Lawyer, Teacher, Writer, Tinkerer - OBA Celebrates the Career of Angela Swan

  • May 24, 2016

Angela SwanHer name is synonymous with “excellence” in contract law. She is cited on numerous occasions as an expert by the Supreme Court of Canada. She has been educating lawyers, defining the law of contracts, and providing expert legal advice for more than 50 years. Angela Swan’s contributions to the profession of law are nothing short of impressive.

On April 20th, many friends and colleagues gathered to honour Angela as the Ontario Bar Association presented her with the 2016 Award of Distinguished Service in recognition of her significant contributions to the legal profession in Ontario.

When nominations for this award were announced, members of the legal community were quick to submit their bid in support of Angela; more than two dozen lawyers and judges from all areas wrote letters of commendation for her contributions.

A prolific professor of law, she has taught at University of Toronto, Queen’s, McGill, Victoria and Osgoode Hall law schools. She has practised with McCarthy T├ętrault and Stikeman Elliott and is currently counsel to Aird & Berlis. “She demonstrates a mastery of the subject that is unmatched in Ontario (and in Canada) and has the great benefit of being both a serious scholar and a highly experienced practitioner” said colleague Geoff Hall.

Angela’s work in contract law is often cited and followed by courts across the country, up to the Supreme Court of Canada, and her thinking on the subject is hugely influential. She has taught at six Canadian universities and has written the prize-winning Canadian Contract Law, which is routinely cited in cases through Canada. Angela has also been actively involved in her community, particularly in her work in the LGBTQ communities. 

Former Mayor of Toronto David Miller reflected upon the impact Angela has made through teaching and mentoring students and young lawyers: “So many of who she has worked with talk about the dedication and care she has in teaching and mentorship in law. Her teaching activities have set forth a legion of lawyers who otherwise would be less knowledgeable and far less prepared. As a leading thinker, writer and educator about the law of contracts, she has influenced generations of lawyers and the development of law, both in a positive and exceptional way.”

In reviewing teaching evaluations from past students at Osgoode Hall Law School, Angela’s great passion for teaching is clear:

“Instructor really loves the course content and shares that enthusiasm with the class. ... Really cares about students. Awesome instructor and person.”

“Professor Swan is an extremely helpful person. She really tries her best to make sure everyone understands the material.”

“Prof Swan has a great sense of humour and made what I thought would be dry material quite interesting.”

“We were treated like lawyers.”

At the April 20th OBA Award Gala, former OBA President R. Lee Akazaki described Angela as a “kind-hearted, soft-spoken lawyer, an academic and from time-to-time, a rabble-rouser.”

Upon receiving her award, Angela delivered the sage advice she gives to all students and young lawyers: “Don’t be a scumbag. Don’t advise your client to be a scumbag – judges hate scumbags and believe me, I’ve talked to enough judges to know that if they want to get a scumbag they’ll get them – and try to avoid having a scumbag for a client. Trust your sense of smell; if it smells bad, it probably is.”

Her final piece of advice? “Don’t forget to go to the bathroom before a conference call.”

As her former student Jakub Adamski summed it up, Angela is “neither a solicitor nor a barrister nor a legal academic; rather, she is in the true sense of the word, a student of the common law who keeps its flame alive for the next generation of practitioners.”

View the photos and video from the April 20th award gala, or learn more about the OBA’s Distinguished Service Award and its winners.

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