A Torys LLP summer student describes his Ghanaian split-summer experience.
Birth of an internship
My Ghanaian split-summer experience was born on a frosty winter’s day in January. I was strolling down the hall at Queen’s University Faculty of Law with my professor, Dr. Rosemary King, who is from Ghana. I discussed the possibility of working in Ghana with her. She described my potential internship and also outlined the work I would undertake as an intern in the country. After discussing the possibility of splitting my summer with Deborah Dalfen, the wonderfully supportive director of student affairs at the Torys LLP Toronto office, I drafted a proposal and submitted it to my colleagues at Torys. Within one week, I was emailed fantastic news: Torys decided to support my initiative abroad during the summer months of July and August! I quickly contacted Dr. King to tell her the fantastic news! I also telephoned my mother who became very worried, but ultimately warmed to the idea.
Two months in Toronto
I spent the first two months after completing second-year law school working at the Torys office in Toronto. After one week of orientation, wherein I learned the ins and outs of law firm survival, I began taking on assignments from lawyers throughout the firm. I did some tax, dabbled in commercial arbitration, and explored corporate governance. Life as a Metropass-wielding suit was fantastic! I found myself in an excellent law firm surrounded by geniuses who handled all kinds of different legal problems. I had a great mentor who showed me the ropes. Without a doubt, I had hit the jackpot of summer jobs. However, despite the thorough orientation program and the two years of legal education I had endured before getting to this stage of my career, nothing could have prepared me for the second half of my summer, which was spent working as an intern at the Centre for Public Interest Law (CEPIL) in Ghana.
Interning at CEPIL
Akwaaba (welcome) to Ghana! After finishing up two months at Torys, where I acquired excellent experience and met tons of brilliant people, I packed up my backpack and flew to Ghana. I arrived in Accra, the country’s energetic capital, and was quickly thrown into work at CEPIL. CEPIL represents and advocates on behalf of marginalized and disenfranchised individuals as well as communities throughout Ghana and West Africa at large. The Centre does a great deal of work involving housing rights, international human rights, and mining compensation. Lawyers from CEPIL also train human rights monitors in countries like Sierra Leone, whose past is marred by civil war.
At CEPIL I was involved in three main projects. First, I assisted one of CEPIL’s staff lawyers in creating a presentation for a human rights monitor training session in Sierra Leone. Second, I was staffed on a case dealing with mining compensation in rural Ghana. This assignment involved writing a submission for Ghana’s appellate court, which was a fascinating experience. Third, I compiled a report to be presented to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice regarding human rights violations perpetrated in Sierra Leone. These projects provided me with ample opportunity to learn about the Ghanaian legal system as well the role international human rights play in West Africa.
For two months, I was immersed in the world of “tro tro” rides, “fu fu” dinners, kente cloth, and Ghanaian hospitality. My day-to-day office existence at CEPIL significantly contrasted with my day-to-day life at Torys. When I worked at the firm, I would wake up at 6:30 am, take a warm, luxurious shower, put on a beautiful suit, shirt, and tie, before leisurely walking to the subway station to catch a quick train downtown. At 8:00 am I typically grabbed a steaming cup of Starbucks before entering the office between 8:15 and 8:30 am. At Torys I was blessed with incredible facilities, a fully-functioning office, incredible support, brilliant students, assistants, clerks, and lawyers, and a gym membership.
At CEPIL, though it is one of the premier public interest legal clinics in Ghana and all of West Africa, things were quite different. In the morning I would shower using a bucket full of cold water. I would walk from my apartment past friendly Ghanaians who would sell me eggs, beans, and coconuts for breakfast. There was no coffee. Usually I would wait to cross the street to my office as a herd of cows walked past the office entrance. Goats and chickens nipped at the curbside grass as I strolled past, careful to avoid stepping on them or any “surprises” they had left behind on the ground. At the office, only one computer was connected to the internet; the connection was temperamental and regularly malfunctioned. The office had no running water and very few books. Gone was the massive library and helpful librarians I had become accustomed to during my time at Torys. There were very few lights in the office. At times, the office would open late because the key was misplaced. Things that would never ever occur in Canada took place quite regularly in Ghana. It was incredible!
I grew professionally, personally, and intellectually during my time in Ghana. It was, by far, one of the most meaningful and stimulating experiences of my life. The rapid transition from the TD Centre and elevator music to Ghana’s dirt roads and kpanlogo drums was eye-opening. I became grateful for all that we have in Canada: a functioning and relatively efficient legal system, an independent judiciary, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms! Some West Africans continue to suffer because a system is not in place to guarantee what Canadians take for granted. I remember writing on my personal statement to law school that I wanted to use law to make a difference in peoples’ lives and provide a voice for those who are silenced by the system. My time in Ghana proved to me that as a lawyer, this is, indeed, possible. I learned firsthand the importance of public interest and pro bono work. It is essential for law students and lawyers to use our gifts and privileges to better our world at the grassroots level by positively influencing peoples’ lives.
Adam R. Freedman is completing his final year of the JD program at Queen's University Faculty of Law. Following graduation, he will be returning to Torys LLP as an articling student.
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