Tibetan Prime Minister in Exile Agrees with Mao: “where there is repression, there is resistance”

Guest Blogger: Hamish Stewart

Hamish is a third year UBC Law student with interests in international and human rights law. He is the recipient of the 2013 UBC Law Research Abroad Grants Program, which provides students with the opportunity to participate in research projects internationally.

Here he discusses a recent talk given by Tibetan Prime Minister, Dr. Lobsang Sangay, at UBC on Tibet’s political future.

Tibetan Prime Minister in Exile Agrees with Mao: “where there is repression, there is resistance”

By Hamish Stewart

Speaking in Vancouver at the end of February, Tibetan Prime Minister in exile Dr. Lobsang Sangay had some words of wisdom for the audience, as well as words of hope for Tibetans around the world.  After a brief speech, the Prime Minister spent an hour taking questions from an audience surprised to see him in their midst – Vancouver is rarely a stop on diplomatic speaking tours, and this visit by a sitting head of state was a rare event. Since his election as the Prime Minister of the Central Tibetan Administration in exile in 2011, Dr. Sangay has brought a new personality to Tibet’s international diplomacy. Following the Dalai Lama’s decision to step down from his political duties (he remains the spiritual head of state), the new Dr. Sangay continues to pursue what he describes as a “middle path” approach to Tibet’s relations with China.

Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay (left) with UBC Professor Wade Davis (right).

This approach hopes to achieve a level of autonomy for Tibet somewhere between the current state of repression and the full autonomy accorded to an independent nation state under international law.  The “middle path” sought by the Prime Minister does not go as far as requesting the level of autonomy granted to China’s Special Economic Zones in Shenzhen and other centrally adMinistered cities, or the “one country, two systems” approach adopted in Hong Kong, and Macau (another island colony which Portugal had been willing to return to China with none of the conditions for self-governance that were insisted on for Hong Kong).


Leaning on the Law

As a legal scholar, Dr. Sangay made sure to stress the clarity of Tibet’s claims to statehood under international law. According to the Prime Minister, the long historical record of Tibet as an independent state, with (a) distinctive and well established territorial boundaries; (b) an easily identifiable national population; and (c) the formal recognition of Tibet by other states through formal diplomacy and the signing of treaties, all establish its status as an independent nation under international law.  With this relatively unassailable argument for Tibetan statehood, Dr. Sangay’s request for a basic level of autonomy – akin to that which is enjoyed by the centrally administered city of Chongqing, for example – appeared as a modest request.

The last 50 year’s of Tibetan occupation were described as an aberration in the legal history of Tibet-China relations, which have been characterised by mutual recognition of sovereignty and back and forth conquests through a number of dynasties. According to the Prime Minister, the mode of accommodation that existed in the Qing, Ming, and earlier dynasties would be preferable to the current state of repressive politics.

These historical comparisons elicited an angry response from one audience member, who suggested that Tibet lacked the pre-existing legal frameworks for self-government existing in Hong Kong. With a JSD in law from Harvard University, Dr. Sangay was able to provide a meticulous articulation of Tibet’s claim for legal autonomy both under the Constitution of China as well as under international law.

When asked about the nature of Tibetan resistance to repression and occupation, the Prime Minister responded that Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic of China, summed up the current state of affairs:  “Where there is repression, there is resistance.” He then went on to describe his position on self-immolation of Tibetans inside Tibet – an issue which both himself and the Dalai Lama have spoken publicly on – stating that self-immolation is not an effective technique and that “all life is precious.”


The 2014 Social Justice Forum

The Social Justice Forum, hosted jointly by UBC Law Career Services and Pro Bono Students Canada, with funding from the Law Foundation of British Columbia, is a truly unique event where public interest and nonprofit organizations gather to connect with law students.

The 2014 Social Justice Forum held at the Law Courts Inn on Feb. 6, 2014

For students contemplating practice in the public interest, it can be challenging to figure out how to shape a comparatively non-traditional career path. For example, some nonprofit or public interest organizations do not have websites, so connecting with public interest lawyers might be more difficult. The SJF provides an opportunity for students to connect with lawyers who carved out a public interest career for themselves in areas such as environmental law, human rights law, elder law, and family law. Some organizations were even looking to hire law students for summer or articling positions!

