Monthly Archives: February 2013

UBC Law Alumni Magazine


UBC Alumni Mag

While many of us are far from being UBC Law Alumni, I stumbled upon a hard copy of the annual volume distributed to former law students globally and I found that it was full of interesting and encouraging material.

Instead of reading it from the perspective of an established lawyer in the community, I found that there is much inspiration to be gleaned from its pages by reading about all of the amazing things that UBC Law can lead to. And in the very least it will show you that generations of people made it all the way through law school and learned to tell the tale.

I encourage you to click on this link and flip through the online version(s) and get some ideas for your future!

Shaking It Up – Life on Exchange in Christchurch

Here in Christchurch, New Zealand, the semester has just begun. My extended Christmas vacation has finally ended and I’m embarking on a new experience and adding another student card to my already extensive quiver. It’s hard not to miss the immaculate classrooms and conveniences of Allard Hall, but I’m really looking forward to the experience of studying in Christchurch. Last week we international students had our induction and welcome, and amongst the eager new faces (some as young as 16!) I felt like somewhat of a veteran. Not only am I a bit older than some of the students here, but I was in Christchurch for its first big earthquake in 2010, so when our welcome lecture opened with cautionary notes about what to do in the event of an earthquake, I didn’t feel the need to panic. Growing up in Vancouver also means that you get to be somewhat of a duck-and-cover expert, given the yearly earthquake drills. We’ve had a few little quakes since I’ve been here, but nothing too terrifying. Residents of Christchurch have developed a pretty relaxed (and typically Kiwi) attitude towards these little tremors, and puns about the ‘city that rocks’ or ‘shaking things up’ are hugely popular.

It seems that there are many ways to help Christchurch rebuild and develop from the earthquake. There is a ‘Student Volunteer Army’ which helps with various rebuild projects, and even a class called ‘Christchurch 101’ which allows students to participate in rebuild projects for credit. It’s nice to see the community strengthened and united despite the earthquake’s destruction. (Side note: we should name earthquakes. It sounds better to say ‘the destruction caused by Sandy’ rather than ‘the destruction caused by the earthquake’. Maybe there should be a threshold – say anything over a 6 on the richter scale gets a name?).

The author enjoying a trail run in Christchurch’s Port Hills.

Life at Canterbury University has its differences to UBC, but also a few familiar themes. Next week will commemorate the second anniversary since ‘the earthquake’, and campus is still busy with construction crews and clusters of temporary buildings. This is a familiar sight to someone from UBC’s perpetually under-construction campus, and in particular to students who moved into Allard Hall while the building wasn’t quite ready for us. One difference I’ve been quite excited about is that the campus security patrollers ride Segways. Segways! I didn’t know those existed outside of Arrested Development (the greatest show ever to grace television screens). I am considering applying for a security job just so I can rip around campus on one. A career in law vs. a career on a segway? I think there is a clear winner here.

I’ve been nervously anticipating the first day of classes, wondering what the study of law in a different country would bring. I was worried that things would quickly get out of my depth, that professors would refer to unfamiliar cases, and that I would make mistakes about the structure of the New Zealand court system. Imagine my surprise when we spent a significant part of my first lecture (on the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act) discussing the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms! When the professor (as it turns out, a UBC alumnus) asked if any of us were familiar with the Oakes test, I shot my hand up excitedly. As it turns out, Canada is kind of a big deal for our entrenched Charter.

This is my second exchange to New Zealand, having attended the University of Otago for a year as part of my Bachelor of Arts at UBC. I’ve been curious to see if there is a significant difference in the culture of arts students and the culture of law students. I remember distinctly being classed as ‘that American nerd’ by a number of my Kiwi classmates during my previous exchange, as I was often the only student who spoke in class (and let’s face it, no one can tell the difference between Canadians and Americans). It seemed that speaking in class was just not the done thing – even when professors were posing specific questions. I didn’t really mind being the outspoken stand out in class; I wasn’t there to look cool in front of my class mates, and as a result I gained favour with my professors, who became very useful references when I began my law school applications. The silent approach to learning that characterized my previous exchange definitely contrasted my experience as a UBC Arts student, but even more so my experience as a UBC Law student. I have found my classmates at Allard Hall to be inquisitive, vocal, and generally actively engaged in class discussion. In my experience so far at the University of Canterbury’s law school, the students seem to be fairly vocal and engaged. I’m finding this to be a relief as I dread that moment when the professor poses a question and everyone looks at their feet/computer/notebook/phone.

