Alana Klein: Encouraging agency

Alana Klein

"I try to convey this in my teaching – that my students are agents of the law in more ways than they realize."

Alana Klein currently teaches upper year courses in criminal evidence and criminal procedure. She also offers a seminar on the intersection of law and poverty.

In 2011, she was among McGill Law's faculty members to participate in the McGill/Hebrew University Summer Program in Human Rights.

Alana has also participated in McGill's "Principal's Mini" public lecture series.

What do you want students to take away from your courses and how do you make your teaching meaningful for them?

One of the most important things I learned during my legal education was that the law isn’t a fixed set of values that we argue about and interpret, but that as jurists we can have a much more active role in shaping the way the law operates in society.

This is a key message I want my students to hear – and it’s an important one to understand – that law is not a monolith that they’re fighting against or arguing about, but that law works in conjunction with social influence and social relationships. I try to convey this in my teaching – that my students are agents of the law in more ways than they realize.

I like to engender this notion through certain assignments, such as one in my undergraduate criminal procedure class where I ask my students, on the first day of class, to write a law from scratch. This makes some students anxious because there’s an assumption that they won’t be the ones making the laws. I remind them, however, that the law is a reflection of human experience, something that they’ve been engaging in their whole life. I tell them that in many ways I believe they are in a better position than some lawmakers to find ways in which the law can be brought in step with our society.

This approach encourages them to not just play by the rules, as it were, but to take a more active role in the law, to see themselves as capable of effecting change on a broader scale. I also want them to understand where the other players are coming from and what they’re dealing with because a good lawyer can’t always win with logic alone – I want them to see there are always important social and psychological elements. And by understanding that there can be a range of answers to every legal question, they will better understand their role as advocates.

In the end, I want my students to be active agents of all the wisdom and knowledge they’re exposed to – and to truly see how legal forces interact – so they can engage with the world and be effective in it.