It was inspiring to see the different ways lawyers incorporated their passion into their work. For this year’s speaker panel, the SJF welcomed three lawyers from PIVOT Legal Society: Katrina Pacey, Douglas King, and DJ Larkin. Their speeches highlighted some of the rewards and challenges of working in the public interest. They were passionate, and showed incredible dedication to their clients.

For all law students, this is an inspiring event to attend if nothing else but to see the different paths lawyers can take after law school, and the different ways in which passions can be turned into careers.

(Note: For more blog posts about incorporating one’s interests into one’s career, I would highly recommend Pursuing Your Passion: UBC’s First Fashion Law Panel 

A lawyer, a doctor, and a cop walk into a bar…

… and have a competition to see whose profession has more television shows about it. The competition is naturally abandoned when they spot a teenage vampire sitting at one of the tables.

It isn’t news to anyone that law is among those professions widely depicted in popular television and film. Jim Carrey’s funnyman unwillingly stricken by his conscience; the owner of the best catch phrase in New Mexico, Saul Goodman; Reese Witherspoon’s insufferably pink Harvard superstar; all lawyers in massively popular works. I think this type of widespread and popular use of a profession is a sign that there are many stereotypes associated with it. Stereotypes allow people to rely on patterns, popular knowledge, audience familiarity, and make it easier to tell a story. (Who wants to spend 20 minutes of a movie explaining what a radiation technologist is?) Those stories in turn strengthen stereotypes, and on it goes.

It also isn’t news to anyone that some of the stereotypes associated with lawyers are negative. Since I have started law school, the question most often asked of me by others which hints at one of these negative stereotypes is this: well, would you actually defend someone you knew murdered another person? I then usually go into a monologue of Shakespearean proportions about the structure of the justice system; the adversarial system; Charter rights; duties of lawyers as officers of the court, as advocates for their clients, as members of a professional, regulated, honourable profession with codes of conduct; access to justice issues; discretion in choosing clients; and so on. I try to give nuanced and balanced answers to what are deceptively complex questions, in the hope that certain stereotypes are dispelled, or at least softened (or gladly denounced in exchange for me stopping said monologue).

I think one aspect of legal training that may put non-legally trained people off is the use of language. The corresponding stereotype is lawyers engaging in cold, calculated logic devoid of passion, and “twisting” words. Law and language- the written and spoken word- are inseparable. What do we law students do most of the time? We read. We read and write , then read some more. But so do poets, and there are hardly as many ‘poet jokes’ as there are ‘lawyer’ ones. So what is it about the way we deal with language which isn’t as appreciated by others? We are taught to use language precisely, technically, and most often frugally. We condense our notes. Then we condense those notes. Then we make one page cheatsheets. As lawyers, we will be responsible for every word we choose to put in a contract, say to a client, or utter in a courtroom. We also know that words with everyday meanings become entirely different beasts in the legal context, and for a lot of people, our insistence on differentiating between legal and non-legal meanings of words at all times can be annoying. Especially at dinner. (“Well mum, when you say ‘reasonable’…”) Since words like adrenocorticotropic hormone test and polycystic ovary syndrome don’t have everyday meanings, doctors for example are immune from this particular phenomenon. Perhaps then it is this careful, logical, pragmatic use of language and knit picking of words which makes it easy to attach this negative stereotype to the profession.

Law students have a host of stereotypes associated with them as well. If you type in ‘Why are law students’ into Google, the search engine helpfully suggests some endings for your question. I won’t reproduce those suggested endings here, but let’s just say that if you are a law student and need a pick-me-up, you shouldn’t do the aforementioned exercise.

