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  • Writer's pictureJulia Chung

Embracing Discomfort: A Recent Law School Graduate's Guide to Personal Growth

Hello! Please introduce yourself.

Hi! My name is Julia Chung, and I recently graduated from the Common Law program at the University of Ottawa. I am interested in bankruptcy/insolvency, corporate, and real estate law.

During law school, I had the privilege of being able to explore my interest in various areas of the law:

  • Health law & immigration law: As a Santéship research assistant, I learned how COVID-19 policies at federal and provincial levels impacted migrant workers in Canada.

  • Employment & labour law: I organized firm tours of employment and labour law firms and a panel event on pay equity with the Federal Pay Equity Commissioner.

  • Equity and diversity in the law: I co-wrote monthly newsletters and blog posts as Co-VP Communications for the University of Ottawa Association of the Women in the Law (UOAWL). I also served as VP Equity of the Common Law Student Society during my final year of law school, where I organized various equity and diversity-related initiatives (you can read more about this below).

Before law school, I studied at the University of Ottawa and Sciences Po Lyon. I had the opportunity to work at all three federal government departments responsible for the immigration screening process, which sparked my interest in immigration law. My legal interests have changed since, but I still hope to contribute to the immigrant community in my capacity as a lawyer.

Outside of the law…

  • I come from a family of Korean immigrants. My family moved to Vancouver when I was 6 years old, which puts me squarely in the 1.5-generation category.

  • I love dogs. My family has a 14-year-old Cocker Spaniel, who I love spending time with. I am pretty good at identifying dog breeds, and I watch too many dog behaviour training videos. I occasionally dog-sit and walk dogs as a side gig.

  • I love languages! I speak Korean and conversational French. I am working on my Mandarin Chinese.

What motivated you to pursue a career in law?

The foundation of my decision to apply to law school lies with my parents. My parents are my role models. Since I was little, I watched them grow their restaurant with endless grit, perseverance, and resilience. They inspire me to work hard and strive for self-growth.

Naturally, I thought the best way to grow would be to continue learning. While finishing up my undergraduate degree and working for the federal government, I applied to law school on a last-minute basis. Thanks to my generous professors, I had a GPA of 9.6 (the uOttawa grading scale is on a 10.0 basis). With encouragement from friends and family, I embarked on the LSAT preparation process and received a 162. Frankly speaking, I don’t think it was me - I owe my admission into law school to my network. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their support.

I was also accepted to other schools - Queen’s, Western, UBC, UVic, McGill - but I decided to stay in Ottawa, thinking I would become a specialist in immigration law or a government lawyer.

Advice for prospective law students: Even if you commit to a law school, it will not dictate where you end up practicing! Many uOttawa law students participate in the recruitment process in other cities - Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, etc. While it makes sense to complete your law degree in the city you would like to practice in, you are not precluded from practicing elsewhere.

What was your experience like in law school?

Law school is hard, but it is also rewarding. Everyone’s law school experience differs, and I highly recommend tailoring your law school experience based on your interests, curiosities, strengths, and weaknesses.

I completed my first two years of law school online, in a different time zone. I was at home, with my parents, in BC. Because of the 3-hour difference, I woke up at 5 AM for 8:30 AM classes. Coffee was my best friend. The upside was that the sun was still out by the time I finished classes for the day. The work-from-home situation allowed me to connect with practitioners who were geographically far from me. It saved me commuting time, which made time management slightly easier.

I also participated in a remote moot - the Tort Moot Competition. A moot is an experience like no other. I had underestimated how much time and effort goes into preparing for a moot, especially drafting facta (a factum is a written argument filed with the court). The entire experience truly hammered home the importance of teamwork, persistence, and collaboration. My colleagues took home first place, which was incredibly rewarding to see. We had all worked on the same facta and practiced together for months.

Other uOttawa activities/experiences that I recommend are the following:

  • Dean’s Research and Writing Fellowship,

  • Legal Writing Academy, and

  • Peer Mentorship (as a mentee AND mentor).

2022 Tort Moot Competition

You served as VP Equity for uOttawa’s Common Law Student Society. What was that experience like?

