Why I Went to Law School

Personal Statement for Queen’s Faculty of Law by Ivan Merrow

Submitted November 16, 2010

When I first came to university, applying to law school was not the first thing on my mind.  At the beginning of my undergraduate education I was an undeclared Arts major with more spirit and an experience; now that I’m near the end, I have enough experience to know where I want to be next.

Not many undergraduates get to complete two years of full-time work experience before they graduate. With the University of Waterloo’s five year co one program, I have. The sum of my work in academic experience has led me to where I am today: academic ability and passion for community leadership.

To explain why I am the right fit for law school I should start at the beginning of my academic career.  It started quite ordinarily in a student rental house off campus. In one of my less proud moments I had forgotten to send in my residence forms on time, and was placed on the waiting list indefinitely. That meant that while most students would be moving into residence communities with their friends, in a slightly more spacious, but empty, student house off campus. The freedom was nice, but throughout this fall semester I longed for the residence experience I had heard so much about.  Once I learned that most of my housemates would be moving out for co-op the following semester, I too made up my mind to leave. I would end my lease and move into residence.

After a few phone calls however my family informed me that I could not just stop making rent payments: that was the purpose of a lease.  Never one to shy away from research, I investigated further, and took the time to look up the Ontario Tenancy Act to see if this was really true. It was, but that was not all I discovered. For one, I learned that there were multiple categories of rental housing. More importantly I learned that there were a substantial number of fire code regulations for the rental category I inhabited, and that my landlord had not followed a single one.

My lease was shortly after rendered void, and I was able to move into residence after the winter break. My first experience with the law was a positive one, and it made the impact of contracts and the importance of legality very real to me. Although it was not enough to declare my dedication to the pursuit of law, it remained an influential experience nonetheless.

Quickly integrating into the residence community in my second semester, it was not long before I realized that the amazing stories I had heard about residence life were a little romanticized. My residence don lived on our floor, but was never there and rarely organized community events. This experience inspired me to become a residence life don in my later university years so I could help make first year student experience much more remarkable.

It was not long into that first winter semester before I started with a co-op process that would define my undergraduate experience for the following four years. My first co-op job was at Seneca College in Toronto as an English tutor. At Seneca (and all my following work terms) my strengths writing, reading and analysis were critical to my success, but I also had to listen to each student’s needs and adjust my lessons accordingly. I liked that I could use my expertise to help students achieve their specific goals. As a lawyer, I think it would be very rewarding to help people in the same way with the law, listening to clients carefully to plan ahead and address their specific issues.

Speaking with my students about acquiring a new language was made easier by talking about my own French immersion experience in Quebec. In the summer before I started university I lived with a Québécois family for five weeks in Trois-Pistoles, Quebec to study at a French language school. While I stayed in Trois-Pistoles my eyes were opened to a part of my country I had never experienced before. Although I did not become fluent, I did learn about the delicate balance of Canada’s two languages and how they helped shape our national identity.

Later on in my university career I tried to learn a new language once again, although it was quite different. I decided to try to learn Japanese. Anticipating a challenge, I practiced first by taking on non-credit course on campus outside of my regular classes and then enrolled in Japanese 101 for the following semester.  Despite my preparation, Japanese would be more difficult than I expected, mostly because it was a sixth course on top of my regular course load.

Balancing my schedule between writing a column in the student newspaper, interviewing for co-op jobs and keeping up with five other courses made it difficult to get ahead in Japanese, and I failed our midterm test. Even though I felt discouraged, I remained determined to pass Japanese 101.  I perfected my time management skills so no co-op Interview or newspaper submission deadline could catch me off guard. After all my hard work I managed to pass the final exam and earn a 64% in the course. My strong performance in my other five courses pulled my average above 84% for the semester, and kept me on the Dean’s Honors List.

While I might not ever conduct legal consultations in fluent Japanese, I know that my interest in law has the potential to take me all over the world.

Co-op experience has already opened up my mind to a diverse range of industries,  all of which are affected by law .  Just like at Seneca, attention to detail and strength of writing have continued to be my strengths in workplace settings.

After leaving Mercer Financial Solutions, I won a scholarship for the quality of the technical writing I completed there.  In my work at SOMOS consulting group, I led a proposal writing team that won a large project management contract from a large federal government agency.  I was involved in that project from the very beginning until the last night before our bid submission was due; I had to roll up my sleeves and un-jam the printer myself so I could print and bind our final proposal.

Now that I have almost completed my six cooperative work terms, I look back at my volunteer experiences as the ones that made up my mind to apply to law school. Being a Residence Life Don has been a great opportunity to give back to my community. I enjoy mediating conflicts, organizing community events and acting as a mentor and role model. I feel lawyers play a similar role in society, helping guide behaviour and responses to conflict while advocating and acting in their clients’ best interests.

My experience volunteering for the student newspaper has also been rewarding because I have used my research and writing skills to inform students about money – saving strategies and networking opportunities. Lawyers also play the role of community advisor in society, making sure that people are educated about their rights and how legal developments will impact them.

I hope to continue to give back to my community as a law student and especially as a lawyer after I graduate. I do not yet know whether my passion will be for contract, family law, litigation or criminal justice, but I hope to gain a well-rounded legal education that provides me with enough experience to decide how I can best contribute to my community.

Four years ago I did not know I wanted to be a lawyer.  Today I feel confident in my decision to apply to law school as a powerful way I can give back as a leader in my community.

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