Welcome to the Revolution: Welcoming Address to the Class of 2023
Dean Adam Dodek
September 2020 (Delivered remotely)
In ordinary times, I would be standing outside the front doors of Fauteux and welcoming you to law school.
But these are not ordinary times and law school has always been more than a physical place. Much more.
COVID-19 has simply exposed that. It has challenged us and it will continue to challenge us.
The Common Law Section is located at the University of Ottawa in Fauteux Hall but it is not simply that. The Common Law Section consists of people:
- 80 full-time professors;
- 150 part-time professors;
- 40 full-time staff;
- more than 1200 JD students; and
- over 200 graduate students.
But that is not all. The Common Law Section is its 8500 alumni. It is the legal community of Ottawa which includes the County of Carleton Law Association, l’Association des juristes d'expression française de l'Ontario, the Department of Justice, Ontario Court of Justice, the Superior Court of Justice, the Federal Court of Canada, the Federal Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada.
Make no mistake about it, the place is important but the people are much more important.
The place – the land on which we operate – is very important.
I recognize that we are here on unceded Algonquin territory. Our relationship with the Algonquin nation is something we value and something we strive to improve. Our commitment to reconciliation is steadfast and a key priority and I would say one of the greatest challenges and priorities facing the Canadian legal profession and Canadian society.
I remember my first day of law school 28 years ago in 1992. Of course it was nothing like this. I was surrounded by 560 other first year students and it probably would have been easier if it was online because I felt so alone. But I held on to what got me to law school and that helped me not just get through law school but succeed in it.
So to you, members of the Class of 2023, congratulations! You have worked so hard to get here.Today is the culmination of 15, 20 and in some cases, even more than 20 years of hard work.
Today is a happy day. You are about to embark on an exciting journey. Today is the beginning of your professional career. Almost 75 years ago, Roscoe Pound, the Dean of Harvard Law School, defined the essence of professionalism as “pursuing a learned art as a common calling in the spirit of public service”. Others have expanded on those elements but they remain relevant today.
In this community, your reputation is the single-most valuable commodity that you will have.
Your classmates this year and over the next three years will be your colleagues at the bar and your clients. They will refer work to you. They will serve as references for you. They will hire you. Or not. So build, foster and protect your reputation as your most precious professional asset.
This Orientation is like no other. One of our colleagues remarked to me, “Of all the Orientations that we have experienced, this will surely be the most memorable!”
You are starting your legal studies not just in the midst of a global pandemic but also during a “revolution”.
A “revolution” is a sudden, radical or complete change. That describes perfectly what is going on right now, this moment, in this law school with how we teach law. And what is going on in the legal profession and in the legal system.
As you will learn, the concept of “revolution” is completely at odds with the common law which is about stability and incremental change.
We are changing the way that we teach law here at the University of Ottawa and I am convinced that some of these changes will become permanent after COVID-19.
You have the chance to contribute to the revolution, not just as observers, but as participants. Your professors know more about the law than you do but many of you know more about technology than your professors. Do not hesitate to make suggestions in your classes. Be creative.
Technology has the capacity to improve access to justice for Canadians and it has the potential to improve the quality of education for you and for those students that come after you.
We look forward to being back in person but in the meantime we look forward to building relationships online and to changing our law school for the better. With your help.
There has never been a more challenging time to be entering law school. I salute you and I welcome you to the uOttawa Common Law community! Welcome and good luck!