This blog post isn’t an exercise in listing, promoting or combating any stereotypes, but more one of raising and pondering questions which I have found keep cropping up in my life as a law student. As I learn more about the law and the profession, I hope I can have better answers to questions about both, whether they are stereotypical or not. Maybe one day I can even deliver my monologue in iambic pentameter, matched to the footsteps of my dinner guest skipping away.

Pursuing Your Passion: UBC’s First Fashion Law Panel

This past Thursday, January 16th, 80 well-dressed students, lawyers and even a few fashion designers attended the very first UBC Fashion Law Panel and Reception at Allard Hall. The event was put on in collaboration with Career Services, and featured a panel followed by a reception with delicious food and some networking. Fashion law as a recognized practice area is still in its infancy in Canada, although it has certainly been growing in both recognition and popularity. It touches on a wide range of traditional legal areas including everything from intellectual property, to contract and employment law, as it pertains specifically to the fashion industry (similar to other specialty areas like sports or art law).

The Fashion Law Panel brought together several practicing fashion lawyers to explore legal issues related to the fashion industry including the infamous ‘red sole’ case Louboutin v. Yves Saint Laurent, their personal career paths, and what employment opportunities exist in this area. Speakers included: Ashlee Froese, a Partner at Gilbert’s LLP in Toronto who has been very involved in the progression of fashion law in Canada and authors the blog CanadaFashionLaw.com; Kieran Moore, the Intellectual Property Counsel at lululemon athletica; Rachel Ricketts, a UBC Law alumna and Associate at Heenan Blaikie as well as legal counsel for Vancouver ECO Fashion Week; and second-year student Elaine Choi who spent the summer after first year as a legal intern for Aritzia.

Several clothing designs were on display from local labels Madame Moje, Tenth & Proper, and Zareen; as well as a lululemon mannequin clothed entirely in patented designs (IP is a huge part of fashion law).

Rachel Ricketts holding a counterfeit ‘lululemon’ hoodie, with Kieran Moore and Ashlee Froese.

One of the most inspiring messages of this evening was to have the courage and determination to pursue your interests in the legal field, particularly if you are passionate about a specialized area. There will always be naysayers, but these panelists are proof that you can successfully combine your passion with your legal career.

“Love what you do and do what you love. Don’t listen to anyone else who tells you not to do it.”
– Ray Bradbury

Attendees look on during the Q&A period.

Panel attendees Tracy Wachmann (Career Services Office), Tasha Wood (2L), and Myriam Laroche (President, Vancouver ECO Fashion Week).

Patented designs from lululemon athletica.

Outside the Classroom

Law school classes offer an academic view of the law, and provide valuable learning experiences. However, there is so much more to the practice of law and the administration of justice that cannot be learned in the classroom. This past week, I had the pleasure of participating in the orientation for the Judicial Externship Program. In these past two weeks, I feel like I’ve learned more that will be of practical application in my career than I have in the rest of my law school experience.

Throughout the past two weeks, I’ve sat in on many provincial court proceedings. Since I didn’t participate in any clinical programs throughout law school, I am unfamiliar with the processes of court. Having the opportunity to observe and understand the day-to-day activities of a court registry has been enlightening.

I’ve also had the opportunity to learn about and watch Downtown Community Court and Drug Treatment Court in action. I didn’t know that either of these programs existed before learning about them through externship, and found them to both be refreshing approaches to the traditional court format.

Taking a break from the classroom and participating in the externship program is sure to be an education in how the judiciary works and in how justice is administered. I would encourage law students to apply for the unique programs available to them in third year, or to at least take the opportunity to sit in on court proceedings and better understand what law looks like outside of the classroom.

Life Beyond Law

When I was in my 20s, I was convinced that anything I had to write about would be interesting to a vast and diverse audience; all I had to do, to my mind, was write funny anecdotes about my personal experiences, and I’d be a renowned writer of novels and screenplays alike in no time.

At 24 years old – and after reading Eat, Pray, Love, of course – I knew in every cell of my being that I was created to be the voice of Generation Y, and that my memoir would inspire and connect us all in no time.

