Wednesday, June 4, 2014
Three students sitting on steps of law building

Law graduates Brendan Stevens, Jamie-Lynn Leci and Andrew Sniderman on the steps of Falconer Hall.

By Lucianna Ciccocioppo

Most law students leave the Faculty of Law after three years of hard work with lifelong friends, another degree in hand, and a new career to follow. Jamie-Lynn (Smukowich) Leci will graduate on June 6, 2014 with a little bit more.

“Meeting and falling in love with my husband, a fellow student [Marin Leci], comprise my fondest memories at U of T Law,” says Leci. “I was in the right place at the right time—I found my best friend and partner. Getting married and having a baby in law school was an amazing, exciting, and demanding experience.” Equally impressive, she completed law school without a break, and landed a position at Blakes Calgary.

Most of her classmates, like Andrew Stobo Sniderman, would agree with her about the demands of law school. 

“I definitely felt some relief when I clicked ‘Send’ and submitted my last two papers,” says Sniderman. “It turns out law school is pretty hard. The first thing I did to celebrate was take a nap.”

The final set of exams is often a time of varying emotions, something Brendan Stevens says he felt.

“While I thought writing my last exam would bring unqualified joy, I was filled with mixed feelings when my final exam drew to a close. I am very excited to start the next chapter, but I am also sad to be leaving law school behind: three years that have been the best of my life.”

I was in 1L. It was the first time I had seen any form of legal oral argument, and I remember thinking: I've made the right choice; I want to do that.

Stevens grappled with complex Charter issues together with his teammates during the Wilson Moot, was president of the Students’ Law Society (“very challenging and highly rewarding”) and participated in annual Welcome Days for incoming students (“inspiring and rejuvenating”).

For Sofia Ijaz, the end of law school made her reflect on the very beginning of it all.

“I finished my last law school paper after pulling what I hope to be my last all-nighter. When I finally came to the end, I thought about my beginning here. More than four years have passed since I wrote my application to U of T Law at a café, in a peace-time Damascus. Strangely, my last written words as a law student (in my refugee law paper) were about the millions of Syrians who have since become refugees. It reminded me how much has changed in four years, since those days in the café, and how much work there is to do.”

Law Students JamieLynn and Marin with their baby Scarlett, 10 months

Meet Scarlett, 10 months, daughter of Class of 2014 grads, Jamie-Lynn and Marin Leci.

When she wasn't busy working or volunteering with the Muslim Law Students Association, the International Human Rights Program, and the ProBono Students Canada's Immigration and Refugee Detention Centre Project, Ijaz says her favourite course was Advanced Constitutional Law: National Security and Remedial Issues with Professor Kent Roach. 

“Besides the privilege of having Kent Roach as a teacher, this course showed me the many ways in which our legal system, one that we like to think of as pristine and ‘just’, is flawed at fundamental levels, for certain groups of people,” says Ijaz. “From the use of secret evidence to decades-long detention without trials or charge, I learned that there is so much we, as ordinary citizens, don't know about our own legal system— and so much work that we, as future advocates, have to do to protect the most basic human rights: liberty, dignity, equality.”

Students learned outside the lecture hall as well.

“My best memories from law school come from legal actions I took outside of it,” says Sniderman. He was a volunteer caseworker in the criminal law division of Downtown Legal Services. "It was a profoundly humbling and interesting experience...It was easy to put the stress of 1L in perspective with a weekly shift at the clinic."

He also helped to organized the annual "Promises" auction each year ("students, faculty and staff make promises, like baking a cake, or giving a dance lesson, and auction them off to the student body"), helping to raise more than $15,000 in support of Aboriginal legal services.

“Last summer I worked for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Zimbabwe [as part of the International Human Rights Program]. It was in a prison in Harare that I felt my first visceral proof that international law mattered and (at least occasionally) worked. My task was to fetch a dozen wrongly imprisoned asylum-seekers. After showing a badge that identified me as an employee of UNHCR and observing the requisite procedural hoops, I soon walked out of the prison gates alongside 12 beaming Congolese rather surprised to find un Québécois in their midst. Within 30 minutes, a colleague and I had effectively distributed 12 ‘get-out-jail-free’ cards, courtesy of an ambitious 1951 parchment, the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. It remains my proudest day as a lawyer-in-training, even though I merely reaped rewards sown by others.” 

Brendan Stevens says a moment at the Grand Moot, presided by alumna Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella, crystallized the very reason he applied to law school. “I was in 1L. It was the first time I had seen any form of legal oral argument, and I remember thinking: I've made the right choice; I want to do that.”

He’ll be spending more time with justices after graduation. Stevens is clerking for the justices of the Ontario Court of Appeal prior to clerking for Supreme Court Justice Andromache Karakatsanis.

A Métis from Winnipeg but raised in Calgary, Jamie-Lynn Leci heads back out west. “The Faculty of Law, Assistant Dean Alexis Archbold, and Blakes Calgary have been nothing short of excited and supportive of our growing family,” she says. “The law school has supported me throughout my time at U of T. Before I had even attended a lecture, Emily Orchard [Career Development Office director] assisted me through the 1L Calgary summer recruitment process. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to summer at Blakes Calgary, and for Emily's assistance.”

Ijaz plans to take some time off to travel, spend time with family and friends after graduation and complete the bar. She will begin articling at Cavalluzzo Shilton McIntyre Cornish LLP in August.

Sniderman is studying for the Ontario and New York bar exams. “Afterwards, hopefully, I'll find a way to live the human rights advocacy dream and find time to keep writing.”

“Law school is about surrendering to a rabbit hole,” adds Sniderman. “Now that I am done, I'm peeking my head out, squinting in the light, and thinking hard about how to use my new skills to advance the causes I care about.”

Watch the Convocation ceremonies live starting at 10 am on June 6, 2014.

Photos: (1st) John Guatto and (2nd) Lucianna Ciccocioppo