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  • Writer's pictureMadeline Tater

Health, Public Policy & Law: A Purpose-Driven Approach To Law School

Hello! Please introduce yourself.

My name is Madeline Tater. I am an articling student at the Canadian Blood Services and a recent graduate of the English Common Law Program at the University of Ottawa. During my time at uOttawa, I was fortunate to participate in several extracurriculars, many stemming from my interest in health law, feminist legal theory, and public interest-oriented work. For example, I was involved with the Health Law Students’ Association (HLSA), served as an assistant and associate editor with the Ottawa Law Review, performed communications outreach for uOttawa’s branch of the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), and volunteered with Capital Rainbow Refuge, an Ottawa-based organization that supports and sponsors LGBTQI+ refugees. I also completed two student-proposed internships, worked as a research assistant, and volunteered with Planned Parenthood Ottawa.

Getting involved with a wide range of initiatives and organizations while in law school allowed me to meet students with shared interests and expand my professional network. It also exposed me to the incredible work being advanced by lawyers and advocates in the non-profit sector, providing me with limitless inspiration for what my future career has in store.

Outside of school, I am an avid reader, adventurous home cook, and amateur cross-country skier, all three of which proved to be important outlets for me while working towards my JD.

What motivated you to pursue a career in law?

I knew I wanted to become a lawyer from a young age. I was attracted to a career where I could help people, contribute to society in a meaningful way, and have ample opportunity to read and write. I am the youngest of four girls and would draft handwritten contracts as a kid if my sisters wanted to borrow my clothes or CDs—this should have been the earliest sign that a legal career was in my future!

Despite this goal, like many who find themselves on this career path, my journey to law school was not linear. I self-studied for the LSAT while completing my undergraduate degree in Legal Studies and English Literature at Carleton University. My score was middling, but I had a competitive GPA and lots of extracurriculars under my belt. I only applied to one school out of undergrad—the University of Ottawa. Putting all of my eggs in this basket was a choice I made at the time owing to a host of factors, including that I was raised in the Ottawa community and saw myself practicing in the city long-term. During this first application process, I was waitlisted.

Around the same time, I began working at Health Canada through the Federal Student Work Experience Program (FSWEP), which sparked my interest in health policy and work in the public service more broadly. I was always transparent about my intent to go to law school and was offered a junior analyst position if I didn’t make it off the waitlist. In retrospect, this was one of the best things to happen to me professionally because I ended up embarking on a two-year experience in public service that drastically shaped my professional interests. I was exposed to tobacco and drug regulation, community-based harm reduction projects, federal grants, and contributions programming… the list goes on. I knew that gaining this policy experience was another tool I could use to enact change in tandem with a law degree.

But I also knew that I needed to rewrite the LSAT. This time, I enrolled in an LSAT prep course and somehow managed to score lower than I did on my first attempt. Despite feeling discouraged (read: devastated), I reapplied to law school, this time casting my net a little wider. I wrote my letter of intent from scratch because while my ambitions were the same, I had a much clearer sense of the kinds of contributions I hoped to make within the legal community than I did when I first applied. The University of Ottawa still felt like the best fit for me, and I was thrilled when I finally received my acceptance.

If I can impart any advice to prospective law students, it is to stay your course and keep working hard. Every life experience bears relevance; well-rounded people make well-rounded lawyers!

What was your experience like in law school?

Law school was the ideal combination of challenging, intellectually stimulating, and fulfilling. Completing 1L and 2L in a virtual setting had its drawbacks, but for my personal work style, it also had its advantages. As an independent learner, I thrived in my own workspace and was able to create a manageable study routine with few distractions. Setting my own goals and deadlines was an important motivator. For example, I often tried to get the bulk of my readings and assignments done by the weekend so I could enjoy time with my partner and our friends. Even though sometimes the most I could manage was taking a break for an episode of Jeopardy, striving for some semblance of a work-life balance was important to me, and I think a large contributor to any success I achieved in school.

Despite my general compatibility with the work-from-home lifestyle, the online experience could feel isolating at times, and finding other ways to connect with my peers through virtual study groups, Zoom socials, and extracurriculars proved very important. I learned so much from other students in my cohort who all had such interesting backgrounds and interests outside of my own. So even if you’re more of an independent learner like I am, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to the person sitting next to you in the library or tell a colleague that a point they raised in class discussion was really intelligent—making these connections is an important part of the journey.

How did you find your first law-related job?

I was fortunate to return to my job at Health Canada over the 1L and 2L summers and continue to learn in that space. But I was also keenly aware that my resume lacked more specific “law-related” experience. Participating in student-proposed internships (SPIs) was a great avenue for me to remedy this. Because I was interested in more non-traditional career paths, SPIs were also a mechanism for me to explore other workplaces outside of big law.

My first internship was at a boutique family law firm, where I gained valuable experience conducting research, drafting legal memos, and attending a week-long trial. My second internship was at the National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL), a not-for-profit feminist organization that promotes the equality rights of women through legal education, research, and law reform advocacy.

The latter opportunity was actually the product of a cold email I sent to Professor Martha Jackman, who has been a member of NAWL’s National Steering Committee since 2007. I saw via Twitter that she was slated to speak at a NAWL workshop in Whitehorse, YK, in Fall 2022, and I reached out to her expressing interest in her areas of research and offering to help in any way that might be of value. Professor Jackman then put me in touch with NAWL’s Executive Director. Through the power of that initial cold email, I became NAWL’s first SPI student and was able to attend and present at NAWL’s workshop in Whitehorse, YK, alongside a fellow uOttawa student and friend, Aleah McCormick.

Throughout both experiences, I asked a lot of questions. I wanted to know more about legal research, writing and advocacy in practice, but I was equally curious about the mechanics of running a business (or in NAWL’s case, a not-for-profit). I really strived to get a 360° picture of the work environment to gauge what role(s) I could see myself pursuing down the road. This gave me clarity heading into the articling recruitment process I may not have otherwise had. In short, don’t be afraid to create your own opportunities and put yourself out there!

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

My first piece of advice is to remember that advocacy comes in many forms, extending beyond mere oral communication. The best advocates that I know are also skillful writers, researchers, and collaborators. So perhaps if you discover mooting isn’t for you, you might consider writing an op-ed for your local paper (or law review), or getting involved with grassroots law reform efforts. Law school is an excellent opportunity to explore the myriad of mechanisms for driving change—and finding which ones suit you best! For instance, although I still get nervous when it comes to public speaking, my written advocacy skills have improved with every factum and newsletter I've undertaken.

My last piece of advice is to take courses you are genuinely interested in. Be curious. Ask questions. Law school is about discovering what inspires you and finding ways to turn it into a sustainable career.

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

Starting in August 2023, I am completing my articles with the Legal Division at Canadian Blood Services, where I am excited to gain hands-on experience in health and privacy law while learning more about the role of in-house counsel.

If you are interested in chatting, please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn.


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