A World of Change, Challenge and Opportunity

Posted on Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Blog Post

Bienvenue.   Welcome.   Je voudrais reconnaitre que nous nous trouvons sur le territoire Algonkin non-cédé.  I recognize that we are here on unceded Algonquin territory and I thank Elder Claudette Commanda for welcoming us in a good way. 

To you, the Class of 2021, congratulations!  You have worked so hard to get here.  Today is the culmination of 15, 20 and in some cases, even more years of hard work.   So look to your left, look to your right and then introduce yourself and congratulate each other.   To the faculty and the staff on the stage, please join me in congratulating the incoming class of 2021.

* * *

Each generation of law students has its own challenges.   For the generation that came here in the 1960s and 1970s, getting into law school was the easy part.   After Christmas of first year, one third of the class would be gone.  By the end of first year, another significant proportion would be told to find a vocation elsewhere.  Only a third of the original entering class would graduate.   For those who graduated, life was their oyster: articling, law job, professional success was virtually guaranteed.  Law school was sort of like “Survivor”.

That started to change in the late 1970s.   The class grew, it became harder to get into law school but also harder to fail out.   For graduates, job prospects were still good.

Until the early 2000s, there was a happy equilibrium between the number of graduating law students in Ontario and the number of available articling positions in the province.  

This is no longer the world that you are entering.  The legal landscape has changed and we – and you – must change and adapt to it.
We are in the midst of significant changes within the Canadian legal profession.  The former head of the Law Society of Ontario – Tom Conway – a graduate of this law school and a lawyer in Ottawa – told our students a few years ago that we have seen more changes in the last 20 years than we have seen in the previous 200.  He was right.
We are continuing to undergo a time of transformative change within the legal profession and we must change with it.  We must adapt.

***

You are about to embark on an exciting journey.  In many senses, 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.

We are engaged in learning the “art” of the law but we are rooted in law as part of the broader community and in the study of law as in service of the community.  And we ourselves as members of the Common Law Section and then as members of the legal profession are part of a common calling.

* * *

I became Dean of this faculty on January 1, 2018.  You are my first class and I will always have a special bond with you, the Class of 2021.  In preparing for this address, I reached out for advice on Twitter and asked people what advice they had for you as new law students at uOttawa.

I received many great responses and I urge you to review them (@ADodek).  One graduate noted the advice that former Dean Bruce Feldthusen gave perhaps 10 years ago: your reputation is the single-most valuable commodity that you will have. 

Those around you today and in your classes 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.

* * *

Here at uOttawa Law, what sets us apart is our focus on three critical elements: Excellence, Leadership and Community.
We excel in so much and we must strive for excellence.  You will be taught by award-winning faculty members and by lawyers who have excelled in their vocation.

The key distinction, however, is leadership.  Our faculty members are our alumni are recognized as leaders in their fields.  When you go up to the third floor of Fauteux and look at the members of the Common Law Honour Society, you will see graduates working in law, business, government, tech, international organizations and the not-for-profit sector.  They include Supreme Court judges, cabinet ministers, premiers, activists, senior public servants, entrepreneurs, business leaders, leaders of the bar, Stanley Cup champions, community leaders and indigenous leaders.   The common thread uniting these graduates is leadership.

Each of you has the potential to become a leader, whatever you choose to do: whether you decide to work in private practice, become an entrepreneur, a social activist or a politician.

As Julia Hanigsberg said, “Whatever direction your career takes you, your law degree will always provide you with powerful tools that you can use.”   Ms. Hanigsberg has been a lawyer, a public servant, Chief of Staff to the Attorney General of Ontario, a University Vice President and now the President and CEO of the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in Toronto.  She is a leader and she has been a wonderful mentor to me.

Finally, there is community.  Whatever we do – excellence and leadership – must be rooted in our values of Social Justice, Bilingualism, Equality, diversity & inclusion; Feminism; and commitment to Reconciliation. 

We come from and are rooted in our communities.  We are an engaged faculty.  We are not studying law as an abstract subject.  Law is about the exercise of power over people’s lives.   It can be a tool to improve people’s lives but it can also be a tool of oppression.  Our challenge is to find ways to use law to improve people’s lives.
Excellence.   Leadership.  And Community.   That is what we are about here at uOttawa.

* * *

Let me end with my advice to you, the incoming members of the Class of 2021 and the newest future members of the legal profession:

  1. Be yourself – that’s what got you here.
  2. Take advantage of what the law school has to offer.  I don’t think there is any law school in the country that has as many interesting speakers, internships and student activities.
  3. Take advantage of what the University has to offer. For those of you in the English Program, take a course in French, do a summer immersion program in Quebec – it will only increase your professional opportunities.  I am testament to that!
  4. Take advantage of what Ottawa has to offer both as a legal centre and as the nation’s capital.  On Thursday we will be at the Supreme Court of Canada which will introduce you to what Ottawa has to offer you as law students.
  5. Take care of yourself
  6. Support each other
  7. Challenge yourself and invest in yourself
  8. Follow your passion and your heart and not the crowd.
  9. Be humble
  10. And lastly,  enjoy yourselves ! There can be great fun in the law and there is nothing better than the sound of laughter in the halls of Fauteux.

There has never been a more exciting time or a more daunting time to be entering law school.    I salute you and I welcome you to the uOttawa Common Law community!

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