Semi-Recurring Article by a Follies Writer: Confessions of a Research Assistant, Volume III

Charlie Millar (3L), who wished to remain anonymous

This is the third volume in an ongoing series revealing the reality of what it means to be a research assistant for University of Toronto legal academics.

To begin, I must apologize for the vitriolic tone of my last volume in this series of RA memoirs. While I stand by its accuracy, it is important that this work remain professional. Moving forward, I will strive to be as even-handed as appropriate.

As those who are following this series will recall, a research assistant is expected to complete all tasks that professors assign to them. While these tasks are restricted to only those that assist your professor with their research and writing, professors take great liberty in determining the scope of “assistive” tasks. For instance, one professor insisted that “assisting” her in research involved me painting her toenails while she proofed her work, while another had me hand-copy entire legal texts from the Osgoode Great Hall library because he “liked the colour of pen ink better” for reading.   


During my time as a legal RA, I have performed all sorts of degrading tasks and only some of them have seemed semi-directly related to research. Unfortunately (as I came to learn), the more related to research a task appeared to be, the more I was doing something borderline evil.

Take the following story for example. One summer, I was assigned a task by my overlord that seemed related to research—an instant red flag. The task was to deliver an envelope to a “potential investor” down at City Hall. Seeking additional funding is related to future research, and delivering an envelope seemed less degrading than the other tasks I have been assigned, so I was unaware of exactly what I was doing. In fact, I was happy to do this.

I arrived at City Hall and found the office of this “potential investor.” The man was polite, had pictures of his family on his desk, and was quite happy to receive a letter of request from a prestigious University of Toronto law professor. However, when the man opened the letter, he read only a few lines before his face paled. His hands began to tremble and a look of fear spread across his face. He looked up at me and swallowed before saying: “Tell him I understand. I’ll do it.”

Puzzled, I returned to my advisor to report what the investor had said as well as the curious reaction he had to the letter. My professor smiled and nodded at my news, but then cocked an eyebrow when I asked him what was written.

“Charlie,” he said, “I could tell you what was written on that little piece of paper you brought that good man, but once you know you can never then ‘unknow.’ Once you cross that line, son, you will walk with a little more weight on your shoulders knowing that you delivered that letter and all its contents to a good man. Do you want that?”

I did not want that, and shook my head.

My advisor nodded and turned back to his desk, “Wise choice, lad. Now, go to Goodman’s café and find out which muffin they are out of, then yell at them for no less than eight minutes for not having that muffin. After, go to the store and procure me the muffin they did not have at Goodman’s. Pray it’s a muffin I wish to eat, boy.”