by Lewis Klar, Q.C., Professor and Dean of Law (1997–2002), University of Alberta
Having spent over 35 years in law schools in Canada and abroad as a student, professor, and a dean, I found it a tempting invitation to offer you some comments and reflections about a Canadian legal education. Why law school? Which law school? What will law school be like? What will I do after law school? These are all questions which you must be asking yourselves as you apply to write the LSAT.
There are, of course, no clear answers to these questions. One thing is certain: the answers will be different for many of the students who will be writing the LSAT and entering Canadian law schools next fall.
Undoubtedly, some of you have wanted to become a lawyer for a very long time. For you, writing the LSAT and applying to law school are the next logical steps on the path you always knew you would be following. You may even know by now what type of lawyer you want to be, to which law school you want to go, what courses you will take, and at what firm you will work. Certainty is a comforting feeling!
However, even for you there will be major surprises ahead. Legal education is like that. The courses you will take, your fellow students, your professors, and your own personal development and changing circumstances will steer you in new and unpredictable directions. That is the most exciting aspect of your decision to embark on a legal education. Doors will be opened—doors which today you do not know of, or which today may not even exist. Speaking from personal experience, my ambition from grade 11 in high school was to become a lawyer, practicing in a firm in Montreal. Little did I know that my legal career would turn out to be very different indeed, and that I would end up as an academic teaching law in Edmonton.
Some of you are coming to the LSAT and the decision to apply to law school late. It was not your lifelong plan; you did not have one and may not even have one today. For you the news is also good. There is no better all-around education than that of a legal education. We live in a world where—increasingly—political, social, and economic issues are dominated by legal concerns. More and more we turn to laws, judges, and lawyers to resolve the complex set of issues and conflicts which our society faces. Lawyers and others skilled in the tools that a legal education confers are able to provide just, reasoned, sensitive, and accessible solutions to help resolve difficult issues. A legal education will offer the compass you need in order to better navigate
around these rocky shoals. Whether you end up as a lawyer, serving clients involved in legal disputes, or in another profession or career entirely, knowing how the system works, and how it can best be utilized to avoid and resolve conflict, will be invaluable.
That, however, lies ahead. Your immediate objective is to get into the law school of your choice and to make the most of your years there. In terms of which law school to choose, there are numerous factors you might want to consider—among them are size, expense, location, reputation, areas of specialization, approaches to teaching, and research opportunities. There is one thing for certain, however. Every Canadian law school will provide you with an excellent legal education, bright and engaging fellow students, interesting professors, a myriad of opportunities, and diverse approaches to conflict resolution. Choose the school that best suits you, but no matter which one you choose, the depth and quality of the experience will be defined by you, your commitment, and your enthusiasm.
Law schools are exciting, diverse institutions. Your fellow students will be mature, multitalented, and supportive. Through interaction with them, you will be exposed to a diversity of skills and experiences. You will develop friendships and strong bonds, which often last a lifetime. Law school is marked by hard work, but equally by a host of extracurricular activities which range from the serious to the very lighthearted. These will be enjoyable and inspirational years; of that I am absolutely confident.
I can honestly say that I am envious of you and your future. As a parent of two young persons who have faced some of the same choices and dilemmas you face, I know how hard it has been for me to give good advice. The true test of any advice, however, is whether the advisors would follow it themselves or encourage members of their own families to follow it. In advising my own children about careers and options, the words I have written here are the words I have offered them. A legal education is enriching and satisfying, and using the law to help others is immensely rewarding. I wish you all great success and good luck with your future endeavours.