While wrapping up my second year, I mustered up the courage to run for the candidacy of VP Equity for the Common Law Student Society (AÉCLSS). Known as the quiet student in class, my colleagues were surprised but supportive of my candidacy. I won the election by a tiny margin. For the first time in my life, I stepped into the role of a university-level student government representative.

Being in the position of VP Equity was simultaneously challenging and fulfilling. While I struggled with doubts about myself, I oversaw mental health, equity and wellness initiatives. I administered the Headspace program, organized two mental health wellness weeks, fundraised for four Equity Bursaries, and addressed students’ complaints and concerns. My team created a safe space for equity-seeking students and clubs to voice their opinions through a Town Hall, where I learned about the barriers various marginalized groups faced on campus. Recognizing the need to address students’ concerns at an organizational level, I drafted the very first AÉCLSS Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Policy Manual, in consultation with a local non-profit organization, other AÉCLSS members, and the Faculty Equity Committee. I am grateful that the student body recognized the months of effort that was put into drafting the EDI Policy Manual and the need for organizational changes, which led to its approval at our General Assembly.

To be an effective leader in diversity and inclusion, we need to learn continuously, undergo training and be open to a variety of perspectives. I had a lot to learn as VP Equity, and I still have learning to do. I am grateful for all those I have learned from during my time with the AÉCLSS.

The very first AÉCLSS Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Policy Manual

How did you find your first law-related job?

Like many others, I struck out of the 1L recruit (which I am now thankful for since it allowed me to end up where I am today). My priority in 1L was to explore different legal interests, and I did this through virtual coffee chats with lawyers actively practicing in specific fields. After speaking to one employment lawyer, I learned about the Review Officer Intern position at WorkSafeBC (i.e., the Workers’ Compensation Board). This was an adjudicative role where I decided whether appeals to workers’ compensation decisions should be granted or denied. I worked with an interdisciplinary team of mentors, physicians, and other staff at WorkSafeBC.

I genuinely enjoyed my experience at WorkSafeBC, and I think this enthusiasm positively impacted my interviews during the 2L Toronto Recruit. My advice to those who intend to participate in any legal recruitment process is to engage in experiences for which you have passion or enthusiasm. Positive energy radiates through, which can be an advantage for time-constrained interviews like the OCIs (17-minute on-campus interviews conducted by employers during the recruitment process).

I was lucky to have gone through the recruitment process online. Attending OCIs and in-firm interviews online meant I did not need to face logistical challenges such as physically relocating from one firm to another. To prepare for OCIs and in-firm interviews, I made “summary sheets” of each firm I was interviewing with, which included information about my interviewers and unique aspects of the firm. I practiced with friends, video-recorded my answers, and thought hard about how I wanted to present myself to interviewers. The recruitment process is also a great way to learn about lawyers and their day-to-day practice. I ended up accepting an offer from Fasken because I genuinely enjoyed speaking to all the lawyers I interviewed with and felt that the firm’s collegial culture radiated through.

Working as a summer student at a firm was an eye-opening experience, which enabled me to see the differences between the academic environment and real-life practice. At school, we don’t learn about business development, due diligence, and time and cost-effective legal research - yet these are fundamental aspects of practice in real life. My summer was also eye-opening because I gained exposure to various areas of the law (corporate, litigation, estates, employment, tax, technology). I loved my summer student experience with the firm, and I’m looking forward to returning for my articles soon.

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

A broad piece of advice I would give: step out of your comfort zone and embrace discomfort! Without embracing discomfort, I would not have been able to run for student government, try out for a moot, or discover new legal interests. Embracing discomfort will also allow you to get to know your colleagues in the law school community and form new friendships (which are absolutely necessary - you need your network of friends to commiserate with).

A more practical piece of advice for law students: refer to Irwin Law’s Essentials of Canadian Law textbook series (available online) if you don’t understand the course materials.

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

Starting July 2023, I will be articling in Fasken’s Toronto office. Simultaneously, I will be serving as a student director for the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers (FACL) Ontario.

I am more than happy to chat and speak about my experiences! Please feel free to reach out via LinkedIn.


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