While I wish that there was a button on Facebook that would allow me to block the words ‘skiing’, ‘snow’, and ‘powder’ from appearing on my news feed, I’m still happily soaking up the New Zealand summer sun and looking forward to an exciting semester.

Evening sun in the Port Hills above Christchurch, New Zealand.

A Quick Q and A with Galit A. Sarfaty

A Quick Q and A with Galit A. Sarfaty

Professor Galit A. Sarfaty, who is an expert in human rights and public and private international law, joined UBC Law last July. We sat down a few weeks ago for a short Q and A about her research.

In the Spring of 2014, Professor Sarfaty will be leading a new workshop on Global Governance. This course, which has been funded by the Franklin Lew Innovation Fund, will feature about six international scholars as guest lecturers who will present their latest cutting-edge research. There will hopefully be opportunities for students to interact with these scholars outside of the classroom at dinner.

This Q and A gives a sense of the topics explored in a seminar that she taught this past fall (Law 324D – Topics in International Law and Transactions: Human Rights in International Business). This particular seminar will also be offered next year and having taken it, I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in human rights or corporate social responsibility (CSR).

EF: Many companies voluntarily publish reports on their human rights and environmental performance. Your research has explored the use of quantitative indicators to measure human rights performance. Can you explain what indicators are exactly?

GS: Indicators are second-order abstractions of statistical information, which are used to evaluate performance.  I recently wrote a paper that looked at the role of indicators in decision making. I focused on the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) , which is a private transnational body that has produced the leading standard for corporate sustainability reporting.  The GRI guidelines are used by more than three-quarters of the Global Fortune 250 companies to report on their social, environmental and economic performance. The guidelines currently contain 79 indicators, which are mostly quantitative. To give an example, one of the GRI’s indicators measures the total hours of employee training on policies and procedures concerning human rights.  Of course, indicators are becoming increasingly important to decision making in many other contexts. Law school rankings also rely on indicators, for example.

EF:  What are the advantages and disadvantages of using indicators to measure human rights?

The usefulness of indicators lies in their simplicity. They are easy to understand. Indicators help assess compliance with standards and progress toward meeting objectives. It is also easier to compare actors when they are assigned straightforward numbers or grades.

Unfortunately, with these benefits come costs.

For one thing, indicators can promote superficial compliance. In the context of the GRI, companies are currently assigned a grade of A, B or C based simply on the number of indicators that they have disclosed on but not on their actual performance. Companies might focus on achieving the best grade, without addressing their underlying practices.

Secondly, values such as human rights may be distorted when converted into numbers.  To truly measure human rights, you need to supplement quantitative data with nuanced and qualitative information. You would want to have people on the ground – field experts who know the country, anthropologists, or lawyers – to really determine if a company’s project is violating human rights.

Having said that, I don’t think that reporting information through indicators is a bad thing. It’s simply insufficient. To get a full picture, I think you need to have a combination of quantitative and qualitative reporting.

EF: One of your current projects examines the recently enacted Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (the Dodd-Frank Act), which brought about significant changes to securities regulation in the United States. A provision of this Act requires companies that file with the SEC to make annual disclosures if their products use certain conflict minerals.

GS: Right … so what’s unique about this particular Dodd Frank provision (section 1502) is that it is the first mandatory regulation dealing with human rights issues for companies in the US. In fact, the provision that you mentioned (there is another relating to revenue transparency among extractive companies) applies to all publicly-traded US companies that may be manufacturing products involving conflict minerals. In contrast, GRI reporting is voluntary in most countries… certainly this is the case in Canada and the US.

EF: Apart from being mandatory, how does this Dodd-Frank requirement compare to the kinds of reports that large Multi-National Companies already publish? Is this Dodd-Frank requirement more onerous?

GS: This particular Dodd-Frank provision requires companies to conduct human rights due diligence if there is a chance that their products use certain minerals that are supporting the conflict in the Congo. They must disclose the information in their securities filings.

It’s one thing to require a company to file a GRI report (some are long, some are short and they are often not verified)…but it’s quite another thing to require a company to perform due diligence, which is much more intensive. In addition, third party auditing is required under section 1502. Finally, there is liability attached to non-compliance. That’s really a first, and it forces companies to be transparent with regard to their supply chain and ensure that their practices are not supporting the conflict in the Congo.

EF:  What is the likely effect on companies’ behaviour?

I think that there’s great potential for the law to lead to positive changes in corporate practices and corporate culture. Securities law is the point of entry into a firm’s operations and part of the culture of a company is complying with these laws.  Not only do firms have an institutional structure for securities compliance, but they also use enterprise risk management technology systems that can easily accommodate the inclusion of additional risks, such as human rights.

