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(Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
(Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)


Puppies and yoga: Exposing law students' guile since 2012 Add to ...

The law may be an ass, but one of this country’s most hallowed legal institutions, University of Toronto Law School, is getting with the times by teaching students the importance of a healthy work-life balance. This week, U of T Law stunned its alumni of high-powered lawyers and judges by announcing a new, soft-touch approach to handling overstressed students.

The day before the start of exams – whose outcomes could mean the difference between earning $100,000 a year and $1-million a year – the university offered foot massages and free yoga classes. They even invited the students’ pooches onto the faculty’s front lawn to play.

The proceedings had barely gotten under way before they ran into legal problems. Shortly before lunch, a yoga instructor was taking a group of students through a few basic moves to help relieve pre-exam jitters. At one point, the instructor taught the students the “crescent pose.” Bent down on one knee, they reached skyward when Sarah, a second-year student specializing in personal-injury law, blurted out, “My back!” She abruptly collapsed to the mat and experienced several violent seizures. When Sarah finally stopped moving, she was paralyzed from the waist down.

“The good news is, I could still move my arms,” recounted Sarah, who used the few minutes before paramedics arrived to file a lawsuit. “Yoga instructors have a reputation for being calm,” Sarah says, “but this guy panicked and just wanted to settle.” By the time Sarah was hoisted onto a stretcher, the instructor had signed over his car and condo. And there was even more good news: Just as Sarah was being lifted into the ambulance, she miraculously recovered use of her limbs.

Most students, however, found the day’s activities to be positive. “I dismissed the whole thing as a waste of time,” says Darren, who will be articling with a prominent criminal-defence lawyer starting in September. But when Darren headed outside to check out the event billed as Doggie Day, he had the good fortune to witness a Rottweiler named Fredo attack a diminutive Chihuahua named Marta.

“He almost tore the poor thing’s ear off,” Darren recounts, barely concealing a smile. Animal control officers were preparing to take Fredo away to be euthanized when Darren stepped in and practised what he calls “Law School 101.” “It was basic stuff,” Darren explained. “I asked if there were any witnesses” – there were none – “so then I asked if anyone had bothered collecting incriminating DNA from Fredo’s mouth.” No one had.

Darren’s next move was to bring in a bite-mark expert, who said there was only a 46-per-cent chance the puncture wounds in Marta’s ear came from Fredo, at which point Darren began chanting “if there isn’t a bite, there wasn’t a fight...” In the end, a chocolate Labrador puppy named Popper took the fall and was humanely destroyed.

Does Darren still think it was a waste of time? “Definitely not,” he said as he brandished his first legal invoice – worth $5,000. “It was a relaxing and uplifting day.”

Even non-lawyers got in on the action. When an English professor from nearby Trinity College noticed a booth selling kittens, he decided a furry little friend might be just the thing to help him through the tedium of marking exams. Just as he was about to pick out a playful ginger tabby named Carnation, a fourth year student specializing in financial law convinced him to take pity on “a slightly older mama with no one left to love her.”

Moments later, a 64-year-old woman from Belleville began nuzzling the professor and playfully swatting his ear. “What the hell is going on?” the bewildered professor asked. But the law student who’d taken his money had disappeared.

So another student, this one specializing in contract law, examined the agreement the professor had signed. After spending 45 minutes going over it page by page, the student finally pointed to some fine print on page 47 and said, “It’s right here in article 18, subsection K, paragraph 3a. He sold you his mother.”

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