What makes you stronger
Master of Laws graduate overcame obstacles to find success
Not an immediate first-choice articling student for law firms, Brayden McDonald [JD/19] turned a sow’s ear of a situation into a silk purse, by returning to school for a Master of Laws degree at the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Law. Now about to tread the (virtual) boards to receive his LLM parchment on Monday, October 18 at 3:00 p.m. McDonald has his name on a number of published scholarly works and a Charter challenge court case.
“Brayden was an excellent student, and we’re fortunate to have had him in the LLM program,” said McDonald’s thesis advisor, Dr. Richard Jochelson, Dean of Law. “In his time here, he was able to showcase his research and verbal presentation gifts, and engage in more clinical work.”
The Dean also observed, “This directly afforded him the opportunity to network with prospective employers and showcase his talents.”
McDonald wanted to study law from the start. Born in Winnipeg, he completed an undergraduate degree in Economics and Political Studies. “I always liked the big picture, real world stuff so social science like that was more my forte, though I had a lot of history courses too. I was always stronger in writing than in sciences, so it kind of flowed from my skill set,” he said.
After completing his JD, he quickly turned the setback of not getting offered an articling position into an opportunity. “I had already forged a strong relationship with Dean (still Professor, then) Jochelson by working as a summer student for him, so he was really the one who showed me this alternative path, the LLM.”
Still a student, McDonald was therefore able to volunteer at the University of Manitoba Community Law Centre, which led to his involvement in a Tobacco Tax Act Charter challenge that law students brought before the Manitoba Courts last March.
With guidance from a thesis advisor who taught courses on Criminal Law, and Charter Issues in Criminal Law, and another strong mentor in Jochelson’s research collaborator, Professor David Ireland, McDonald completed a thesis titled: “Expert Evidence or Expert Decisions? Measuring the Impact of Expert Evidence on Criminal Proceedings Outcomes in the Provincial Court of Manitoba.”
“Specifically, I wanted to see how the presence of expert evidence in court proceedings swayed outcomes on a broad scale. We hear about the dangers of expert evidence in law school, as well as the advantages, and other issues like junk science, etc.,” McDonald explained.
“But it made me wonder to what extent this might actually be an issue, or if academia and case reporters were just highlighting a narrow slice of bad decisions in a much larger pie. Are judges just accepting science they don’t understand? How can we tell? Are the instances we can identify isolated or emblematic?”
As for what happens next, at the moment, McDonald is happy to have finally obtained an articling position last May, and is focusing on finishing that. “In the end, I think I charted the best course. I have articles now AND a Masters’ degree. It felt pretty stressful at the time, not getting a job, but now at 26 I have a BA, a JD and an LLM, plus I’m articling, so if all goes well I’ll have my Call to the Bar by the time I’m 27! From there, who knows. I like practice so far, especially being in court, but I have my foot in the academic door now too, so you never know…”
Coming out of the Master of Laws program, the biggest lesson learned for McDonald was “self discipline,” he said. “Two years seem like a nearly infinite time to finish a project, even one as big as a thesis, but deadlines creep up fast and there is not really anyone looking over your shoulder.
“It’s an immense amount of work and you need to develop a routine and commit to it. It’s a lesson that’s served me well in articling, which is also, at least for me, significantly self driven. I imagine that practice is even more so.”
“I also learned that patience and determination pay off. I could’ve given up and just kept looking for a job, letting opportunities dwindle,” he said, “but instead I took a bad hand and played it the best I could, turned it into an opportunity, and now I’m quite happy with how things turned out.
Things have turned out quite well, especially when the Dean of Law says things like, “[McDonald] is the epitome of a successful graduate student and is a valued Robson Hall community member.”
High praise, indeed. Well done, Brayden!
Brayden McDonald recently contributed to Law and Disability in Canada: Cases and Materials, a book co-authored by Jochelson and Ireland with others, which launches Wednesday, October 20 at 12:00 p.m. (CT).