The “Eureka” Moment: A Student Profile of Mark Asfar
Spend some time with Mark Asfar and you will undoubtedly spot him sporting tricolour and a leather Queen’s jacket as he greets students in MacDonald Hall, overhear his excitement about the university’s new initiatives and be introduced to an event or location on campus or downtown. Learning more about Mark’s past five years at Queen’s as an undergraduate and law student, his enthusiasm and knack for good advice when it comes to his alma mater are no surprise.
Mark Asfar’s desire to pursue law school was shaped by his undergraduate research as well as his enthusiasm for public speaking and oral advocacy. During his undergrad at Queen’s, Asfar studied History and Philosophy with a specialization in military and feminist history.
“I was specifically interested in where those subject areas intersected,” said Asfar. “There is a very niche part of Canadian military history where it intersects with employment and feminist history and that has shaped my interest in labour and employment law.”
Public speaking came naturally to Asfar in his undergrad. He worked as a campus tour guide and his passion for oral advocacy flourished, as he became an active member of the Queen’s Debating Union (QDU). Asfar hit his peak in QDU during his third year when travelled to compete almost every weekend, totalling 12 to 15 weekends of the academic year. Additionally, Asfar competed at the International Debating Championships in Berlin during the Christmas break. It was a natural transition for Asfar to get involved with mooting at Queen’s Law as the current Vice President (Community) of the Minute Moot club and through the Matthews Dinsdale Labour Arbitration competition.
When it came down to deciding where to attend law school there were a few characteristics of Queen’s Law which convinced Asfar to return to his alma mater. The first was its tight-knit and congenial environment.
”What I ended up hearing about Queen’s Law as I was applying for law school was how tightly knit and amicable the community was,” Asfar said. “Everyone knows that they are competing against each other on the curve and yet they still cooperate towards a common goal and understand that it’s us against the world and so we still support each other. In the first month of 1L, a prof returned a graded assignment to the class and called out the handful of students with the top grades” Asfar recalled. While at other schools this practice could have placed a target on the back of a student who did well, Asfar observed that at Queen’s Law students approached those who were successful in an amiable and curious manner, asking to compare notes and share feedback in order to improve.
Asfar also found that one of the most competitive application processes in first year was for the volunteer opportunities at Queen’s Legal Aid, Pro Bono and Queen’s Law Journal.
“I remember when the lists were coming out and everyone was rushing off to see if they had made it,” said Asfar, “It was really amazing to see how supportive people were.”
This experience confirmed to Asfar that he was not going to regret his decision to attend Queen’s Law. “We were all competing for these spots, but I never saw anybody get vicious,” said Asfar, “It was always honest, honourable and fair competition and that was when I knew that this is where I wanted to be.”
Another factor which brought Asfar back to Queen’s for law school was the practical and extra-curricular opportunities. One of the most exciting new developments for Queen’s Law students has been the new clinic location at 303 Bagot Street which hosts Queen’s Legal Aid and the other legal clinics offered through Queen’s Law. With a professional environment and an incredible support network, the clinics are a hands-on approach to learning the law that helps students understand more about the experiences and responsibilities of a practicing lawyer.
“Getting to interview clients for intakes, go to adjournments and work on a case file was amazing,” Asfar said, “It was above and beyond the best experience of my first year and proof of why I wanted to be here at Queen’s Law. Getting to be in that office was a reminder of what I am working towards and the fact that I was capable of offering legal services and supporting clients even as a student.”
Asfar was also involved in the Minute Moot club, the Litigation Society, Med-Law Games, Cabaret for the Cure, In-Vino Veritas and began working for the SGPS last year, finding that the vibrant and engaging community at Queen’s Law exceeded his expectations as clubs were always recruiting throughout the year and there was ample opportunity to commit to leadership positions.
The final element that influenced Asfar’s choice to enrol in Queen’s Law was the incredible resources and support networks for students looking to start new projects or enhance those that already exist. Within his first few months at Queen’s Law, Asfar was able to develop the Queen’s Law jacket portfolio through the LSS and independently organize a suit-tailoring event.
“One of the cool things about Queen’s Law is that it’s so easy to make things happen and start new initiatives,” said Asfar. In late September during his first year, Asfar approached the LSS to inquire about Queen’s Law jackets, jacket bars and patches, which are a significant part of the university culture at Queen’s. Walking out of the LSS office, Asfar had been newly appointed to the role of Jacket Director and worked throughout the fall semester to help extend a tradition of the Queen’s community to our law school.
Asfar came to law school realizing that he had different needs for the professional attire in his wardrobe and after speaking with other students he confirmed that there was demand for a custom suit fitting event. He found a tailoring company, booked the student lounge through the LSS, and set a date for his independent event. It brought such success that Asfar was able to adapt the experience to his work as the Vice President Professional in the SGPS for the current academic year in order to create a Professional Makeover Week event which occurred in the first week of October.
“These are all events that just happened because I thought up an idea, threw it out to somebody and the resources were given to me,” Asfar said, “So to the 1Ls, the advice there is that if you have a great idea and the resources are available then you can turn that idea into a reality.”
Asfar’s involvement in Queen’s Law has made him recognize it is easy to end up doing too much and to have too many activities and commitments in your schedule.
“At any one point [in my first year] I was actively involved and giving my time to at least five clubs and it burnt me out,” said Asfar. “So I encourage students to get involved in the law school but be selective. Find one or two things you are interested in and join.”
From his experience Asfar has found that balancing just a few enriching and fulfilling extra-curricular activities with time to read, have dinner with a friend, watch Netflix or pursue a hobby goes a long way in helping students survive and thrive in law school.
After living in Kingston for five years, Asfar advised using some down time to make occasion for the interesting events that Queen’s University and the City of Kingston have to offer. He recommended law students check out the website queensevents.ca where you will find a virtual calendar with information on upcoming academic, arts and social events, with categories including concerts, theatre, sports, 19 + events and health workshops. The events are within walking distance of campus and are hosted by Queen’s students at the undergraduate and graduate level, Queen’s faculty and administration and businesses and organizations within the Kingston community.
One event that Asfar highly encourages law students to attend with their friends is a Queen’s Players performance. Queen’s Players is an undergraduate performance group who combine sketch comedy, improv, live music and pop culture references to create a hilarious comedy show at the end of each semester. Their shows are always held in November and March at a licensed location in downtown Kingston and all of the profits from ticket and drink sales go towards a charity.
“The typical format is a skit followed by music, back and forth, with lots of audience participation,” said Asfar. “It’s a lot of fun and a sight to behold that is very unique to Queen’s.”
Looking back on 1L, Asfar considered the advice he would have liked to receive when he was in first year. “This time last year I was asking myself, ‘What is law school? Will I survive?’ whereas this year I know that I can do it,” he said. First years can look forward to the moment when it all adds up – the moment when you look at a legal issue and suddenly it makes sense without there being any struggle.
Asfar called this the “Eureka” moment, which for him occurred in the winter semester of 1L when he reviewed a case from the first week of public law and realized that he was able to understand the relevant information and important common law precedent the case had set in a fraction of the time that it had taken him almost eight months earlier.
“Realize that you can accomplish a lot during 1L. [In 2L] it’s still hard work but you have a greater feeling of satisfaction and overall sense of calm because you’ve done this before so you can do it again,” Asfar reflected. “I wouldn’t say it gets easier but you get better at being able to handle it.”
Andrea Bandow is in 2L. She is a contributor to Juris Diction.