Mentoring opportunity turns into a learning one, says alumnus - for both of them.

Harris Quach and Eric Spindler

By Tracey Halford Gregoris
Photography by Matthew Filipowich

This article was published in the Fall/Winter 2010 issue of Nexus.

A busy law career and family life weren't enough to keep Eric Spindler, LLB 1975, occupied. He wanted to do more.

"I had been looking for an opportunity to help younger people who didn't have all the career options open to them as I had. When this came along, it was just perfect," he says.

"This" was an opportunity in 2006 to mentor Central Tech high school student, Harris Quach, as part of the Law in Action Within Schools program. LAWS is a collaboration between the Faculty of Law and the Toronto Board of Education and incorporates lawfocused courses and activities such as field trips, mock trials and mentorship opportunities to inner-city students who may not have considered a post-secondary education nor a legal career.

The relationship started typically. The two met monthly to discuss business. Spindler offered advice about school in general and advised Quach on university and bursary applications.

"Eric had an open-door policy and I took advantage of it," says Quach. Over lunch or coffee breaks, their discussions gradually extended beyond the academic realm.

"At first I had the knowledge," says Spindler, "and Quach was on the receiving end. But over the course of time, I began to take a fresh look at some of our discussions and think more profoundly than I otherwise might." At the end of their first year, the one-way flow of information become more an exchange of ideas, he says.

And as it turned out, Spindler, a partner in the business group at Blakes, was the perfect mentor for the Grade 11 student, who says he was already leaning toward a career in law, albeit in criminal law. But when Quach opted to take on a mentor, he discovered that corporate law was his perfect fit.

"Normally I would not have access to someone like Eric Spindler, and before LAWS," says Quach, "I hadn't even heard of corporate law."

Today, Quach is a second-year student of economics and ethics, society and law at the University of Toronto's Trinity College. He remains in touch with his former mentor, whom he now considers a friend, and his positive experiences with the mentorship program and Spindler have inspired him to become a mentor some day.

"Harris has become more sophisticated in his approach to issues and I understand he's doing very well at University of Toronto, and is on-track to meet his goals," says Spindler. "You cannot help but love the feel-good aspect of being a mentor."

Law in Action Within Schools includes law firm mentorship programs matching diverse inner-city youth in Toronto with practicing lawyers from Blakes and Torys. Law-themed education and real-world experiences provide students with the skills, knowledge and confidence to succeed in school and meaningfully consider post-secondary education. In 2010, LAWS celebrated five years of successfully improving the school attendance, grades, engagement and future outlook of its participants.