or who you are, and what you bring to this new law class, and to the law.

  2. Set yourself up to thrive by taking care of yourself first. Make time for yourself and keep your whole self well.

  3. Have compassion and strive for empathy. Sometimes it is the smallest things you do for people that can change the trajectory of their lives, and possibly yours. Listening to others, respecting their journey, and finding out what you can do to help them, makes a world of difference.

  4. Keep an open mind about your future. Law has many opportunities, and it can take you many places, in both traditional and non traditional ways. Be open to the journeys ahead, and you may just end up in a place you never, ever imagined.

  5. Good friends are like gold. Today, and for the next three years, you will make friends with people here at law school who will be your friends forever.

  6. Volunteer in the community and participate at the law school. The habits of volunteerism you make here will stay with you for a lifetime. Being involved in your community, including volunteering on community-based boards, especially with the skills and knowledge you will amass in the next three years on top of the ones you already have, will help to keep communities strong and vibrant.

  7. Be receptive to people who are interested in you and your career. Mentors make a significant difference in your legal career, and it is OK to seek them out too. But don’t forget that there are many people looking at you and hoping to find themselves where you are today. Be a mentor to others too. Don’t just look ahead of yourself, look around too - who can you support and encourage along the way?

  8. Learn to recover when things do not go your way. The cases that go to court, the difficult briefs, the challenging opinions you provide … law is about the grey areas. Most legal issues are close calls. Advancing the trajectory of the common law is challenging. Fasten your seat belt, be brave, build good support networks, be prepared to work hard and be diligent. There are not very many short cuts in that regard.

  9. Build good organization skills, good time management skills, and good communication skills. But don’t set your sights on perfection, rather find your individual pathway to personal and professional excellence.

  10. The legal world is changing. There is plenty of room for creativity and for innovation. Find new ways to improve access to justice. Inspire those around you who have been working in the law longer than you have to consider changing the ways they do things to meet the changing demands for legal services. The future really is yours!

Congratulations on this, the first day of your legal career. Your journey will be an interesting one. As you look forward, remember that you are the future of this profession. You will undoubtedly bring fresh perspectives and ideas about how we can build a better, stronger, and more flexible justice system that is even more accessible to the diverse needs of the communities it serves.

Best wishes to all of you!”