UAlberta Law sessional instructors rewarded for revamping wills and estates course

Doris Bonora and Erin Lafuente receive Pringle/Royal Teaching Excellence Award

Sarah Kent - 27 May 2020

Doris Bonora, ‘86 LLB, and Erin Lafuente, ‘01 LLB, have been jointly honoured with the Pringle/Royal Teaching Excellence Award for their innovations in the classroom and their commitment to student learning.

Bonora and Lafuente, both Edmonton partners at Dentons, undertook a major overhaul of the wills and estates course this academic year. While it took considerable work, their effort paid off, both for the students and the instructors.

“We had several comments from students saying that they had never considered a career in wills and estates but that after our class it was a topic area they would consider based on our passion for our practice,” said Bonora and Lafuente in their award nomination letter.

When Bonora co-taught the course in 2018 with another instructor, she felt uninspired by the lecture format of the class, and Lafuente and Bonora knew they needed to find new ways to get students engaged and excited about the topic of wills.

“People were taking notes for the purposes of taking notes. A common question was ‘Is that going to be on the exam?’ ” said Lafuente. “It felt artificial when we really just want students to be excited about learning.”

Lafuente had been a guest lecturer for the course the previous year, and when Bonora asked if she would be interested in co-teaching for the 2019-2020 academic year, Lafuente jumped at the chance to return to UAlberta Law.

In revamping the course, Bonora and Lafuente applied several creative approaches, planning student-led presentations, adding a class participation component and designing a hands-on assignment in which students practised drafting a will for a fictional person.

“We really thought this was an amazing way to give them a skill that almost every lawyer uses in their future practice,” said Bonora and Lafuente of their drafting assignment.

Their combined passion for wills and estate planning had an undeniable impact on the classroom.

“We stayed after class to mentor and answer questions about drafting and the estate planning process,” they said.

Bonora and Lafuente, who work closely together at Dentons, found co-teaching to be incredibly rewarding.

“It was a natural transition,” said Lafuente.

Both had extensive experience running seminars and workshops on wills and estate planning.

“Before I decided to go to law school, I was on a path to become a teacher,” Bonora said. “It was my secret love.”

“I want to challenge (other instructors) to be innovative and think of new ways to teach and new ways to engage students,” said Bonora.

The Pringle/Royal Sessional Teaching Excellence Award recognizes excellence in teaching by a sessional instructor at the Faculty of Law, named in honour of two long-serving sessional instructors and friends of the faculty. The late Alex D. Pringle, QC, one of Canada’s most respected criminal lawyers, served the legal community for more than 40 years. He founded the law firm Pringle Chivers Sparks Teskey, and was a beloved Faculty instructor for over 30 years. Peter J. Royal, QC, is senior partner at Royal & Company and was a sessional instructor at the Faculty from 1980 to 2019.