Grad student Patrick Hart fuelled by a passion for academia

Carmen Rojas - 12 September 2022

As both a practising lawyer and an academic with a background in religious studies and philosophy, PhD student Patrick Hart (’22 LLM) entered the graduate program in the Faculty of Law with a desire to explore the accessibility of the legal system. 

I’m very interested in how the legal system proves persistently challenging for people to access,” he says. “I think that the legal system is at times too comfortable being esoteric and somewhat insular, and I don’t think this is a good thing.”

Hart’s PhD research, which begins this fall, will “engage in a  philosophical and literary analysis of how our Canadian legal system represents itself and its own authoritative narrative, and how laypeople, or ‘outsiders’ to the law, understand and engage with that legal system,” he says.

This research carries on the work of Hart’s master’s thesis, which focused on the topic of vexatious litigation – a frivolous legal action that is solely meant to harass or subdue an adversary. He specifically honed in on the category of vexatious litigation known as organized pseudolegal commercial arguments (OPCA) — a term coined by Justice John D. Rooke of the Court of King’s  Bench of Alberta in the 2012 case of Meads v. Meads.

OPCA litigants are individuals or groups, such as Freemen-on-the-Land and Sovereign Men, who deny state and court authority. Since they view laws as invalid, they believe they have a legal and moral right not to comply with them. 

Even though I generally disagree with the positions and arguments of OPCA litigants, I’m also somewhat empathetic to their plight, in terms of how challenging it can be for laypeople to engage with the legal system on its own terms,” says Hart, who was awarded an Alberta Graduate Excellence Scholarship last year in recognition of his impressive academic achievements.

Hart brings an interdisciplinary approach to his research, drawing on his rich academic background. After earning a bachelor of arts degree from the U of A in 2003, where he first discovered his passion for religious studies and philosophy, he went on to earn a JD from Queen’s University in 2006. 

He was then drawn back to the arts for graduate studies, earning both an MA and a PhD in religious studies from the U of A, in 2008 and 2018 respectively. 

During this time, he was also called to the bar and began practising law in his hometown of Leduc. His firm, Hart & Co. Law Office, focuses largely on civil litigation matters. 

Pursuing academic interests while maintaining a legal practice hasn’t always been easy, but with the aid of what he calls the “outstanding” administrative support system at his office, Hart has successfully been able to do both. 

“Striking a balance really just requires some careful reflection about priorities and time commitments,” he says. “Given my passion for academia, it’s an approach I’m ultimately quite comfortable with personally.”

Hart admits he would not have pursued further graduate studies were it not for the opportunity to reconnect with Professor (and former UAlberta Dean of Law) Paul Paton, who was his legal ethics and business corporations professor at Queen’s. 

“I have long viewed him as a personal and professional mentor,” says Hart, who will continue to work under Paton’s supervision as he embarks on his PhD research  “When the stars aligned for him to supervise me in the LLM program at the U of A, it was an opportunity that I could not let pass by.”