Rob McDonald, KC, wins this year’s Pringle/Royal Sessional Teaching Excellence Award

Long-time sessional instructor brings passion and experience into his IP law classes

Doug Johnson - 1 May 2024

rob-mcdonald.pngUniversity of Alberta Faculty of Law sessional instructor Rob McDonald, KC, knows how to make things interesting. An expert in intellectual property law, he not only teaches the statutes and cases but brings life to his lessons with a bit of humor and anecdotes from his practice. He goes the extra mile to ensure that the course is kept current and relevant, and that his students remain interested, engaged, and respected.

For these reasons, along with his decades-long commitment to teaching law, McDonald is the recipient of this year’s Pringle/Royal Sessional Teaching Excellence Award. The award — named for two notable and long-serving sessional instructors, the late Alex D. Pringle, QC, and Peter J. Royal, QC — recognizes and honours a sessional instructor in the Faculty of Law each year.

"I'm very pleased to see Rob McDonald recognized as this year's recipient of the Pringle/Royal Sessional Teaching Excellence Award,” says Dean Barbara Billingsley. “Shortly after receiving his law degree from this Faculty in 1988, Rob began teaching for us as a sessional instructor. He is an established expert in Intellectual Property Law and our students have benefited from his knowledge and experience for over 30 years! He is exceptionally deserving of this award."

McDonald says he is honoured to receive the award and is appreciative of the efforts of students to submit nominations and for the support that he has received from students and faculty alike. 

“It is very rewarding to be recognized for something that I love to do,” he says. “The fact that I have made a difference to students and provided them with a positive learning experience means everything to me. McDonald says that “Giving back to the legal community by helping students learn and succeed is my biggest reward.

McDonald began working toward his bachelor’s degree in English at the U of A in 1983, before joining the Faculty of Law in 1985. He says he knew he always wanted to be an IP lawyer (after revising his original plan for being a comic book artist), though he still cherishes the lessons and knowledge he earned while studying in the Faculty of Arts.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Laws degree three years later, he articled under fellow alumn Phyllis Smith, ‘74 LLB, at the law firm Emery Jamieson in Edmonton before being called to the Alberta Bar in 1989 and later becoming a partner. 

“I am very grateful for the incredible mentorship and training that I received from Phyllis and so many other esteemed lawyers at Emery Jamieson, and for the opportunities that were given to me early in my legal career,” McDonald says. 

A simple approach to teaching

He later became a partner at the national firm of Miller Thomson and then at the global firm of Dentons before joining the Bennett Jones partnership in 2018. He received the designation of Queen’s Counsel (now King’s Counsel) in 2014, was named IP Lawyer of the Year by Best Lawyers in Canada in 2018 and was recently given the 2023 Distinguished Service Award for Service to the Profession from the Canadian Bar Association and the Law Society of Alberta. 

He continues to practice IP law to this day, including for some notably high-profile clients. While McDonald’s passion for the practice of law has taken him far, he also has a long-standing passion for teaching the next generation of lawyers. He began teaching as a sessional instructor in 1990 and continues to teach with fellow alumnus and Bennett Jones partner Ted Yoo, ’89 LLB, and has been a fixture in the Faculty for 34 consecutive years. 

McDonald is very thankful to Ted and to everyone who has assisted in the delivering of this course over the years, as “it is definitely a team effort.” In particular, fellow alumnus Gordon Sustrik ’78 LLB not only gave McDonald the foundation and training to develop his IP practice, he is the one who was initially asked to teach the IP Law Course. “Peter Lown had recently retired from teaching the course, and the U of A needed someone to take it over or else it couldn’t be offered. Gordon stepped up and agreed to teach, and generously allowed his junior associates to help with a few classes. I started teaching the copyright and trademark sections of the course the year after I was called to the Bar — it was a very steep learning curve, but it was the perfect way to immerse myself in this area of the law and it really jump-started my IP career.”

“The Faculty of Law has welcomed me as a sessional instructor and provided me with all of the resources and tools that I needed to put together a top quality course,” he says. “The way they treat their sessional instructors is incredible, and it makes us all feel like we’re an important part of the Faculty of Law family.”

He notes that IP law is an important and foundational field for law students — even those who won't go on to specialize in IP law — considering how it interacts with many disparate fields of law. 

Students regularly remark about his deep knowledge in the field of IP law, along with his enthusiasm and ability to bring humour into his classes in an insightful way. Often, he’ll share stories from his own experience as case studies, integrating core and advanced concepts of IP law with real-life examples of interesting clients and cases. He teaches cutting edge topics such as artificial intelligence and the protection of Indigenous cultural knowledge and expressions. This helps “to keep things interesting,” he says. 

Further, McDonald strives to provide mentorship and support both in and outside of the classroom, whether helping a student with career advice, providing accommodations to deal with difficult situations, or giving guidance for submission of academic papers. 

In all, McDonald's approach to teaching is “quite simple,” he says.

“I put in my best effort to deliver relevant class content, and I try to keep students interested, inspired, respected and engaged.”

It is clear that McDonald is passionate about teaching and mentorship and is an extremely effective educator, and he is very appreciative to receive this prestigious award.