Teaching Law

  • October 05, 2017

“The one exclusive sign of thorough knowledge is the power of teaching.”

- Aristotle

 

As a profession, the practice of law has deep foundations in mentorship and teaching. Many of the skills that make for a good lawyer also make for a good teacher. In practice, lawyers are everyday teachers: through educating and guiding their clients, mentoring and modeling for juniors or presenting to and persuading the Court.

The following lawyers enjoy teaching so much that they’ve taken it to the next level. Some teach part-time, and some have changed their career altogether.

We asked each to tell us about their teaching experience and share what makes it rewarding for them.

 

I got into teaching via chairing the OBA Administrative Law Section over a decade ago. Lorne Sossin, at the time Associate Dean at UofT Law (now Dean of Osgoode Hall), was on the Section executive committee. He suggested that I would bring a practitioner’s perspective to a relatively theoretical area of law. 

I loved the intensity of being on for the three to four hours of lecture time. Teaching the regular stream of law students led to my teaching students in the Internationally Trained Lawyers’ Program (ITLP). Teaching in ITLP meant that I was concurrently explaining admin law and Canadian political history to the class of relative newcomers. 

I then ended up as inaugural faculty at Ryerson’s Law Practice Program (LPP), the successor to the Law Society’s Bar Admission program. There, my proudest moment was a one hour, one take, no script, video lecture on judicial review - very geeky!  

I continue to teach where time permits, including at Osgoode Professional Development and through guest lectures.  Seeing the light go on for students is a real joy!

    - Andrew Pinto, Pinto Wray James LLP

 

During my masters studies I was looking for ways to offset my growing education expenses.  I applied to be a TA for a Law and Society course and was offered my first teaching opportunity. Initially, I took the position out of necessity but quickly realized I really enjoyed teaching, which led to other teaching opportunities.

After I started practising law, I wanted to continue teaching so I accepted a part-time position at George Brown College. Eventually I pitched and developed my own course called Legal Issues in Arts, Media and Entertainment. I’ve been teaching and updating this course for several years. That led to an adjunct professor opportunity teaching at Osgoode Hall Law School in their IP Law & Technology Intensive Program.

On a personal level, finding a subject you’re passionate about and discussing and sharing that with a captivated audience is simply energizing. On a professional level, teaching encourages you to keep up to date on the latest legal developments and trains you to more effectively simplify and relay complex legal issues. I would say that teaching has made me a better lawyer by helping me to better communicate with and advise my clients.

     - Dan Ciraco, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

 

I got into teaching after many years of running a successful legal practice. One day I saw a posting at a local college for a paralegal instructor. Several years later I was fortunate to land a full-time job at Mohawk College. It’s such a rewarding experience to meet the fresh new faces in 1st year and then by the end of their final term they are more excited than the first term. In addition to seeing the joy of them mature from term-to-term, I can’t help but have a sense of pride when I hear their name and they walk across the stage at convocation. In essence teaching is showing the students how to love the law…to understand the law and to use the law and think what is challenging and not to be afraid of change but to use the skills to make change.”

    - Cherie Daniel, Mohawk College

 

Some say teaching is a calling. Well, nobody called me to teach! It took a lot of self-initiative to find teaching opportunities – online job postings and ads in the Ontario Reports provided good leads.  Having a LL.M helped too. I am now entering my fifteenth year of teaching and I enjoy it as much as ever. Students exude an energy that is difficult to describe but easy to feel, and they continue to ad fresh perspectives on dusty old legal principles.

Witnessing the transition from “students” to “colleagues” is a wonderful experience. A day barely goes by that I don’t run into a former student in a courthouse around the province who is not eager to tell me about their burgeoning careers. Most of these change meetings end with some reminiscing of the course they took with me. We all have memories of our law school days – and being able to create such memories on a continual basis is a pretty special feeling.

    - The Hon. Justice Enzo Rondinelli, Ontario Court of Justice

 

As a Crown Attorney, I have focused my career on youth criminal justice matters. When I went to law school, there were no courses offered in this area at all. I really wanted to design a course to reflect my passion for youth justice. When I approached the University of Toronto with my proposal, the response was overwhelmingly positive. As a result, I began teaching “Youth Criminal Justice” at the University of Toronto in 2012.

I really enjoy meeting new students every year and developing topical and exciting lessons about criminal law.

    - Brock Jones, Ministry of the Attorney General

 

I learned a lot in law school and in the early years of my practice and was excited to share what I had learned with others coming behind me. I wanted to make the journey easier for them and I wanted them to carry the torch further than I: there is no point in re-creating the wheel again and again. So when I heard that the University of Ottawa was looking for practising lawyers to teach in their Trial Advocacy program, I applied. Having been a high school teacher before law school, I believed I could provide a strong pedagogical foundation for disseminating both the theoretical and practical aspects of good advocacy.

That was some seven years ago and I have not stopped teaching since. I have taught various versions of advocacy classes, coached the Wilson Moot team branched out into curriculum development and teaching in a private educational organization.

What I didn’t expect from this journey was how teaching others has made me a better lawyer. Critically analyzing why I do what I do and why it works has brought a heightened awareness to my own advocacy. I am a more efficient and thoughtful lawyer as a result of teaching.

Litigators talk about the addictive rush of court – teachers talk about the addictive rush of the “aha!” moment when suddenly a realization or a solution to a problem becomes clear. It is an amazing feeling to see some of your teaching translate into growth in another person. You can almost see the proverbial lightbulb turn on!

I love teaching but I especially love teaching to law students and lawyers. They are bright people. They want to learn. They are determined to make good use of their time. They committed to doing what it takes to master a skill or concept. These qualities, of course, also make teaching them a challenge: they are very demanding audience and they can be unforgiving if you are unprepared. That said, they are often self-aware and are not only grateful for what you have taught them but will generously thank you for your efforts. Teaching is rewarding in a different way from the practice of law.

    - Juliet Knapton, Uniersity of Ottawa Faculty of Law, Common Law Section

 

I first began teaching part-time at George Brown College in 2009; I learned about the opportunity from a fellow OBA Council member who encouraged me to apply for the position. Subsequently, I moved on to teach at Ryerson University.

Teaching is rewarding for a number of reasons. First, it reminds me about why I went to law school; I am able to share why it is important that everyone understands the law in their daily lives. Second, students challenge you to think expansively about what the law means. Lastly, teaching allows me to come up with creative and fun ways to apply the law to everyday situations.

    - Esi Codjoe,  Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario

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