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Coffee with Dean Erika Chamberlain

WL: You’re a graduate of the Class of 2001 – what are some of your memories from your time as a student at Western Law?

EC: I was a research assistant for professor Bob Solomon for my three summers at law school, and it was that experience that convinced me to become an academic. I realized I liked that kind of work – being my own boss and doing research that made a difference. It was a great introduction to the world of academia and policy-making. 


WL: Do you stay in touch with any of your classmates?

EC: A few. I’ve been lucky to have been reintroduced to my classmate Michael Rubinoff this year; we were in the same small group together with professor (Rande) Kostal. It’s been really fun to see the success he’s having on Broadway and beyond. 


WL: Western Law is known as a very collegial place – why do you think that is?

EC: Our students make such strong connections while they’re in their small groups in first year. And the school builds community through moots, intramural sports, clubs and volunteer activities. I think once our students go out into practice, they stay in touch and they know they can always count on their Western Law colleagues to help them out. So many of our students develop lifelong friendships and connections.


WL: Who has inspired you over the years?

EC: When I started law school, Eileen Gillese was the dean. I remember being inspired from the very first day when she spoke to us about the responsibilities that come with joining the profession. She’s had a fabulous career, both as an academic and now, as a judge, and she had a fairly quick rise through the Ontario courts. We’re fortunate that she gives back to the Law School and to Western, and it was really special to have her speak at our very first Professional Induction Ceremony last year.


WL: What are some curriculum and strategic changes you’ll be focused on?

EC: We’ve introduced several curricular streams, which are meant to provide students with some guidance about what kinds of courses they should take and what kind of co-curricular experiences they should take part in, if they want to enter a particular area of practice. Each one of those culminates in a third-year capstone course, which is meant to put all the pieces together. The law doesn’t come in neat packages; it comes in more complex kinds of problems. The capstone courses help students make the transition from learning the law to practising law. The school is also doing more simulations, more experiential exercises and more problem-solving and field trips, so students are getting a lot more exposure to the practice of law, and not just sitting in a classroom.


WL: What excites you most about being dean?

EC: The period of faculty renewal we are entering right now. We have the opportunity to hire several new faculty over the next couple of years. We can make a substantial change in the face of the Law School, and bring some new perspectives in. I think that’s really exciting. 


WL: What makes Western Law special?

  1. I think the student experience at Western is better than anywhere in Ontario, if not Canada. We care about teaching and we care about our students a lot. Our professors are willing to spend a lot of time with students, inside and outside the classroom, and mentoring them. I also think our students are really well-connected and very supportive of each other, rather than being competitive. You just get a lot more individual attention at Western Law than you would get at another law school. We have the second-smallest class size, apart from Lakehead (University) and it’s important to me to keep it that way. It’s vital to the student experience.


WL: What role can our alumni play?

EC: We have great alumni. They offer really valuable support, whether it’s through our mentorship program, helping out with moot competitions, being guest speakers at our classes, sponsoring internships, and supporting scholarships, bursaries and awards at the Law School. Our Dean’s Circle supporters help us carry out programs that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do, because they provide a boost to our budget. We rely on our alumni for their expertise in many ways and I’m eager for more of our alumni to connect with us and hear their stories. 


WL: What is it about you that would surprise people?

EC: I think people would be surprised that I’m an Ironman triathlete. I do ultra-endurance triathlons.


WL: What’s the appeal?

EC: I think just pushing myself, and realizing that every time you think you have limits, you can go a little further. I think that’s what I really like about the races. And I feel like it gives me a lot of discipline and a lot of confidence, in knowing that I can push through those limits.

This article appeared in the Western Law 2017 Alumni Magazine.
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