Looking Beyond and Within: Spirituality, Resistance and Success in Law School

“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.

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Vive la Différence! Studying Law in France

We would like to introduce a new feature here on Progressive Lawyer which explores the experiences of law students from around the world as they study the law. We hope it will be both informative for pre-law students as well as food for thought for those who may be thinking of pursuing the study of law. For our first edition, Shannon Roddy discusses her experiences studying law in France.

Shannon Roddy
Shannon Roddy

My name is Shannon Roddy and I’m an undergraduate student currently in the third year of my Law degree. I’m studying Law with Criminology in Northern Ireland and this year I availed of the opportunity to undertake a study placement year abroad. The destination I chose to undertake my studies in was the city of Toulouse in the south of France. The structure of this year consisted of a year spent studying a joint programme in Law with Political Sciences in the Law school and Institute of Political Sciences in Toulouse. Upon completion of this year I hope to achieve a qualification equivalent to a diploma in European legal studies / International area studies from my University in Ireland.

When choosing where to apply for a study placement I had the option to choose from France , Sweden , the Netherlands or Italy. I instantly expressed an interest in studying in France because I speak French and understand French. Further to this I have an avid interest in international legal relations and developments and I understand that French is widely spoken in the legal world. On a personal level the fact that the European Parliament is located in France also helped found my interest. In fact as part of this placement I will be visiting the EU parliament in Strasbourg in the next month. The legal and political influences of France are notable in the functioning of the European Union and in the UN and it has been my long-term ambition to pursue a career in International Law. Studying in France is a great eye-opener for anyone interested in International Law as a career area in particular due to the influence of French legislature in international organisations such as the UN , European Union and EU parliament.

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