EF: Are Canada and other countries likely to adopt similar legislation mandating disclosure on human rights performance?

GS: In 2010, Bill C-571, which was similar to the Dodd Frank conflict minerals provision, was tabled in Parliament. There is movement in the EU to pass a similar provision, but understandably, people are waiting to see what happens in the US with the Dodd Frank rules.

Having said that, there is another Dodd-Frank rule—1504—that requires natural resource companies to disclose their payments to foreign governments.  There is much more movement on this standard in Canada. There is currently a working group of industry and NGO representatives that is meeting regularly to develop a strategy for a similar policy in Canada.

But think about the timeline of these developments. The Dodd-Frank Act was passed in 2010 and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the global standard on corporate accountability, only came out in 2011.  So these are just the first steps in a larger movement, and I anticipate that there will be many developments in coming years. Everyone is holding their breath to see what happens next.

 – by Emmanuel Fung and Galit A. Sarfaty



About a Moot.

As the title of this post, which should be read in a Canadian accent, suggests, it is moot week at UBC Law for 1Ls! This is the week where we get to wear robes, be called ‘Counsel’, and generally act like we are already lawyers.

I have now finished my moot and thought I would share some of my observations about the whole process, from the day the factum was assigned all the way to the judgement delivered after 2.5 hours of arguments.

1. I had fun! Like most of my fellow 1Ls, this was my first moot, and I was nervous about the whole thing. However, I found myself really enjoying the mooting and especially the questions from the bench. Interacting with the judges made me feel like I was actually arguing a case, rather than giving a prepared presentation.

2. It was a great learning experience. I learned how to write a factum, right after learning how to spell ‘factum’ (there are at least two awkward autocorrects you may encounter). I learned how to apply and distinguish cases and how to frame their application to facts in a persuasive way. Incidentally, I also learned that you are not supposed to nod along when anyone speaks in court. It’s considered to be verifying what they are saying and also too conversational. Being a habitual nodder in lectures/conversations, I’ll definitely have to work on keeping a stiff neck in court.

3. Anticipating questions is a very good skill to have. It’s great to have a solid and thorough submission, but there are always questions, and the more of them you have thought about, the more readily you will be able to answer them. Incorporating your cases sufficiently into your answers also makes your response that much more persuasive.

4. It is so much fun to be able to say ‘My Lord’ and ‘My Lady’ in real life. How often do you get to do that? ‘Not often’ is the answer if you’re a reasonable person. (We’ve pegged down what ‘reasonable person’ means already, right?)

5. The moots exemplify the giving nature of this profession. Dozens of lawyers and other members of this field took time out from their busy lives to read our factums, read the cases, come out to UBC, and listen to us moot our way through the whole evening. I’m genuinely appreciative of everyone who gives their time so we can have this fun learning experience.

6. Wearing robes is an acquired skill. They are somehow attracted to getting stuck on furniture. Multiple times.  

My Thoughts on Networking

This past month holds the record for “the most lawyers I’ve ever spoken to in one month.” I attended the Vancouver Firm Wine and Cheese, firm tours, networking events on and off campus, as well as public interest panels.

You might think I’m a Seasoned Networker by now. I’m not. I still feel it is a little bit of a contrived situation. But, I think the trick to networking is to enjoy it. I was very intimidated at the thought of speaking to lawyers in September. Now, I look forward meeting them. In particular, I like finding out about their journey to becoming a lawyer and why they chose a particular firm or practice area. After speaking with judges, big firm lawyers, legal advocates, and articling students, I’ve come to the conclusion that (1) everyone is different (don’t let the uniformity of well-made firm websites fool you), and (2) they have so much to share – and it isn’t always law-related.

Tip: It truly helps to research firms and organizations before any sort of networking situation to help create a springboard for interesting and helpful dialogue. Thanks to modern technology (Google), this usually entails a quick click to a firm’s website to get an understanding of what they do. Sometimes the research gets more difficult with non-profit organizations, especially the ones without websites. For these, a quick chat with the Career Services Office can help.

While networking, I received an abundance of advice, ranging from time management, career development, to course selection. I learned a little about what it’s like advocating for clients in the downtown eastside, being Crown Counsel, and working on mergers and acquisitions for international and national companies. For those of you who don’t really know what kind of lawyer you want to be, networking is a fantastic way to get a glimpse of the opportunities available. I look forward to those moments when I think to myself, “I could see myself doing that down the road.”