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Eyes on the prize

|Written By Ted Flett
Eyes on the prize

Randy Campbell sits at the front of the class, usually without neighbours. “I like to feel like it’s just me and the professor,” says the University of New Brunswick law student of his spot in the lecture hall. “Nothing to distract me.” Wearing a collared shirt and grey dress pants, the 32-year-old sits with exceptional posture, typing his notes into prepared case brief templates. Campbell fills each box from issue to reasoning before moving on to the next, keeping pace with the lecture. While his classmates succumb to temptation at lulls in the lecture, Campbell’s screen does not waiver from the notes. No Facebook. No Buzzfeed.

Campbell, who is entering second year this fall, chose law school very intentionally after an 18-day solitary retreat sea kayaking around Prince Edward Island. After years of working in outdoor education and wilderness therapy in British Columbia and Northern Ontario and freshly 30 years old, Randy returned to his home province to contemplate adulthood with an inkling to make a change. “I did it to reflect on the past and to choose a future,” he says. “The journey marked a transition between my childhood and adulthood.”

He travelled with a compass of sorts: notes from a dozen adults he admired on what they expected from adults in their community. “I was essentially just paddling alone on the ocean, looking at the waves and the wildlife and letting my mind wander.” After 18 days of isolation, Campbell chose to pursue law with the understanding the legal and political systems are key to protecting the environment he cherishes. He is keen to practise law to advance environmental rights as well as other causes from commercial to aboriginal.

For Campbell, the 18 days of silence and break from human contact was a cinch. It was a mere primer for a 40-day solitary excursion last summer on St. Peter’s Island, just off the coast of P.E.I. “Fourteen of which were spent living off plants and animals that I found,” he says. But to call Campbell a modern-day Tarzan with a touch of quirk who keeps to himself would be incomplete.

Deeply contemplative, he balances strict discipline with community mindedness. Both qualities have been fostered and tested by law school.

During last September’s orientation, Campbell was surprisingly impressed by his peers. “I thought people would be jerks or pretentious because this is law school,” he says. “Instead, they were bright, personable, and welcoming.”

To keep up with his classmates, Campbell tried various techniques to succeed; some worked, others failed. One approach he implemented and followed to the letter was a commitment not to attend law school social events. “I made a conscious choice to have a singular focus on becoming a skilled lawyer,” he says in justification of the rule. Bright, articulate, and handsome, Campbell received many invitations and was encouraged by classmates to attend. He didn’t, but never fabricated an excuse for not going. Committed to his pact, fellow students were often left gobsmacked when their invitation was resolutely rejected. “It was really easy to say no. I just said ‘I don’t do that. I don’t go out.’”

Reflective and committed to self-improvement, Campbell is reconsidering his “just say no to parties” hardline. “Looking back, I think it was a mistake and I undervalued the importance of social networks,” he says. “You can’t do it all on your own.”

But assuming Campbell’s empty social calendar made him a video-gaming loner or social outcast would be inaccurate. The man is busy. Campbell volunteers with the Mi’kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I., performing legal research on treaty rights in the Maritimes. With his partner, he is also the residence manager of Atkin House, UNB’s all-male residence.

Various study methods came through trial-and-error including a study group that fizzled out. Eventually, Campbell found his stride. He began note taking in lectures by populating a case brief template to prioritize information and capture the professor’s key points. Each week, Campbell tapped into his teaching methods to understand the law. “If you can teach a subject, you know it,” he says. So on Fridays, Campbell filmed himself lecturing that week’s classes and replayed the lectures later in preparation for tests and exams. He also summarized and outlined key principles — instructor-style — on flip charts. “During exam time, my apartment was wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling flip charts,” he says laughing. “It sort of resembled an art exhibit.”

And while Campbell was busily writing an exam, his wife Meghan would remove the charts and replace them with fresh paper. That’s dedication from a wife, even if it is an unconventional marriage. The couple marries every day. Wary of lifelong commitment given divorce and separation rates, Campbell proposes to Meghan daily and thus far she has always accepted — for the day. “It works for us,” he says, admitting some days he does forget to propose.

The pursuit of top of the class in a ranking system where his position comes at the expense of another’s success is unfamiliar. “My instinct is to co-operate with as many people as possible so we can all succeed but the competition in law school seems unavoidable and I don’t like it. It makes me uncomfortable.” And yet moving beyond his comfort zone does not scare Campbell. While climbing 1L’s steep learning curve, he kicked a 14-year-smoking-habit. “It was just time. I was ready,” he says. “However, that’s not something I would recommend, to take on that level of change during school.”

Though unsuccessful in finding a law-related job for the summer, Campbell had no signs of self-pity. He waited tables outside Charlottetown and busily planned a trip to Bolivia for research. The recipient of a $10,000 UNB environmental leadership scholarship, Campbell will be travelling to the South American country to examine the impact of a novel legal principle. Through Bolivia’s “Law of the Rights of Mother Earth” the environment now has rights. Mother Earth is defined as “the dynamic living system formed by the indivisible community of all life systems and living creatures, interrelated, interdependent and complemented, and sharing a common destiny.” These laws give Bolivia’s interdependent life system the right to, among other things, persist and regenerate vital cycles with diversity of life, clean air, and water. Granting rights to non-human entities is relatively unprecedented and Campbell will measure their impact by interviewing industry leaders, legislators, lawyers, and advocates.

The upcoming trip to Bolivia will not be Campbell’s first trip afar. Since high school, he has followed his passion to explore the world leading groups through wilderness tours and development work. He has travelled across Canada and spent time in Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Belize.

And yet, upon graduation from law school, Campbell plans to return home. “I want to help Prince Edward Island become the most prosperous place in the world,” he says. Coming from someone without his proven discipline and passion, the pledge would be empty, but coming from Campbell, P.E.I.’s prospects just surged. ¦

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