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Thomas Stuart Harrison (Handout)
Thomas Stuart Harrison (Handout)

My Career

How a law degree led to ‘world of opportunities’ Add to ...

What is your full name and title? And how long have you been in this role?

My name is Thomas Stuart Harrison, and I was appointed assistant professor (adjunct) at the Faculty of Law at Queen's University at Kingston in 2010. In the fall of 2012, I left my position as Crown Counsel to pursue full-time doctoral studies in law at Queen's University and I was appointed a teaching fellow.

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What exactly do you do?

I am a lawyer, teacher and student. I teach “legal ethics and professionalism” in the Faculty of Law. I am also working on my PhD in law, which largely involves research, writing and speaking about professionalism issues for judges and lawyers.

Describe what you do on any given day.

On a daily basis, I get to engage with students, other lawyers, professors and judges about ethical and professional challenges in law. I usually have several tasks on the go. Preparing conference or class presentations. Organizing guest speakers. Counseling students about professionalism, career aspirations and opportunities. On some days I teach my three-hour lecture, or I travel to present at professional events and conferences to which I’ve been invited.

In the past year I have attended the International Legal Ethics Conference in Banff, and I have been invited to present papers at both McGill and Cornell universities. I usually spend some part of each day connecting with my professorial and professional colleagues across the country.

What’s your background and education? Please be specific.

  • Born in 1966, and raised in Scarborough, Ont. I attended public school, went to summer camp, played hockey and football, worked on students' council, and I was employed part-time at Canadian Tire.
  • Attended Queen's University to complete BaH (history, 1989).
  • Queen's University to study education (BEd, 1992).
  • Secured a teaching position in Toronto. Worked largely with at-risk youth, but also at several high schools in the Toronto area (1992 to 1998). I also lectured part-time at Seneca College in psychology (1994 to 1998).
  • Left teaching to pursue LLB and graduated in 2001.
  • Obtained MA, part-time, in policy and public administration (Ryerson University, 2007).

How did you get to your position? Give us some details about the path that has led you to your current role.

Following my teaching career, I completed law school and served articles with Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice from 2001 to 2002. I gained experience in public law cases. For example, I worked as a judicial law clerk on the same-sex marriage decision in 2002. I started working with the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, but in 2003, I returned to work as counsel in the Office of the Chief Justice Heather Smith. I served as manager of legal research, executive legal officer and finally as senior policy counsel to the court.

My area of practice also focused on administrative law, particularly professional disciplinary matters for judicial officials and lawyers.

In 2009, I contacted Queen's to inquire about teaching part-time and I was asked to teach legal ethics and professionalism in 2010. It is a perfect fit with my background and experience. After teaching part-time for a couple of years, and with the support of my family, I was finally able to pursue a PhD, starting last fall.

What’s the best part of your job? And what do you like best about it? Give readers an idea why your job is interesting to you.

I work in an incredibly creative and intellectually stimulating field, one that is on the leading edge of my profession. Best of all, I get to work with some of the brightest young minds and assist them in becoming the best professionals they can be.

I also get to work with the most accomplished lawyers, judges and academics in the country. It is very gratifying at this stage in my career to have the chance to present my own ideas and receive feedback. For example, last spring I attended a guest lecture by Supreme Court Justice Thomas Cromwell – himself a Queen's grad – about access to justice and talked to him afterward about a research project I was working on.

He not only was kind enough to provide some advice, and research suggestions, he offered to review a draft of my paper.

What’s the worst part of your job? Be honest. There has to be something about your job that you don’t like that much.

Student evaluation. There is such a competitive job market now for law students and a lot of weight is put initially on law school performance. I taking marking very seriously, but it is a heavy burden to know the effects that an evaluation might have on someone's future career.

What are your strengths in this role? Or, what do you need to be able to do to handle your job?

Preparation. Teaching, especially with challenging youth, taught me that you can never really prepare too much. Anticipating challenges effectively and designing options to respond, where possible in advance, is also a fundamental practice skill for all lawyers.

What are your weaknesses? Try to find one!

Self-patience. I have a lot of ideas, and sometimes I feel I will not have enough time. This leads me to self-impose pressure on myself that, in most cases, is probably unwarranted.

What has been your best career move?

Returning to school in my 30s to study law in 1998. It is a passport degree that has opened the borders to a world of opportunities.

What has been your worst career move?

My first job. I went to work at an insurance company as an underwriter in 1989, working in a strict office environment, applying actuarial principles. At the time, this job was out of my comfort zone and I had too much energy for a traditional office environment.

What’s your next big job goal?

I look forward to continuing to build my academic career. I want to write a book.

What’s your best advice to others who might want to follow in your footsteps?

Find a mentor. Ideally a senior and experienced professional who can not only provide advice and perspective, but who can also assist in pursuing career opportunities.

Do you know an executive or leader who has an interesting career story for My Career? E-mail mycareer@globeandmail.com

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