In the summer before starting 2L, I was lucky enough to do quite a bit of traveling. One thing I was looking forward to in my travels was getting to use my law lens. I try to travel as much as I can and this was the first time I was doing so after 1L. I was curious as to whether the effects of studying law on how I perceive things would persist even when my mind was ‘on vacation’ during traveling. Of course, I couldn’t be sure beforehand because after all the law is jurisdictional, right? (My sense of humour may still be on vacation). In the spirit of legal reasoning, I will state the conclusion now so you don’t have to read the rest of the decision if you so choose: the effects of legal training do in fact cross borders.
I was struck by how I still saw legal issues everywhere, regardless of what country or continent I was in, and by how frequently I was reminded of something specific I had learned in law school. One instance occurred in a bout of jetlag that left me unable to sleep at what was 2 am in England and who knows what time/space continuum point for my circadian rhythm. I was listening to a radio show on my phone when one character happened to use the phrase ‘the most astute of you or the least un-astute’. Instead of laughing at the punch-line which followed, I immediately thought of how Chief Justice McLachlin had an issue with rephrasing the Smithers test from ‘not insignificant’ to ‘significant’. I recalled her discussion of how there is an important distinction between the phrase ‘I like him’, and ‘I don’t dislike him’, which I’m sure has been the subject of many an awkward Valentine’s day card. It’s safe to say the average listener probably didn’t have this reflexive response to what was a perfectly normal joke.
In the streets of Dublin I would see signs which had both Irish and English on them and automatically think, ‘Are they both constitutionally required to be there? I wonder if there is a leading case on this…Did someone litigate over how small the font of one language was? Is it up to the national government or the municipal government? Is the municipal government a creature of statute or does it have separate constitutional standing? Is that Guinness mug for sale?’ All these substantive legal questions trailed in my mind in one way or another during my trip.
I think the effects of legal training on the mind are similar regardless of the jurisdiction in which you study. At a friend’s house in Tehran, we were chatting about our respective fields, my friend’s being design and marketing, and he said something that really intrigued me. He told me about a good friend of his who had just started her legal career in litigation. He said he was so impressed with the way she saw real world problems and came up with a strategy for solving them and carried through in a very efficient manner. He had noticed her tendency for the organized anticipation of issues which helped her navigate the world around her. ‘She goes from court to court and case to case all over Tehran, and she is so confident.’ It was reassuring to think the mental discipline, focus and confidence that we strive to build while students of the law will shape our characters in lasting ways. So, while it may be strange for BBC radio shows and street signs to trigger thoughts of SCC decisions, it is but a by-product of a far greater training our minds are undergoing. And for those who did read beyond the ratio at the top, I will quell your undoubtedly fervent anticipation by making the following finding of fact: the mug was sadly not on sale.