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  • Writer's pictureDessa Booth

Beyond the Microscope: A Biology Graduate's Venture into Law School

Hi! Please introduce yourself.

Hi everyone, my name is Dessa. I am an articling student at Alexander Holburn Beaudin + Lang LLP in Vancouver. I attended the University of Ottawa for law school and graduated this year. I can’t say I have one or two specific legal interests, as I took many different courses that sparked my interest in law school. I particularly enjoyed my health law and environmental law classes. I also took courses like Space Law and Supreme Court Seminar, which I adored.

Prior to attending law school, I studied Biology at Queen’s University. I completed an Honours Thesis studying the effect of temperature on the banded mystery snail’s metabolic rate. I also used to teach dance for Queen’s Dance Club, something I miss dearly.

While in law school, I was involved with the Ottawa Law Review (“OLR”), a student-run, bilingual, peer-reviewed legal journal. In my third year, I organized the 2nd Annual Emilio Binavince Student Research Colloquium while on the Senior Board at the OLR. Further, I worked as a caseworker and division leader at the University of Ottawa Community Legal Clinic in its Community Legal Education division. I also received the Greenspon Granger Hill Prize recognizing my enthusiasm and exceptional effort at the clinic.

While not working or studying, you can find me at the gym, trying to master a new recipe in the kitchen, or playing a game with my friends.

What motivated you to pursue a career in law?

Growing up, people always told me I should become a lawyer because I liked to argue. I never gave it a second thought until after I graduated from Queen’s. Throughout my undergraduate degree, I always thought I would become a biology professor. However, when I actually got the chance to do scientific research, I immediately knew it wasn’t for me. I wanted to work more with people, and I didn’t feel excited going into the lab every day. After graduation, I landed a job as a receptionist at a law firm which showed me what a law office is like, and I decided law was something I wanted to try. I really loved how much lawyers got to work with people, for people. I am a very outgoing person, and the idea of talking to people for a living was great. Obviously, it’s not THAT simple, but I do feel like I will enjoy this career path.

I found the law school application process demanding but doable. I worked full-time while studying for the LSAT and applying for law schools. It is manageable if you plan your time well. I only applied to two schools: UOttawa and McGill. I had a high LSAT score, a below-average GPA, and (in my opinion) a strong personal statement. I received a hard rejection from McGill and got accepted to UOttawa. I wanted to go to UOttawa so there were no tears shed.

In terms of advice for applying to schools, don’t stress too much. If you don’t get in the first time, you can try again. I attended school with many students who had applied multiple times. If it is something you want to do, you will be able to do it. Law schools are starting to look at applications holistically. Therefore, don’t be discouraged if your grades aren’t as high as they should be. I promise you that undergraduate grades (or your LSAT score—especially your LSAT score) will not matter once you’re accepted. I had a low GPA, but I feel that my extracurricular and work experience bolstered my application. You should also speak to some law students or recent grads to see how they leveraged their experiences in their applications. Many of us will be pleased to help.

What was your experience like in law school?

Most law students will tell you that starting law school during the pandemic, as I did, was horrible. I agree, for the most part, law school was a tough transition. I am someone who cannot say no to social plans. Starting law school during the pandemic gave me more time to adjust by removing the social demands because we were not allowed to see our friends.

When starting law school, don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s a tough transition, and you will stumble along the way. If you fail at something or don’t do all your readings, it's not the end of the world. Don’t beat yourself up over it because it will not help you in the long term. You will find your stride with time, so be patient. If you are struggling, just ask for help.

My most memorable experiences in law school were those I shared with my friends at UOttawa. I met the most amazing group of people, and I know we will stay friends for life. Law school is stressful, and you cannot get through it alone. Don’t spend all your time studying. Go see a movie with your friend from undergrad, or have coffee with your sister. Don’t sacrifice your personal relationships for law school. If you can find a good group of people to study with, you’ve got it made. My group of friends is singlehandedly what got me through law school.

The most important habit I picked up during law school was how to study smarter, not harder. There simply isn’t the time for everything that law school demands. You need to learn what will be effective for your learning style and stick to that. Sometimes you can’t do all your readings, and that’s okay. Create a plan to catch up if you fall behind, and ask others for help if needed. Overall, don’t stress too much. Things will get finished. Law school is doable. I missed many readings and screwed up on many assignments, and I still made it out!

How did you find your first law-related job?

I got my first legal job through the school’s legal aid clinic. It was an amazing opportunity to get some legal experience after my first year of law school. Many schools have similar programs, so I definitely recommend checking out the legal aid clinic at your university and seeing how you can get involved.

If you are worried about getting a summer job, I recommend consulting the career counselors at your school. The University of Ottawa has an amazing legal career counseling center (the Career and Professional Development Centre), and it was crucial in helping me land all my positions during law school. The counselors can answer any questions you have, provide guidance, and dispel concerns. Our school also had resume/CV review and practice interview opportunities for students.

I got my summer and articling position through the Vancouver OCI process. I also did the Toronto OCI recruit and felt that the two experiences were very similar. Any advice you get about one city, you can apply to the other. I didn’t think I would end up back in Vancouver. However, I really clicked with the associates at the firm. If you’re applying to a firm located outside of the city your law school is in, make sure you have a reason for applying. For me, I grew up in Vancouver. Recruiters will ask you why you’re applying to Vancouver if you live in Toronto or vice versa.

Alexander Holburn Beaudin + Lang LLP Summer Class of 2022

If you could give one piece of advice to prospective or current law students to help them succeed, what would it be?

My last piece of advice is to get your sleep. This is quite similar to what I said in question 3 about work-life balance, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to maintain a life outside of law school. Pulling an all-nighter will not help you as much as you think it will. I didn’t pull one all-nighter in law school—you don’t need to! I promise you that getting 8 hours of sleep will help you much more on the exam than the studying you got in from staying up all night.

Law school can be a lot of fun. I had a lot of fun!! I think a big part of that was making sure that I still had non-law school things to turn to in times of stress. Although you need to study and work hard, make sure you take some time for yourself every once in a while. It’s vital to ensure you do not burn out.

What are your future career plans going forward, and how can our readers connect with you in the future?

I’m returning to Vancouver to complete my articles, and then who knows! The cool thing about law is that there is so much you can do with your degree. I am taking it day by day for now.

You are welcome to reach out to me on LinkedIn.


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