Taking legal aid overseas

- July 24, 2013

A new scholarship allowed recipient Rebecca Critchley (MA’08), far left, to volunteer with an NGO in Togo and work in a London law firm. (Provided photo)
A new scholarship allowed recipient Rebecca Critchley (MA’08), far left, to volunteer with an NGO in Togo and work in a London law firm. (Provided photo)

This article was first published in the Summer 2013 edition of Dalhousie magazine.

When Rebecca Critchley (MA’08) applied for the Pamela and Andrew Brands Scholarship in International Law in 2012, the first-year Dalhousie law student was hoping for a satisfying summer work experience. The scholarship funds a summer abroad, split between the London office of international law firm Herbert Smith Freehills and a non-governmental organization (NGO) of the student’s choice. What Critchley didn’t anticipate was that her career track would be dramatically altered as a result.

Born in South Africa of British parents, Critchley was primed to seek out an opportunity out of Canada. “The whole reason I applied was because I wanted to go and work for the NGO for the summer,” says Critchley, who admits she was much less enthused at the thought of working with the prestigious seventh-largest firm in the world. “I thought ‘I’ll give the firm a try, but I know I don’t want to do corporate stuff.’ And I got put into financial regulation.” Which, it turns out, she loved: her experience included attending a meeting between lawyers and Britain’s Treasury over proposed new regulations of the financial industry. “There was an argument for about an hour and a half over the use of one word in the legislation,” she says.  “For me it was just fascinating.”

After her three weeks in London, Critchley went to Togo, in West Africa, and spent five weeks working with a group that defends civil rights. She helped prepare a report to the United Nations on torture and also contributed to an environmental law database that the group will draw on in response to the growing mining industry.

Andrew Brands (LLB’79) could not be happier with the experience of the first recipient of his unique gift to the law school. Born out of a long discussion and, he admits, “probably too much wine” with his wife, Pamela, the scholarship’s intent is to give a student “a mind-changing, career-changing event,” says Brands, a senior vice-president and general counsel for Great West Life.

“We’ve been fortunate and we’ve always thought it important to be involved with the community,” Brands says, adding that he and his wife had tired of simply serving on boards and going to gala dinners.

“We want to do something that is going to have some psychic return to us but also is going to benefit the law school and raise its profile internationally.”

Funding real-world experiences

Their gift – $12,000 a year for five years – allows a Dalhousie student to join dozens of mostly British students for a “vacation scheme” internship at Herbert Smith Freehills, which Brands hopes will increase Schulich School of Law’s profile internationally. “The NGO was Dean Kim Brooks’ idea, which I think is what makes this program unique because it makes the student an active participant rather than a passive recipient,” 
says Brands.

Dean Brooks says she enjoyed helping Pamela and Andrew Brands craft the terms of the scholarship, and now has worked with two more donors to also fund experiences for first-year law students.

“The students work really hard in first year, they learn a ton, and then they realize that the jobs that are available are the same jobs that they had the summer before,” says Brooks of her wish to direct more resources towards first-year students. “Lots of them find that hugely disappointing.”

She says a gift like the Pamela and Andrew Brands Scholarship in International Law is “helpful to our students in a different way than something like a scholarship or bursary,” because it funds exposure to a work experience they otherwise wouldn’t have.

And potentially to a career direction they wouldn’t otherwise have contemplated: Critchley has applied and been accepted for a two-year training contract with Herbert Smith Freehills to start immediately after she graduates from law school. “I will end up with English qualifications and will be practising in the London office to begin with,” says Critchley, who says she looks forward to the day when Herbert Smith Freehills may open an office in Africa. “I would really like to be one of the first people that they send.”


All comments require a name and email address. You may also choose to log-in using your preferred social network or register with Disqus, the software we use for our commenting system. Join the conversation, but keep it clean, stay on the topic and be brief. Read comments policy.

comments powered by Disqus