“The key to a successful career is realizing that it’s not separate from the rest of your life, but is rather an extension of your most basic self.” – Marianne Williamson (A Return to Love)
I remember the day clearly – September, 2009, Orientation day at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law. Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International was delivering his welcome speech to law students in the auditorium. I remember looking across the room, observing the zeal, the passion in the eyes of most students as they listened. The determination to fight for justice, to make a difference with their law degree shone through as their collective applause echoed in the room. But as the year progressed, that fire seemed to fizzle out. All around me, I saw my peers hopeless, filled with anxiety, feeling that their dreams were slowly being shattered. The competition and hostility, the rat-race of OCIs, lack of articling positions, the pressure to pay off a six-figure debt,- everything seemed to be the ingredients for failure – failure to create the meaningful legal career that they had dreamt of.
To this day, I meet students who feel completely disillusioned by the law school experience. With the increased corporatization of our legal education system, law schools have become more about getting students to conform to a dominant culture that glorifies Bay Street, and the prestige and social status that come with a corporate career, and little about fostering an environment that perpetuates the idea of law as a profession of service. In her paper, “Is there Room for Spirituality in Canadian Legal Education and Practice?” Andrea Chisholm brings attention to recent studies that describe law school as a place with little room for emotion and imagination, and that learning to “think like a lawyer” entails giving up one’s ideals, ethical values and a sense of self. The curriculum puts emphasis on black letter law, and students feel let down by career services which are focused on guiding students toward corporate jobs. This, coupled with the fact that there is a scarcity of paid positions in social justice, and that tuition fees and student debt continue to hike, students who dreamt of building social justice careers are consistently disempowered and stripped of their happiness as they go through their law school journey.