As she prepares to take on her new role as dean of law at Western University starting May 1, Erika Chamberlain says one thing she’ll be focused on is ensuring that legal education is accessible.
“I come from a small town, a working class background,” she says, adding that her parents are immigrants from Germany. “I want to make sure law school is available to people in all parts of the community.”
Western already does a great job of being inclusive, Chamberlain says, noting she had a great student experience as a National Scholar at Western Law in 1996, followed by getting her LLB as gold medalist from Western Law in 2001. After clerking for the Supreme Court of Canada in 2002, Chamberlain once again returned to Western as assistant professor in 2005. Following her PhD from the University of Cambridge in 2009, Chamberlain has held the position of associate dean (academic) at Western Law for the past five years.
During her time working at the university, Chamberlain has led the development of the faculty’s strategic plan, led the planning and implementation of curriculum reform and assisted with budget planning, accreditations, faculty appointments and developing interdisciplinary programs.
Chamberlain has served on committees both within and outside of the university, including the Council of Ontario Universities Quality Council.
Now, as head of the department, Chamberlain says she wants to preserve the “really good sense of community” for future students. She says the fact that Western Law is the smallest law school after Lakehead University's Bora Laskin Faculty of Law helps foster the close environment.
“Our faculty care a lot about teaching, care a lot about mentoring students, and I think that’s a real strength for us,” she says.
Chamberlain notes that all Ontario law schools are facing uncertainty when it comes to the articling process and the Law Practice Program. As dean, she’ll be keeping an eye on “how that’s ultimately going to affect our curricula and whether we’re going to get called on to do more skills training in law school,” she says.
“That’s going to be a big challenge for us over the next several years I think.”
Something else that’s top of mind for the new dean is the changing profession and “making sure we keep legal education relevant and keep it engaging for our students throughout all three years of their education,” she says.
“We’re trying to come up with as many different experiences and opportunities for our students as we can, whether that’s externships, research projects or interdisciplinary learning.”
Another important focus will be on implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to action, she adds.
According to a news release, Chamberlain’s five-year appointment was endorsed by university president Amit Chakma and Western’s board of governors.
Chamberlain takes the reins from Iain Scott, whose term ends this year.
“Erika has demonstrated her exceptional leadership abilities and commitment to Western Law over the course of her entire academic career and I know she will help the faculty continue building on its reputation as Canada’s premiere business law school,” Chakma said in the release.
Chamberlain is a three-time recipient of the University Students’ Council Teaching Honour Roll and received the J. McLeod Professor of the Year Award from the Student Legal Society twice. She has authored a national textbook on tort law, and her work in impaired driving law has been cited by provincial courts of appeal and the SCC.
Chamberlain says she’s been overwhelmed with how many people have been in touch with her since the announcement that she’ll be at the helm of the law school, and she says she’s “really excited” to take on her new role.