Perhaps needless to say, writing a story is like writing a law paper: everything else in my small world must be cleaned, eaten, or talked about before I can finally think of tackling a meaningful or challenging project.

So what happened to that novel? Among other things, Lena Dunham became the hilarious and poignant voice of Generation Y – and I finally stopped procrastinating, wrote the LSAT, and got into the law school of my dreams. I also realized that not every story connects us all, and not every personal story is worth writing about or sharing with the world. But many are. And the big one that connects me with others right now is law school.

Having been back in classes for just over week now after a wonderful break, many of my classmates and I had been dreading the return of our December exams. If my friends are anything like me, tears were shed, high hopes were not met, and self-doubt barreled into chests like a tidal wave.

Among all that, though, something bigger than grades emerged: Community. Friendship. Support. Love. People hugging in the hallways reminding each other that December exams are failsafe; others congratulating each other on a job well done.

Beyond exams, more good news echoed through halls: One new friend is having a baby this summer, and another friend got engaged over the holidays. Yes, law school is happening – and maybe not always to the highest of our expectations – but so is life, and as we move through our six short semesters here at Allard Hall, we are transformed not just by the law we learn, but by the relationships we build. 

Just one semester in, I’ve already made friends who, I know, will be in my life forever. We’ll share in supporting and celebrating each other in law, love, and everything in between. And if I ever get around to writing a novel, we might even celebrate that. If not, I know I’ll be able to rely on my fabulous new law school friends through the highs and lows, just as we’re doing right now.

More on Networking Events

Several networking events are coming up, such as the Vancouver Large Firm Wine & Cheese (W&C), Small Firm W&C, and the Social Justice Forum (SJF). For those of you who prefer to do some preparation before networking events, you will find some of my suggestions below. I have blogged about networking before, but I hope this post is helpful nonetheless. Note that everyone networks differently, and these are just my opinions.

  • Dress professionally: Wear a suit!
  • Know the geography: The Wine & Cheese events I have attended were always laid out in the style of a tradeshow. There is a big room filled with tables, each table belonging to a firm, with each firm having 2 or more representatives. You will be given a map with a layout from the UBC Career Services Office at the event.
  • Eat and drink sparingly: Unless you are there just for the wine and cheese, do not spend your whole evening perusing the assorted cheeses or lining up at the bar. These events are just a couple of hours, and time flies. You want to make sure you have a chance to get to know people while being your professional self.
  • Do your research: I have said this before, but I find it incredibly helpful to research the firms/organizations that will be attending. I kept an Excel sheet of the firms that were in attendance with brief notes about distinguishing features of each firm and any questions that came up in the research process. Knowing which firms you want to approach is helpful, given the time crunch, but also try to keep an open mind.
  • Aim to have a conversation: For my very first W&C, I was so nervous that I prepared a list of stock questions such as “How long have you been with your firm?” or “What is your area of practice and why?” I quickly learned that it’s much better to approach lawyers with the mindset of having a conversation, instead of being interrogative. Nevertheless, being prepared with questions ahead of time can mitigate potentially awkward periods of silence and may help to boost your confidence.
  • Have an exit strategy: Don’t monopolize the time of lawyers given that they likely want to speak to as many students as possible, and you really should take the opportunity to circulate. Aim to speak to each lawyers for a few minutes. If you want to speak to them further, ask if you can take them out for coffee at another time (and then follow-up via email or telephone!).
  • Go solo: Although it may be nerve-wracking to approach firms or public interest organizations by yourself, I would not recommend networking with a big group of friends because it shows a lack of confidence. Also, it may be more difficult to have a quality/memorable conversation.
  • Spot opportunities: Chances are that each booth at the W&C or SJF will be quite crowded. If you spot a booth without a lot of students, I would encourage you to take the opportunity to chat with the lawyers there, even if it wasn’t a firm/organization you were thinking of getting to know. You just never know whom you will connect with.
  • Take notes: Take notes on the names of the lawyers you met, the impressions you received, and any other points of interest. This may help when you are writing cover letters or preparing for interviews.
  • Follow up: If you receive offers for future opportunities to connect, do follow up promptly (i.e. within 24 hours). Some firms offer dinners, but these seem to be rare, so do not feel bad if you do not receive any invitations!
  • Thank You emails: I didn’t send these unless I had what I thought was a meaningful conversation with a lawyer. However, some of my peers sent a note to every lawyer they came into contact with. In any event, do err on the side of professionalism with any communications you send out.

