I wrote once that 3L was like rolling down the grassy side of the big JD mountain. However, now having finished third year, I think that roll happens quite quickly during the final three hours of your last exam. The climb until that point is still tough, although perhaps at this end the challenge is motivation rather than mastering a skill. Then all of a sudden, after a somewhat anticlimactic finale that is an exam, you’re at the bottom — gleeful, yet confused about what just happened.
The realization it was all about to come to a close only set in a few weeks ago at the Osgoode dean’s formal (or “law prom”). It was held at the same venue as my high school prom, which I had attended nearly a decade ago.
At that time, a JD was a far-off goal. The future post-high school was vast and open — law school was a milestone in mind, but far, far out of reach. So, it felt especially odd walking into that same hall, in another fancy dress, celebrating the completion of a new course of study — a degree I had idolized as the pinnacle of achievement the last time I made that entrance.
If I’m honest, the sensation is ultra satisfying. Finishing three years of gruelling work after so much anticipation and coming out with a profession is a tangible accomplishment that brings with it a great sense of pride. While I’m enjoying this weightless feeling at the bottom of the hill though, I know it’s not permanent. I recognize there’s a lot left to do and more work to come. Congratulations are in order, except there is a “but.”
There is always a “but.”
In my eyes, one of those tasks still ongoing is building bridges, or continuing to do so, in order to aid problems plaguing the field we are about to enter. One of the greatest outcomes of earning a law degree is not just the knowledge you acquire, but the allies you find. I have certainly made some lifelong friends over the course of the last three years, but what especially strikes me is the strength of the professional and political ties to people whom, although perhaps not bosom buddies, I feel are undoubtedly in my corner and vice versa.
Over the course of law school, I often saw a divide between different factions of the student population, mainly and especially the corporate versus social justice dichotomy. While there is certainly truth and reason for this split, there was often a feeling of resentment on both sides. Without commenting on whether or not those feelings should exist, I do believe the gap between the two sides, should, can, and is often bridged for the purpose of something greater.
What I’m referring to mostly (although not exclusively) when I talk about this omnipresent issue in our industry is the access to justice crisis in Canada. Approximately 6.5 per cent of legal problems reach the formal justice system, and 50 per cent of Canadians try to resolve their legal issues alone or with very minimal assistance.
These statistics are but a trivial glance into what is a grave issue. This problem isn’t new or unique to our generation, but it is ever-present and demands attention and change. It isn’t something anyone can combat on their own, nor does it affect one area of law in isolation (although admittedly some are affected disproportionately). Indeed, it necessitates co-ordination and co-operation.
This is why I feel the focus post-law school should be on building new bridges, as well as maintaining ones already constructed. Reflecting on what we’ve learned and gained in law school, I think allies are our strongest tool. We need to be working together to bring about the innovative change required to adequately address this issue and others like it. The underlying negative feelings cast in all directions will likely never be erased entirely, but surely we can try and put them aside when it comes to something bigger than ourselves.
The Law Students Society of Ontario is one example of how members of the profession band together to address key issues facing the student population in particular. The fact it has only just come into existence is proof there is a need for more co-operation (like this initiative) among members of the profession that cross engrained borders.
This comment isn’t to suggest generations of lawyers before ours have done nothing and haven’t founded strong pillars of support in the profession — to the contrary in fact. We have been urged since day one by our supervisors and mentors (allies themselves) to make connections with our peers, being reminded that is what is going to carry us forward into the future. Today I am simply repeating this message and connecting the importance of allies to the predominant issues that confront us as we join the profession.
A huge pat on the back is in order for those who just completed law school and a hug of encouragement for those still in the process. And then an acknowledgement of the work left to be done and what we, the freshest batch of advocates, can do to assist.
Unlike my high school perception of the future, I know law school is not the pinnacle, but the beginning — ab initio as they say. I am proud to call myself a member of this community and excited to see the work that my colleagues will achieve over the upcoming years, independently and as a team.
On that note, I wish good luck to all and a sincere thank you for reading over the past couple of years. See you on the other side.