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I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now

Jeff O’Brien (4L)

I completed my BA at UBC shortly before my 22nd birthday, and enrolled in law school in the fall of that year, 2010. At the time, I was jaded with education. I was a career student, and I decided that education was just a competition over who could write the most convincing bullshit. If forced to identify one experience that made me feel this way, I’d go with when a 50-something classics professor screamed at me for disagreeing with him over the philosophical implications of The Terminator. I wish I was making that up. If that’s what a lifetime of academia turns you into, I didn’t want any part of it; I was done with education.

I was excited about law school because I felt that I moving away from academia and getting in to career training. I wanted something that would teach me to perform an attorney’s day-to-day tasks. The academic rigour I encountered during my first year of law school snatched away that fantasy. So when Canons asked me what I wish I’d known as a 1L, the answer was: law school is not a trade school, nor should it be.

Make no mistake, dear 1Ls, you are here to get an education. You’re not here to learn how to act like a lawyer; you’re here to learn how to think like a lawyer. Anyone can write a properly-formatted affidavit. Lawyers differentiate themselves from pen-pushers by understanding the relationships between complex scenarios, principles and authorities, and by transferring their understanding into a medium appropriate for the situation. All of that requires critical and self-critical thought, creativity, and empathy. The last one may surprise some, but a lawyer must empathize with opposing parties in order to prepare for counterarguments, and also must empathize with a judge in order to tailor submissions.

There is no better place to learn the relevant skills than right here. There will be plenty of time to learn an attorney’s mundane tasks in CPLED. For now, focus on getting yourself educated. And with education, the most important thing is not any set of facts, but rather the skills that you develop.