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The Dissent: The “Real World” is Not a Courtroom

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A few weeks ago, we wrote an article on reconciliation and smudging. One of the comments on the Juris Diction page stuck with us. The author, with the username “Real World”, wrote the following:


“The QL student body, the LSS and the two authors of this piece are in for a substantial wake up call when they realize the absolute absurdity and complete irrelevancy of this discussion in the “real world”. Smudging? With the highest of respects to our indigenous peoples, this idea is simply ludicrous. -Outside of the ‘bubble’.”


This comment was particularly troubling and left us with many thoughts and questions.


This idea is not new to us. We have heard similar sentiments over the years at Queen’s Law. Things like “wait until you enter the real world…” or “well this is just how things work out there” trivialize those who want to engage and see change. These responses are unconvincing.


If anything, they affirm problematic realities and instill the desire to pursue change and social justice.


There are two reasons why these sentiments about the “real world” promote complacency.


First, this worldview suggests that Queen’s Law is not a community in the real world. Community exists wherever people are. Law school is an institution that trains lawyers to practice law. If it is not part of the real world, then where does the real world begin? In a capitalist system, am I baptized into the real world when I get a job?


When we start to differentiate the law school community from the “real” community, we do not critically assess the values and principles being projected by the Queen’s Law community into the “real world”. In fact, we stop taking ownership of our learning environment and become consumers, not producers, of knowledge and community development. This is apparent in most discussions at the law school regarding the role of the Law Students’ Society.


This feeling of entitlement may also be related to our chosen career path. Law is filled with language of entitlements, rights and individualism, and this is now the lens through which we see reality. We become reactionary and everything is perceived as an individual wrong.


Law school has taught us a new way of thinking, a new set of tools that are very valuable within a particular context. But these same tools can be problematic when applied in arenas in which they do not belong. We gain legal knowledge and experience, but in the process we also lose something. We lose the ability to take off the litigious lens and we lose the ability to relate to people the way we did before coming to law school.


For example, litigious behaviour and individualistic thinking have no place in a family and can actually lead to its breakdown. Similarly, we should assess whether these qualities should apply in other relationships—among our friends and colleagues.


Students perpetuate another problem when they pretend the real world only exists outside of educational institutions. They accept the status quo—because the world is the way it is, there is no need for it to change. This misses the point. Society has changed when certain groups of people were dissatisfied with given norms or policies. The very problem is that the “real world” exists the way it does. It is why we wish it to change, in the hopes that we can build a different community and maybe, just maybe, a segment of graduates will enter the workforce with a different mentality.


As law students, we are analytical and intelligent thinkers. However, we also have a tendency to uncritically accept certain stereotypes. Unschooled and inexperienced, we enter law school. We inherit constructs of “the law student” or “the lawyer”. We spend our time tearing apart arguments and building them back up, yet we do not apply this same approach to arguably the most important part of the whole equation—ourselves. We should be weary of what we have inherited and question whether it measures up with reality.


For example, we create narratives of ourselves as self-interested, individualistic and competitive individuals. Students pass down these stories generation to generation. We create the conditions in which it is inevitable to be anything other than what we are told. But do we not have the capacity to be more than just this? Are law students reducible to these caricatures or do we become victims of our own myths?


We urge you to read Toni Pickard’s “Is real life finally happening?”, her orientation address to the students entering Queen’s Law in 1987. The following is a portion from the abstract:


“The author argues that attending law school is as much a part of real life as living in city ghettos. Real life is always happening – ‘anytime and anywhere that life is being lived.’ She then analyzes how the hierarchical structure of legal education induces conformity, lack of engagement, and a sense of unreality. Intimidated students tend to withdraw, depreciate their personal knowledge, and feel that they risk inadequacy to express their own perceptions. These processes of domination reinforce the masculist, white, middle class, heterosexual values of the legal profession, and ultimately, of legal doctrine itself Toni Pickard concludes that the resulting ‘dominant culture’ will be challenged only when law students and lawyers recognize the effects of hierarchy and mainstream dominance, listen to those ‘who speak from the margins,’ draw on their own experiences of marginalization as a resource for learning empathy, and begin to care about the entire community.”


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Nika Farahani (3L) and Sheida Rezapour (3L) are contributors to Juris Diction.


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  1. Michael Scott
    February 29, 2016 at 8:52 pm — Reply

    “If anything, they affirm problematic realities and instill the desire to pursue change and social justice.”

    How do the authors support their claim that such comments instill (that is, “gradually, but firmly, establish”) the desire to pursue change? And, since presumably they support the instillation of these values, why do they think such comments are problematic? That is, this sentence seems internally conflicted and out of line with the message of the piece.

  2. Fred
    March 11, 2016 at 1:04 pm — Reply

    Thanks for writing this.

    I work in education and I have exactly the same conversation with many parents and colleagues several times a month (you know the one: “what’s going on in the ‘real’ world? how can we teach to that?”). This is a legitimate question – a “real” question, shall we say? 😉 – and anybody who wants to be an agent instead of a victim needs to ask it: what is going on now, here at school, or here at work, or here at home, or wherever; what kind of world (or class) do I want to live in; and how am I gonna work together with my friends or colleagues to make that happen?

    It boils down to this: are you just gonna sit down and tolerate the wrinkles and omissions (even outright injustices) in our world, living a fatalist, even defeatist kind of life? Or are you going to take some steps to make your world the kind of just, secure (for everybody), and collaborative world you want your kids and grandkids to grow up in?

    I know what I want. And I’m sure we’re gonna do it. Each day, one step forward, one step forward. 🙂

    Thanks again. 🙂

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