Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Faculty of Law is excited to welcome, and welcome back, all our law students--JD, graduate and transfer students--most especially the incoming 1Ls. We’d like to introduce some of the Class of 2022 to you. In our annual series of new first-year profiles, meet: Hunter Carlson, Ifrah Farah, Aidan Katz and Julia Pimental.

Stories by Karen Gross

Hunter Carlson

Hunter Carlson

Growing up in Domain, Manitoba -- a tiny rural town just south of Winnipeg – Hunter Carlson never even considered studying law. “Absolutely not,” she says. “For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a biologist. I didn’t think much beyond that while I was doing my undergrad.” She was so serious about biology, she pursued an honours degree and spent a year researching the impacts of environmental change on vulnerable aquatic species in Manitoba’s Delta Marsh. The strength of her thesis and high academic standing earned her two prestigious undergraduate prizes, including an Aboriginal NSERC award for her research in biology. Carlson is a Red River Métis.

“I really enjoyed the data analysis. I loved doing the stats and I loved writing the thesis, but I wanted to see where it would go afterwards, because I did find some statistically significant results during my research,” Carlson says. “I was interested in the application on policy and conservation management. But what I learned was that as a scientist, that was beyond my jurisdiction.”

That revelation threw Carlson’s lifelong plans into disarray. Knowing that just doing research would never satisfy her and that she wanted to see how her research would effect change forced her to carefully consider other options. “That led me to become interested in law school,” she says. “I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make the switch. It was about a year-long process of deciding that’s what I wanted and studying for the LSAT.”

At the same time, Carlson began working as a research associate for the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources — a First Nation-directed nonprofit supporting sustainable Indigenous communities. “That was a really nice segue into switching out of science and into law,” she says. CIER was actually founded and directed by an environmental lawyer, Merrell-Ann Phare, who helped a lot with the transition. “I definitely feel more prepared than I did a year ago, coming out of science,” Carlson says.

Hunter Carlson (right)

Now, she’s just looking forward to being in both the city and school that topped her choices. There’s so much possibility, Carlson admits she’s not sure where to start. But she has a few initial ideas, including governance, politics, corporate law and intellectual property. “When I was working with CIER, a lot of the work we did was on collaborative governance, and relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. I really enjoyed that and would also like to continue that work.”

Ifrah Farah

Ifrah Farah (right) receiving scholarship award

While most of her future law school classmates were working on their undergraduate degrees, Ifrah Farah was working to help her single mother support her seven younger siblings. The eldest daughter of parents who came to Canada as refugees from Somalia, Farah did a variety of jobs, including answering phones at a call centre, and handling security at shopping malls. “I was raised in a single parent household, and while school was a priority for me, helping out with my family took precedence,” she says.

Farah’s focus changed when she turned 23. She’d been a good student in high school, but felt anxious about returning to university after so many years away. With the help of U of T’s Academic Bridging Program, she completed one introductory summer class and enrolled in a bachelor’s program the following fall.  She chose political science as her major. “Hearing stories from my mom and relatives about what they experienced in Somalia, I always had an interest in figuring out how that happened,” she says. “I wanted to learn what contributes to a state’s collapse. I felt like it was a problem I wanted to solve, and hopefully go back to Somalia and be a part of the change and try to fix it.”

Farah, who’d grown up in a devout Muslim community in suburban Toronto, decided to double minor in anthropology and religion. She became involved at the campus Multi-Faith Centre, where part of her work shone a light on anti-Black sentiment within the Muslim community. “I encountered a lot of racism when I was in Islamic school as a child,” she says. “That surprised me and hurt me, because my identity as a Muslim was always so important to me.”

Among the issues that came up was the lack of Black student representation on the executive team of the Muslim Students Association, and a general sense of under-representation among Muslim students on campus clubs. That led to the creation of a new community, the Muslim Justice Collective. Its members have wrestled with some uncomfortable tensions, but their inclusivity created a bigger tent, where Muslims from all backgrounds and orientations are welcome.

