Ultra Vires


Unsolicited, Unqualified, and Unwarranted Advice to the 1L Class

Scott Dallen (2L)


Okay, so you made it into U of T Law. Now that you have had a few weeks to settle into the pace of things, allow me to answer the questions none of you asked with some advice that none of you want:


Go to Your Classes


Going to class is like taking vitamins: you don’t need to do it, and sometimes it can feel like a waste of your time. But when taken in conjunction with exercise and a balanced diet, it can help reduce your risk of a heart attack later on.


It’s true that many things can be learned by skipping class and reading (or, rather, googling) the cases. However, sometimes professors do impart important and invaluable information that you can’t get from the readings. For example, when Professor Chiao referred to the “good old days” when you could buy cocaine in Trinity-Bellwoods Park; or when Chiao referred to the Criminal Code as “a luxurious jungle”; or when Chiao told students to stymie the pursuit of justice as much as possible—okay, maybe just go to Chiao’s classes, whether you’re in them or not.


You Are Not Special

Sorry, was this supposed to be motivational? You are here because you performed well on a standardized test, and because you were willing to torment your overachieving brain until it could intuitively discern which of seven neurotic dinner guests were allowed to sit next to one another at a party. It’s time we all realized the truth: we are all glorified wedding planners.


All of Your Professors Hated Being Lawyers


True fact. No matter how many times your professors tell you that the law is a noble profession, remember that they all went into academia specifically because they did not want to practice the law.


Don’t Be Boring


A huge part of law school is helping teach students to think, speak, and write like lawyers. The advantage is that you learn the idiosyncrasies of legal writing—an incredibly valuable skill. The problem is that, however useful, it is a ridiculous way to write. Forcing you to forsake clarity and style in favour of pedantry and jargon is such a cruel disfiguration of the English language, and would make George Orwell weep hot tears of mourning. Do not mistake legal writing for a normal form of human communication—it’s not. Your friends will stop talking to you.


Even in the relative safety of communication with other law-folk, I beg of you: resist the urge to write in the same convoluted, arcane way that judges do. There is a vicious cycle in which law students constantly read dry judicial decisions for years, adopt the antiquated verbiage of the courts, then go on to become judges later in life—and the self-perpetuating cycle of unreadability continues.


Appreciate the New Building


I get it. It’s true, the unadorned white walls and unfinished concrete floors have the institutional charm of a psychiatric facility for aging brutalist architects. Sure, the light fixtures in the reading room resemble IKEA-brand naval mines, which would surely detonate if the temperature ever rose above absolute zero. And yes, the lack of adequate student space is concerning, particularly considering the Dean’s portrayal of Chateau Jackman as a place of “academic and social exchange.” But, trust me, it could be a lot worse.


Never will you have to experience the terror of crossing six lanes of angry Queen’s Park traffic ten times a day. Never will you face the harsh, unforgiving glares of Victoria College students as you try to find a table at Ned’s Café. Never will you be subject to the blinding fluorescent light of the Birge-Carnegie reading room, or have the misfortune of opening the student lounge refrigerator because no one warned you of its horrors.


So learn to deal with unventilated bathroom swamps, the ongoing library construction, the holes in the ceiling, and the very avant garde (read: non-existent) ‘Goodmans LLP Café’, and realize that $35,000 a year just doesn’t go as far as it used to.


Law School Jokes are not Funny (Follies Excepted)


They’re just not. If you can make it through a single Call to the Bar pre-drink without anyone mentioning the social host duty of care, you’ve won law school. Please pick up your diploma tomorrow.


Escape the Echo Chamber


It’s important! Don’t participate in everything that that one overbearing upper-year tells you to do (I recognize the irony here), or do what looks best in 11.5 point Helvetica font on your reduced-margins, two-page CV. There’s enough needless stress in law school without dragging yourself through four journals, three clinics, a moot, a TedTalk, and a peer reviewed dissertation.


Toronto can be a fun place. Go pool hopping at Christie Pits, play hide-and-seek in the ROM until they kick you out, watch a Leafs game without wondering whether that goalie-fight meets the assault principle laid out in Leclerc, or rearrange the letters on the firm plaques in the Jackman building into silly anagrams (stay tuned).


If all else fails and you need an outlet for your growing nihilism as you stare into the abyss, I encourage you to write a verbose, sardonic, and likely career-limiting piece for Ultra Vires. You (definitely, maybe) won’t regret it!


Embrace the Confusion


Scenario: Catherine Valcke spends an hour carefully describing how the common law developed the concept of nominal consideration in contracts. As class nears the final two minutes—with every student marveling at the clarity of the law—she screams “PSYCHE,” tells you that Santa Claus, Bill Murray, and the law of consideration don’t exist, mounts her broomstick, and exits stage-left laughing maniacally.


Naturally, you have some questions: What does that even mean? What do I do with these three pages of now-meaningless notes? If Valcke is here, who is terrorizing Dorothy and the Tin-Man?


Here is the point: Do not mistake that confusion for misunderstanding. Despite all appearances, your professors are not intentionally misleading you. They are trying to help you recognize the dualism, nuance, and artifice in the law. The law is a mess; the opportunity is in exploiting its ambiguity. If you’re not in a constant state of confusion, you haven’t understood the material.


Remember the Good Times (?)


In the end, this time is precious. These are the moments you will cherish as you sit in your hospital room at the bottom of the transplant list, after complete liver failure from years of stress-induced alcoholism. Sure, your spouse may have left you for someone who can still process emotion, and your children won’t visit you out of resentment for all those years of missed ball games and absentee parenting. But you’ll always have those sweet, sweet memories of Jackman Hall.

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