Lily Hassall (2L)
This fall, the Faculty of Law welcomed two new scholars: Professors Margaret Jane Radin and Adriana Robertson. Prof. Radin, who focuses on boilerplate contracts, was recently cited by the Supreme Court of Canada in Douez v Facebook. Prof. Robertson completed her B.A. at U of T a mere six years ago, and she now returns, from Yale, with a J.D. as well as a Ph.D. in finance. Both were kind enough to reflect on their careers and pass on some pearls of law school wisdom.
Prof. Margaret Jane Radin
Lily Hassall: Before you embarked on your J.D., you received an M.F.A. in Music History and began a Ph.D. in Musicology. Could you tell me about your pre-law studies and how you decided to make the switch?
Prof. Margaret Jane Radin: I didn’t just begin, I was advanced to candidacy for the Ph.D. in Musicology, meaning that I had done all but my dissertation and had a dissertation topic approved—it was the autograph sketches for Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony. I ended up spending more years in music programs than law school.
I made the decision to switch to law after I worked as a secretary at a law office in San Francisco—needing to support myself. I thought, “This stuff these guys are doing is not hard work and nobody will ask me to type.” But when I got to law school I loved it. And I never went into practice because a teaching job unexpectedly came to me the year I graduated from law school.
LH: I understand that you continue to practice and perform as a flutist. Do you have any advice for students hoping to balance artistic pursuits with their studies?
MJR: It is difficult. Especially in first year, when a student may think the field of law is finite if only she tries hard enough—which it is not.
With regard to music, the only artistic pursuit I practice, I do want to say that if you do have to leave music for awhile, three months of serious practice will get you back where you were when you left off. I did leave off for quite a few years while I raised two children and had a full-time career, so I can vouch for that, and I know the same is true for others. You never lose what you learned as a child.
LH: When you were pursuing your J.D., in the 1970s, did you encounter any obstacles as a result of your gender?
MJR: Yes. It would be a long reply to tell you. A first-year teacher ended his class with a rape joke. Third year, I went to an interview with a judge about a clerkship, and the secretary outside his chambers said, “Don’t bother, he hired a woman once.” Another judge refused to interview me for a position that was earmarked for the graduate recommended by the dean with a GPA rank which I had achieved, and instead he hired a male lower down the list. I once had my GPA and/or LSAT score on my résumé, but I learned not to do that when I got an interview at which the guy said, “I just wanted to see a girl who got that score.”
Early in my teaching career, comments were made about my clothes and whether I was wearing a bra, and so on. We—women—felt that if we were friendly we were thought of as pushovers, and if we were strict we were thought of as bitches. I’ve often been criticized as disorganized even though I put detailed agendas on the board each class, handed out a detailed syllabus and stuck to it, sent out questions in advance that I was going to ask, et cetera. My impression is that female teachers were more often thought of as disorganized whether or not we were in fact.
LH: Your main research area is boilerplate contracts, but you’ve also made significant contributions to feminist legal theory. Does feminism inform your economic analysis of the law?
MJR: Yes, I think so, though I am hard pressed to say how. Somehow I don’t think women would have developed a theory in which some kind of fungible marker—dollars, “utils,” or whatever—could be totaled up in order to gauge society’s success for humans. I like behavioural law and economics better than classical. I do like classical economics, too, but sometimes its practitioners tend to forget that economics is supposed to be an empirical social science. In general, I have often thought that if the important social philosophers of the past had had to raise children, social philosophy would be different. I think the main traditional western theories of social life, at least those developed in the past, do not take human interdependence into account very well.
Prof. Adriana Robertson
LH: So far, your legal career has been strictly academic. Do you have any advice for law students who are hoping to become scholars rather than practitioners?
Prof. Adriana Robertson: First of all, get to know faculty, especially the ones who work in the areas that interest you. When I was a 1L, I felt like I had to have something brilliant and insightful to say before I could approach my Business Organizations professor in her office hours. Of course, I failed miserably at coming up with anything that didn’t seem totally trivial. When I finally worked up the courage to speak to her, I felt like it must have been a total waste of her time. She ended up being my greatest mentor.
Second, go to workshops. Whatever your area of interest—whether it’s law and economics, legal theory, legal history, or anything in between—odds are there is a workshop series at the law school that engages with that area. Go to it! Read the papers, listen to the speaker, and listen to the discussions. Even if you don’t feel comfortable asking questions at first, just being immersed in the scholarly environment is incredibly beneficial.
Finally, consider a graduate degree in a related discipline. That discipline could be History, Political Science, English, Economics, Finance, Philosophy, or whatever else intersects with your particular interests. The legal academy is becoming more and more interdisciplinary. Another graduate degree gives you both rigorous training and an opportunity to write. Both of these will serve you well.
LH: Your bio on the U of T website notes that you were often the only woman in your finance and law classes at Yale. Did you encounter any challenges as a result of your gender, either in terms of course content, your relationships with peers, or your relationships with faculty members?
AR: Not really. I don’t want to downplay the challenges that some individuals face, but it wasn’t a particular challenge for me. I had wonderful mentors and great relationships with my peers. That being said, I do think that it is incumbent upon all of us to think about why it is that there are so few women in this area of law, and to work to change it. I think the best thing I can do to start is to encourage women who are interested in the subject matter to pursue it, and to let them know that my door is always open if they would like to come and chat with me about it!
LH: Do you have any advice for young women who may be navigating similar environments, either in predominantly male classes in school or male-dominated areas of legal practice?
AR: Don’t be intimidated. There is substantial evidence that women tend to underestimate their qualifications. I find it useful to keep that in mind whenever the imposter complex kicks in.
UV: Your bio also describes you as a veteran hiker and trekker. What are some of your favourite day hikes around Toronto?
AR: My partner and I opted to get rid of our car when we moved to Toronto. We live downtown, so it hasn’t been a problem for daily life. It’s actually kind of liberating! Alas, one downside is that it is harder to take trips out of the city. I do like the Rouge Valley, and always enjoy exploring Toronto’s ravine systems.