Finally, if you consider yourself Awkward, consider reading Networking Tips for the Awkward written by Robyn last year. Also, networking really does not begin and end with Wine & Cheeses.  I would encourage you not to hesitate to reach out to lawyers outside of these organized events.

Good luck!

Suiting Up

So I am probably not the only law student who feels like I’m playing dressing up whenever I wear a suit. I put on my pants, blazer, and heels, and look at myself in the mirror and think, ‘Who is that?’ As law school has progressed, the requirement to suit up has become more frequent; this semester I’m participating in the judicial externship program, which means wearing business attire on a daily basis.

To be fair, this is not the first time I’ve had to wear a suit for a job. When I worked at an art gallery in Whistler, my boss wanted us to “dress like we owned a law firm”. I wore a suit at work, but since I commuted by snowboard, that thing never saw the light of day. I would leave my suit at work and change there. I dreaded the strange looks I’d get cruising the streets of Whistler looking very overdressed for a mountain community.

Today I donned my suit and went downtown (like a real adult!). It’s funny how changing the way you look really does change the way the world looks at you. Despite still feeling like a fish out of water, I have found that there are certain advantages to looking professional. You know those canvassers who ask for money on street corners? If you wear a suit and stride past them, they don’t try to strike up a conversation with you.

It just seems like the world takes you a little more seriously when you dress a little more seriously. However, today, while waiting at a bus stop, someone threw an apricot at me. It was a good old fashioned drive-by fruiting. I don’t know why, but maybe it had something to do with the suit. Maybe the world isn’t taking me so seriously after all.

I don’t know that I’ll ever shake the feeling that a suit is a costume, but I am starting to feel a little more comfortable in my lawyer swag.



One Week Left

(Alternate title: My Organizational Skills Are Entirely Occupied By A Legal Memo I’m Writing For Class, So I Couldn’t Think Of A Title That Would Encompass Everything Discussed In This Post)

I had trouble deciding what to focus this post on, given the number of revelatory topics that have come up over the past month. There’s the fact that, with the help of extensive time management, school has developed into a routine that has become surprisingly ordinary. There was the rather disconcerting complete lack of rain in October, although Vancouver natives continue to assure me that I will soon grow to hate this city’s weather. There was the unfortunate discovery that there is actually more to formal networking than putting on a suit. My first wine and cheese event was kind of awkward, mostly because I’m an awkward person. I find myself entirely unqualified to give any kind of advice on this topic, but I will say that if you aren’t perfectly at ease talking to strangers, the best thing you can do is bring a buddy who’s willing to do some of the conversational heavy lifting until you get comfortable. I was lucky enough to have a friend in my small group who was interested in the same firms I was, able to gracefully enter and exit a conversation, and who kindly but firmly impressed upon me that I couldn’t spend the entire time at the cheese table (the spread was really impressive). The nice thing is that networking, like everything else, gets easier with experience and practice.

Mostly, though, the most interesting November discovery has been this: with one week left in my first semester of law school, I think I’ve hit a key turning point. I can now effectively pretend, to people entirely uninvolved with the legal profession, that I actually know things about the law. It’s an interesting position to be in; a rather strange dissonance between being respected for your position as a law student, and being humbled in class on a daily basis by the reminders of just how much there is to learn. My first LSLAP client described his problem to me in detail and finished with “at that point I knew I needed to talk to a lawyer.” I got a little bit proud, and then immediately quite alarmed that I was actually being relied upon to act, even under heavy supervision, as a legal advisor.

