Class of 2023 is Faculty of Law’s historic 100th group

Supreme Court Justice Russell Brown delivered keynote address at its virtual orientation

Helen Metella - 10 September 2020

This year’s first-year students at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law have already made history and are assured of doing so right up to their graduation day.

On September 8, the Class of 2023 was the first-ever at the Faculty to be welcomed via a virtual orientation that took place on YouTube livestream (made necessary by social-distancing measures created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.) The Class of 2023 is also the 100th incoming class since the Faculty began providing full-time legal education on campus in 1921. When its members graduate, it will be from the first law faculty in Western Canada to bestow law degrees for 100 years.

The Class of 2023 will own that distinction because of a power struggle won by Henry Marshall Tory, the first president of the University of Alberta.

Faculty History

When the Faculty of Law was founded in 1912, it simply delivered lectures sponsored by the Law Society of Alberta, which also sponsored lectures at Calgary College. The two schools followed the English model of legal education, in which aspiring lawyers worked as articling apprentices in law offices during the day and attended “supplementary lectures” part-time. A law degree was not required to sit the bar exam.

In 1914, members of the Calgary bar attempted to establish a Faculty of Law at Calgary College that would be the only law degree-granting school in Alberta. Henry Marshall Tory usurped them by offering to provide lectures in both cities, at no cost to the Law Society. With the College’s hopes buried, Tory next implemented the Harvard model of legal education, in which students earned a law degree first and then articled with a firm before sitting the bar exam.

Orientation 2020

The first full-time law class at UAlberta had less than 20 students, and all were male.

In contrast, the Class of 2023 is 182 students strong, with 99 women and 83 men. Most (154) hail from Alberta, with another 19 from B.C. and a smattering from Ontario (3), Saskatchewan (2), Manitoba (1) and Quebec (1), with one international student.

The class’s virtual orientation program was hosted by Vice Dean Eric Adams and anchored by a compelling and inspiring keynote address from the Hon. Justice Russell Brown of the Supreme Court of Canada, a former professor at the Faculty. The orientation began with remarks about the law school’s history from Dean Barbara Billingsley, who herself is a history-making figure as the first woman appointed to lead the Faculty.


Students then heard, via pre-recorded videos, an invocation from Métis Cree Elder Elsie Paul; and greetings from Audrey Poitras, president of the Métis Nation of Alberta; and Chief William (Billy) Morin of the Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations, the territory upon which the Law Centre sits.

Chief Justice Mary Moreau of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta welcomed the class to the law profession in French and English. The Hon. Justice Fredrerica Schutz of the Court of Appeal of Alberta brought greetings from the Court and from Alberta’s Chief Justice, Catherine Fraser. She also acknowledged the challenges older students face by revealing that she began law school at age 33, with “two children, a mortgage and in a period of great economic instability.” Kent Teskey, QC, president of the Law Society of Alberta, extended warm greetings and an introduction to the province’s regulatory body for lawyers.

Tony Basu, the 2020-21 president of the Law Students’ Association, delivered heartwarming student-to-student advice on how to navigate law school in a fulfilling fashion. Dean Billingsley hosted a humorous video tour of the Law Centre’s premises, with introductions to Faculty legends Steve McDiarmid, owner of Hello My Friend Cafe, and Tim Young, the Faculty’s IT and TWEN exam specialist.

Justice Russell Brown

Finally, Justice Brown addressed the students with a personable and eloquent speech noting that law school is transformational because as students learn about legal analysis and legal ideas, they’re inspired to open their minds to new possibilities and career paths.

Part of that transformation stems from, he said, “the law’s curious blend of the struggle for intellectual coherence on one side and pragmatism on the other … we lawyers are, despite the cynical impression sometimes imposed by popular culture ... problem solvers; we make things work. And so will you.”

While Brown acknowledged that pursuing the law will demand unreasonably hard work (“Even now, I often come across a legal concept that, in order to understand it, I have to engage in sustained concentration, I have to talk it through with colleagues, I have to make and review notes I make on everything I read on the subject.”), he allayed students’ fears about not being able to compete with some cheeky yet sage wisdom he received in his youth. He concluded with an assurance he hopes students will return to when the going gets tough.

“You have been admitted to law school because you have demonstrated a capacity to grapple with and eventually understand complex concepts. Lectures and readings are where your understanding process begins, not where it ends.”

The complete virtual orientation is available on the UAlberta Law website.