Convocating law student earned unanticipated skills during her studies

Moira Lavoie receives her JD degree on November 20

Helen Metella - 19 November 2019

Every law school graduate is likely surprised by some of what they learned in school, but in Moira Lavoie's case several lessons extended far beyond the law.

Lavoie, who graduates as part of the Class of 2019 during the University of Alberta's fall convocation on November 20, became a mother during her third year of law studies and that combination produced many nuggets of unexpected wisdom. One gem was actually straight-up parenting advice, delivered by a law school instructor with young children of her own.

"In February of my last semester when (daughter Frances) was five months old, she wasn't sleeping through the night and I was up every two hours," said Lavoie. "At that time, I was back to being a full-time law student but I was just so exhausted I didn't know how I was going to get through it.

"I was venting to my Wills instructor and she finally said, 'have you considered sleep-training your child?' (guiding a child into a predictable cycle of when and how long they sleep). She walked me through how to do it, and told me 'it will be hard but it will be worth it.' And basically in the span of a week Frances was sleeping through the night. That was a big turning point."

Lavoie also learned to accept that she only had limited time to spend on her studies and her editorial work for the Alberta Law Review. "Because I knew I would only have so much time to work, I also needed to realize that I would do the best that I could and then accept the consequences. It gave me a sense of perspective. I had to accept I was not going to be excellent at all things, all the time."

Yet by assigning herself strict hours for studying and for family time, Lavoie became far more efficient and in fact did excel, publishing her first solo-authored peer-reviewed paper and maintaining her grades; Lavoie will be graduating with Distinction.

Lavoie credits her husband and her mother-in-law for assisting in her success. "I would not have been able to graduate on time without their help." She also credits a supportive group of friends that included fellow law student Gina Murray '19 JD, who gave birth twice during law school.

Lavoie's background also played a significant role. She left an established, high-stress career as a government policy director in order to return to school, bringing skills in time-management. Prior to that, she was a competitive swimmer, "practising nine times a week when I was 14, up at 4:30 a.m. for swim practice and then again after school," she said. "I still had to get all my homework done, while competing at a national level against people older than me. I had to stay on top of things and keep focused."

Perhaps even more influential than those experiences, however, was the example set by her parents, who have done everything from driving semi-trucks to working in politics. "They never pressured me in any particular direction. They just taught me to work hard, be self-sufficient and take responsibility for my actions."

While Lavoie has not decided exactly which direction her career will take (she is currently articling with the Court of Appeal of Alberta and will complete her article with a law firm in the spring), she does know how she wants it to look to her own daughter.

"I just want Frances to feel proud of me one day. I'm very proud of my parents and I want her to feel the same about me some day."

In addition to Lavoie, seven other students will graduate from the Faculty of Law on Wednesday, with six of them receiving their JD degrees and one receiving an LLM.