Faculty of Law alumni share their advice for navigating law school and beyond

Advice covers everything from dealing with imposter syndrome to building lifelong friendships

Law Communications - 29 March 2023

What does it take to succeed in law school? Take it from those who have been there before.

We asked alumni at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law to share their top tips and recommendations for navigating law school.

With firsthand knowledge of what it takes to excel in law school and beyond, these alumni have been in your shoes. So whether you are an aspiring law student or you’re on the brink of entering the profession, there is something here for you.

Bill Hendsbee

Bill Hendsbee, K.C., ‘93 LLB
President, Law Society of Alberta
Partner, Cummings Andrews Mackay LLP

“If I could go back in time, I would advise my younger self not to fear change but, rather, to embrace it. That change could involve moving to a different practice area, to a different firm, to a different city or province, or even a move out of the traditional practice of law. It can be very easy to assume that there is only one correct path when, in fact, the opposite is true. We are at a rapidly changing point in time and I would tell myself to trust in my abilities and to take the opportunity to continue to look for new and innovative ways to apply my skills and my passion.”

Koren Lightning-Earle

Koren Lightning-Earle, ‘07 LLB
Legal Director, Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge

“Stay grounded and remember why you dreamt of law school. Some say Law School will change you but actually we can change the law. You belong here and you were meant to be here.”

Wendy Moody

Wendy Moody, ‘97 LLB,
Partner, Dentons Canada LLP

“Be yourself. Believe in your abilities and be proud of your accomplishments. Stand up for yourself. There will be people in your corner. Do not be afraid to share your perspective.”

Adeel Mulla

Adeel S. Mulla, ‘14 JD
Corporate Counsel, Legal Aid Alberta

“Two Pieces of Advice

1) Your classmates now are your colleagues in the future. Not only can you learn a lot from each other (study groups and sharing notes will get you through the next three years), but you will end up leaning on these people as you navigate your legal career. You will run into them again – and believe me, your memories together from Law Show, Rugby, Ski Trip, LSA, Canons, etc. will stand you in good stead. But don’t just look at it as networking; there are some amazing people in school with you. Get to know them…make some lifelong friends!

2) Where you start is most definitely not where you will end up. The classes you like in 1L are probably not going to be the same ones you like in 3L; in fact, you’ll likely start your articles in a completely different area of law. Fast-forward 5 years from graduation and 95% of you won’t even be in the same place you articled. You may change firms, switch areas of practice, move cities, start a business…who knows? All this to say – things change, enjoy the ride.”

Peace Penzi

Peace Penzi, ‘22 JD
Articling student, Deacon, Spears, Fedson and Montizambert

“Many law students struggle with imposter syndrome. For Black law students, imposter syndrome can be compounded by the unique challenges and biases that come with being a person of colour in the legal field. It’s important to remember that you have overcome significant barriers and challenges to reach where you are now, and you should be proud of your accomplishments. It’s also important to recognize that the legal field still has a long way to go in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion. I founded the University of Alberta’s chapter of the Black Law Students’ Association (BLSA) with the goal of supporting and empowering myself and other Black law students. In addition to the support and resources that you receive from organizations like BLSA, don’t be afraid to seek out mentorship and guidance from practicing lawyers and alumni who can provide valuable insights and guidance as you navigate your legal education and career. Stay focused, work hard, and don’t be afraid to ask for help when needed. You have the potential to make a significant impact on the legal field, and your presence and voice are needed now more than ever.”

Jim Skitsko

Judge Jim Skitsko, ‘73 LLB
Provincial Court Judge

“A law degree will open many doors for you, even if you do not practice law. It is a respected and time-tested proof of your capabilities. If you choose the law as a career, you will be challenged each day with new and exciting cases/challenges. Most importantly, you will be helping people with issues and will see and feel the difference you will make in their lives.

Once enrolled, it is important that you find a ‘study buddy’ or several buddies that can assist you and work with you in your daily challenges of studying the law. Be prepared to put in the work and brace yourself for the many hours you will spend in law school. Law school can be a lonely place without those friends and colleagues and that loneliness you may feel will create other challenges.

‘Believe that you belong’ is a phrase that will ring loudly if you reach the depths of a state of mind approaching burn out. You are in law school not because you are "lucky" but because you deserve to be here, working alongside your fellow students. However, you remain in law school and ultimately graduate because of your work ethic.”

Howie Sniderman

Howard Sniderman, ‘81 LLB
Senior Litigation Partner, Witten LLP

“A law degree is a versatile tool. The ways in which it will be of use are limited only by your imagination. As such, take a class that may not seem to be in line with the career path you think you'll take but which aligns with your interests in life. Go out on a limb; you never know exactly how high or difficult the climb might be but, as the song goes, in the end it really is all about the climb.”

Hamza Tariq

Hamza Tariq, ‘21 JD
Associate, MLT Aikins

“I am extremely fortunate to be able to call myself an alumni of the University of Alberta Faculty of Law. My personal experience, colleagues, and professors are the reasons why I am where I am today and I could not be more grateful.

Going into law school, I was terrified. Being the first individual in my family to embark on this journey filled me with a great deal of uncertainty and doubt. But I kept an open mind. That is my first piece of advice to anyone that may be considering law as a career - be open minded. It is a challenging, yet rewarding career that will push you to think outside the box and stretch your limits. It does not matter whether you have an undergraduate degree in religion studies or your parent is a partner at a big law firm, the practice of law is for anyone that has interest in serving their community and a passion to put the work in. The legal profession is as vast as the ocean and filled with numerous opportunities, and nooks and crannies where you can carve out a successful career. If you go into it with an open mind, you'll be surprised at the opportunities that come your way.

I wish I could tell you that imposter syndrome wears off once you get that first A in a class or land that summer or articling job at your dream firm. However, in reality, it's something that law students and lawyers battle years into their career before it finally subsides. This is completely normal. The profession has a steep learning curve and there is so much to learn every day. Just breathe and tackle each day one at a time. One strategy that I still implement in my life is to have a box or a subfolder in your inbox where you store all the positive feedback and achievements you get throughout your journey. So that on days where that tiny voice creeps back into your head causing doubt about whether you are even on the right path, you are equipped to silence that voice and remind yourself that you a formidable and capable force.

I recommend this profession to anyone that reaches out to me for guidance. It is an ever-changing profession that the next generation is well-equipped to handle with their empathy and tolerance. If you are fortunate enough to call the University of Alberta Faculty of Law your home one day, know that you have a supportive and understanding community ready to help you live out your wildest dreams.”