Ifrah Farah (right)

Farah hopes to keep it going in law school, while working toward what she currently thinks will be a career in immigration law. But things can change. Just ask her mother. “She sacrificed a lot for us to be where we are, so I think for her this is something she probably couldn’t have even imagined,” Farah says. “She’s really proud of me. Over the moon.”

Aidan Katz

Aidan KatzAidan Katz’s route to law school began early in elementary school, when his parents enrolled him in a public speaking program in Ottawa, his hometown. He still has a certificate from the Royal Canadian Legion’s annual public speaking contest, where in 2002 he took first prize. “Since then I suppose I’ve always felt that communicating has been my path,” Katz says. 

It wasn’t his only path. The family moved to Regina and when Katz was 12 he took up triathlon, competing at an elite level for almost 10 years. He was part of a Saskatchewan team that won bronze for mixed relay in the 2013 Canada Summer Games. He was selected to compete at the Elite Duathlon World Championships and retired from the sport just before he turned 21. “I had set a series of goals for myself,” Katz says, and they were to compete in a world championship, to win a medal at the Canada Summer Games, and to achieve a personal best time in the 800-metre swim. “I had done all of those things, so it was a very happy parting. I was ready to turn my focus to my law career.” 

Katz was working on an undergraduate business degree when he was offered a summer internship in the Saskatchewan Minister of Justice’s office.  After completing his degree, he returned to government as a senior policy and communications advisor and speechwriter to two deputy premiers. Now, he’s continuing on the track that began when he was just a small boy. “I want to be involved in litigation,” he says. “That’s what I see myself doing right after law school. I envision a career within the courts and before a judge.” 

“I want to be part of the process that helps judges make the best possible decisions about complicated situations that impact people’s lives,” he adds. “I look forward to someday being able to earn a place on the bench myself.” 

Aidan Katz competing in triathlon

Wherever the path leads, Katz says he doesn’t want his legal career defined by the size of his office and legal practice. “I think I’d rather be remembered as a zealous and fair advocate for my clients, and as a professional dedicated to mastering the nuances of the law and applying it justly and effectively.”

Julia Pimentel

Julia Pimentel

As the only child of a Brazilian diplomat and his wife, Julia Pimentel lived an adventurous life. Her father’s job took the family from Italy to Brazil to the U.S., India and South Africa. Even as a child, Pimentel was keenly aware that she was lucky, and that her life could easily have been very different. “I was 12 and going to school in India, at an American school that had gates,” she says. “From the car going to school, I could see people outside who could have had even better opportunities than I had, but didn’t have them.”

That upbringing and its inherent privileges and pitfalls shaped the core of what drives Pimentel today. While her life as a “citizen of the world” left her more fluent in English than Portuguese and more familiar with European history than that of Brazil, it also left her unsettled and searching for a country she could really call home. “It has felt a bit rootless at times,” Pimentel says. “It’s sometimes hard to say I’m 100% Brazilian because I just haven’t had the same experiences as someone my age in Brazil has.” 

Pimentel’s sense of dislocation continued after she completed an undergraduate degree in London, and a master’s in journalism in New York. It also fueled her desire to help refugees and immigrants — especially women — because in her own way, she identified with them. Law school offered a way to make an impact. Canada’s open and diverse society appealed to her. And she came to know and love Toronto while her parents were posted here. “U of T was my number one choice by far,” she says. “The clinics and the practical experience that the law school offered, not just on campus but all over the city, got me most excited.” 

Julia Pimentel

Pimentel also appreciated U of T’s open-minded admissions approach, likening her own experience to that of the character Elle Woods, played by Reese Witherspoon in the cult comedy film Legally Blonde. “No one thinks she can get into law school, then she gets into Harvard of all places and she does very well. It sounds silly, but I think the idea behind it is very cool,” she says. “I don’t think I’m a typical U of T applicant but they’re clearly looking for more diverse candidates. They appreciate if you have a different perspective and you stand out because of that. And that’s really cool.”

Stay tuned for more profiles to come!