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One day in March, when law student David Sandomierski felt his cell phone vibrate during class, he quietly got up and left the room to take the call. Most professors might be annoyed at this conduct, arguably unbecoming of a top student at McGill’s Faculty of Law. But the call in question was from Rt. Hon. Beverly McLachlin, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, offering Sandomierski a clerkship in her office, beginning in September 2008.
In what Dean of Law Nicholas Kasirer termed an “almost unbelievable” statistic, McGill will be sending an impressive eight clerks to the Supreme Court—impressive because there are only 27 positions available to students from 21 law schools in the country.
Impressive, also, because it ties the record for clerkship appointments set last year by (drum roll, please) McGill.
In the legal world, clerking at the Supreme Court amounts to the Holy Grail of post-law school jobs.
It is the top court in the country, the last line of appeal, considering only those legal questions deemed to be among the most significant and pressing.
Being a Supreme Court clerk means long hours, monumental demands, and an unremitting exercise in intellectual rigor.
But it is also an amazing opportunity for a budding jurist to gain unparalleled exposure to the country’s top legal minds as they ponder the most important societal issues of the day.
For Sandomierski, the appeal of a clerkship was unmatched.
“You get to practice your legal research skills, but you get to delve into the intellectually interesting questions, and that might not always be the case in a regular articling position,” he said.
“I think one of the biggest dangers coming out of law school is that you find yourself on a track,” he said. “If you come out and do your articling at a firm, it becomes very easy to stay on. At the court, you’re kicked out the door after a year.”
It comes as no surprise that law students from McGill, who are bilingual and earn degrees in both of Canada’s legal systems (civil and common law), are in such high demand at the court that hears cases from across the land.
Sandomierski also credits the comparative nature of the education: “At the basic level, you’re substantively familiar with two legal traditions. But I think more importantly, you develop an intellectual agility, an ability to move between different jurisdictions, between different ways of thinking and reasoning, and that makes you an attractive candidate.”
Ewa Krajewska, who was chosen to clerk for Justice Rosalie Abella, echoed that sentiment, adding that McGill tends to produce well-rounded candidates: “McGill is in a position to compete for all 27 positions. But it also has to do with McGill’s reputation in general, having really bright students and having students that are engaged in their community.”
Waiting for the phone call, without even knowing if it is coming, can be a grueling experience.
While the Chief Justice gets to choose three clerks off the top, Krajewski explained that the rest of the selection process looks “something like a hockey draft,” whereby each remaining justice, in order of seniority, picks a single clerk.
That run down the list is repeated twice, so each ends up with three clerks. Until a student has accepted an offer, however, the next offer can’t be made, so the whole exercise can last a few days.
With that stressful uncertainty behind her, Krajewski has now turned her thoughts to the expected “pressure to always produce very good work,” a given for such an important institution.
She added with a chuckle, “At school, we can always have our off-weeks…”
The other six McGillians who got the big call are Julien Morissette (Justice Michel Bastarache), Christine Mainville (Justice Ian Binnie), Sean Kelly (Justice Louis LeBel), Pierre-Olivier Savoie (Justice Marie Deschamps), Jacob Wilson (Justice Morris Fish) and Kirk Shannon (Justice Louise Charron).