Like pretty much any other type of coursework, 1L classes at UBC start with somewhat simple cases, leaving you with the mistaken impression that contract formation or tort actions are relatively straightforward affairs. Moving forward, though, succeeding cases and legislation tend to muddy many of these apparently clear concepts. As my public law professor has told us, one of the fundamental tenets of statutory interpretation is the ability to create ambiguity from something that seems straightforward. Reading cases for class often involves trying to disentangle that ambiguity and figure out how the court has interpreted it. It takes varying amounts of time for people to get the hang of doing this quickly and easily.

What I’m getting at is that of all the things I’ve learned through these first couple of months, the one that comes up the most is how complex legal doctrine can be, how many things have to be taken into account, and how diverse opinions are. It’s an education in how much is left to learn, combined with a dose of amazement over how much we’ve covered over the first semester alone. It’s exciting on some level; law school is full of people who genuinely enjoy learning, and we’re learning in abundance. But it also teaches you to be cautious, to be aware of personal assumptions and subjectivity, and to be consistently willing to modify your viewpoint based on what you may not have learned yet.

Thanks for reading!

Receptions. Receptions Everywhere.

We UBC law students are lucky to have a fantastic Career Services Office which gives us lectures and documents full of proper advice about all aspects of business etiquette, networking, and the job hunting process. Accordingly, I would suggest looking at those resources for actual advice. Having gone through a year and a half of networking/firm events and the formalized interview process for 2L summer articling positions in Vancouver myself, I thought I would put together a list of general observations I have made, some of which will inevitably echo the valuable advice provided by the CSO.

Networking: The word ‘networking’ sometimes throws people off because it suggests you have to come out of a networking event having built an actual viable network of contacts. Really, networking is about making new connections within the profession, whether it be with students, lawyers or professors, some of which will grow beyond the first introduction and some of which may not. I would advise going to as many networking events as possible, especially if you don’t have prior connections to the legal profession. I have learned so much about the profession, different practice areas, and different firms through talking with people, and I think there is no substitute for the experience of one-on-one contact.

Mind Your Manners: Being polite, considerate and kind is obviously always important, but it is imperative in a professional environment, like a law school networking event or a firm reception, especially during the formal interview process. There is nothing more unappealing than the student/applicant who is self-advertising through monopolizing conversation, interrupting others, and focusing all discussion on him/herself. It seems obvious that the guidelines around the art of conversation don’t stop for firm receptions, Wine and Cheeses, and Interview Week, but sometimes anxiousness and competitiveness can get the better of us. My advice is to be genuine, engaging and considerate. Include others in a group discussion if they are approaching (or hovering) around your group. Introduce them to the group and quickly tell them what the conversation is about to make them feel comfortable. This also provides others with the chance to politely leave the conversation if they need to take a break.  Change the subject of any conversation if you find it is one to which only you are contributing. And, don’t say negative things about other students, professors, or firms. Remember, your ‘fellow applicants’ were your fellow classmates before and will be your fellow colleagues soon (pardon that tautology for the sake of parallel structure). Keep in mind the long-term collegiality of the profession.

Don’t Schmooze: This is a caveat on my first point about taking advantage of as many networking opportunities as possible. In my experience, going to a networking event when I was tired, distracted, not fully invested, or a combination of the three, was rather unproductive. I love meeting new people, but I also find making genuine new connections in a short span of time to be tiring. So, I’d say don’t schmooze for the sake of schmoozing. Go if you’re actually interested.

Don’t drink too much: for all the obvious reasons.

Empathize: Always try to put yourself in the shoes of the person with whom you are networking/meeting/interviewing. Have they had  a long day at work and are spending their free time letting you get to know their firm/workplace? Are they teaching a class in 20 minutes? Have they interviewed 30 people that day? Are there 50 other people at this event? Conversations are two way streams, even job interviews, so be considerate of your conversation partner’s position, which will inform what you choose to talk about, how much of their time you will take, and what questions you will ask.

I’ll end with a note about the end of networking events. Event end times are there for a reason: abide by them. You don’t want to be the last person left taking up an extra 45 minutes of someone’s time who should have been home for dinner half an hour ago.