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TIps from the top - 2008

|Written By Gail J. Cohen

Canadian Lawyer 4Students goes right to the top and seeks some words of wisdom from law school deans around the country. We asked these academic leaders for their thoughts on the following important matters of the day:

1. In your opinion, what makes a great law professor?
2. What advice would you give to students who are looking for their first summer position?
3. When you were a student, what was your favourite law school class?
4. Where do you love to go around  town for a quick and easy bite?
5. How do you deal with stress?

Nicholas Kasirer  McGill University
1. Rightly or wrongly, I have come to believe that there is no secret to good teaching beyond hard work. I do know that from behind their laptops at the back of the room, students see and hear everything: the professor who is unprepared, the teacher who fails to connect teaching and scholarship, the teacher who confuses knowledge and information, the teacher who doesn’t listen, the teacher who doesn’t want to be there. One very brilliant colleague at another university once told me that he is “habité par le doute” every minute in the classroom — this strikes me as good and convenient advice for the intellectually curious and harried law teacher.

2. Too many students — I think I fell into this category long ago — rush into jobs on the theory that they can’t afford to wait. Stop for a second and do the math: if a student plans to retire at, say, 70 years old and subtracts his or her current age from that number, that gives most students a number approximating 40 years. That puts some of the rush into perspective.

3. Like many students, some of my favourite courses were sleepers. Courses, like tax, wills and estates, or property, that I hadn’t expected to be exciting when I first enrolled in the law faculty with visions of the constitution dancing in my head. Great teachers had much to do with the success of those classes.

4.   Law deans are not particular experts on managing moments of leisure. But Montreal hides some of its great neighbourhoods for food, including vegetarians. Mile-End is my current favourite.

5 .When you love your job, stress rather deals with itself.

Philip Bryden  University of New Brunswick
1. Great law professors have a passion for their work. This comes across in their excitement about their research and teaching, an excitement that they are able to convey to their students. The other characteristic of great law professors is that they care about their students. They get satisfaction not only from contributing to the intellectual growth of their students but to their personal growth as well.

2. The biggest career challenge for all of us is finding the fit between work that we enjoy and that suits our abilities and work that is sufficiently remunerative to provide us with the lifestyle we want. I encourage students to think about summer employment in law firms as an opportunity to begin learning about themselves and how their skills and interests fit into a successful legal practice.

3. My favourite was administrative law, which I studied with Richard Stewart at Harvard University.

4. Fredericton’s The Blue Door.

5. I find that physical activity is a good way of dealing with stress. I like to play basketball, but since I sprained my ankle playing with some students in January, I have been looking for another outlet for my energies.

David Percy University of Alberta
1. There is clearly no single ingredient that makes a great law professor. In my experience, great teachers have an infectious enthusiasm for their subject, a thoughtful and questioning approach, and are demanding in their expectations of students.

2. I have advised many students looking for their first summer position to look outside of law firms. The students are likely to spend much of the rest of their lives in law, and summer breaks in law school provide them with an opportunity to do something completely different and to gain some experience in the real world. If they do want to work in law, I suggest they investigate?opportunities to work internationally with an NGO — and I certainly advise them not to regard a position with a major law firm as the only option.

3. I have to exercise a dean’s prerogative and pick two classes. As an undergraduate, contracts was my favourite subject. It was taught?by Patrick Atiyah, whose voice would reflect his excitement for the subject and who was willing to be quite iconoclastic. In my graduate program, I took criminal procedure, a subject in which I had little interest, because it was taught by Prof. Charles Whitebread. He used a combination of the Socratic method and a wicked sense of humour to demonstrate how you could keep a large class completely engaged during a long semester.

4. We are fortunate in having a number of excellent restaurants within walking distance of the law school. I go to DaCapo, a wonderful Italian café with great food and great coffee; the Upper Crust for excellent food in a neighbourhood atmosphere; Gaya, an authentic Korean restaurant;?and Phobulous, a cool new Vietnamese restaurant.

5. I love to go home and, with my wife, take the dogs for a long walk or ski in the river valley and to play in my tennis league, which makes Monday nights a highlight of the week. N

Andrew Petter University of Victoria
1. Someone who has a passion for her subject and loves sharing that passion with her students in a collaborative learning environment.

2. Do something that is?interesting, challenging,?and engaging, and don’t worry in your first summer about finding a placement to advance your career goals.

3. The law centre clinical term at the University of Victoria.

4. Any sushi bar.

5. Jogging and watching movies.