Mary is a second-year student at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School. She has always been interested in looking at the world from a global perspective and is excited to pursue a career in international human rights and immigration law. She is also the co-founder of YoungBlackPreLaw.com and the current co-president of Osgoode Hall’s Black Students Association.
What law school do you attend and what year are you in.
I go to Osgoode, and I’m in my second year.
Where did you grow up?
In various countries. I was born in Papua New Guinea. Some elementary school in Ottawa and high school in Virginia.
What do your parents do?
My dad’s an auditor (accountant), and my mom is an architect by training.
When you were younger, what was your dream job?
I wanted to be a lawyer and a ballerina.
That’s an interesting combination. Why ballet and law?
The lawyer part? I guess I always liked to help people. The ballerina? I don’t really know. It just sounded fun.
“In the playground, when people were getting bullied, I always wanted to protect them. Then I learned that lawyers help protect people.”
So, what was your first job?
I worked at Wendy’s.
Where did you go to school high school?
I went to high school in Virginia.
Were you a good student?
(laughs) Yeah, I was ok. I didn’t always get straight A’s. My study habits were not the best.
Where did you go to university?
The University of Western Ontario.
What did you study at Western?
An honours specialization in Political Science and minor in Spanish Studies.
When you were at school were you interning/working?
Yes, I worked at the student financial aid office as an administrative assistant. I also worked at RW & Co.
How did you get those jobs?
For RW & Co., I walked into the store, dropped my resume. For the financial aid position, I saw a posting on my school’s career website and then applied online.
What organizations were you involved in during university? I was involved in the African Students Association (ASA), London Urban Services Organization (LUSO) which connected me with an ESL tutoring opportunity at a library in London and an after-school cooking program coordinator. I helped organize and coordinate an after-school tutoring program for newcomer refugee and immigrant youth.
How did you get involved with all those organizations? Did you just sign up?
For ASA, from the first few weeks of school, the executive made efforts to get to know and connect all the new black students. I got involved in their activities, and then eventually I was elected to the exec. First, as a secretary and then as the president.
For LUSO, I searched online because I wanted to volunteer in the community. I found them and then signed up; they connected me with the cooking program and ESL tutoring. I heard about the newcomer program in the community and wanted to get involved. Another group on campus, STAND for Darfur, had already started organizing, so the ASA joined with them to launch the program on a larger scale throughout the community.
Did you go to school intending to pursue a career in law after?
When did your interest in law begin?
In the playground, when people were getting bullied, I always wanted to protect them. Then I learned that lawyers help protect people.
When did you realize law was something you were interested in as a career?
When I was working at Wendy’s, I met many undocumented workers with legal immigration problems. I wanted to be of assistance.
“As a law student, there are many opportunities to help people and get involved in the community.”
What did you do after you graduated from University?
I worked at a marketing firm for three years and then I quit to pursue my human rights interests. I got an internship in Gambia with the Female Lawyers Association in Gambia (FLAG) for the summer. When I returned, I worked as a project manager at a contracting firm for about a month and then found out I got into law school. I had to quit.
How did you get those jobs? Did you just apply?
The marketing job, I got by applying. There was a posting on the University of Toronto website. I got the other job through temping through Office Team and then the organization offered me a full time position.
And the internship with FLAG?
I searched on Google for legal human rights NGO’s in West Africa and then found FLAG. I also happened to run into a friend that interned there. I sent an email with my resume, and they offered me an internship for the summer.
Why West Africa?
Because it was the area in Africa I was most familiar with since I’m Ghanaian and have been to Ghana a few times.
What was the internship like?
It was very exciting.
How many law schools did you apply to?
I had a limited budget and applied to the amount I could afford. So, I applied to four schools. I applied to Western because I thought I would have an advantage because I was an alumni. Then I applied to the other Ontario law schools because I wanted to stay in Ontario. I was also interested in getting a dual American/Canadian degree, so I had the option to practice in the US.
How did you prepare for the LSAT?
I studied with a Powerscore book.
I heard that there are great programs and support for students who are interested in social justice.
Can you talk me through what a day in your life is like?
(Laughs) I wake up early in the morning and I commute for two hours to get downtown for my placement at Parkdale.
What’s a placement?
An opportunity that Osgoode students have to gain practical experience in a legal organization for a semester. This replaces your class.
When I get to the clinic, depending on what day it is, I work on my files for clients until drop-in clinic hours begin. I work in the immigration division at Parkdale.
What time do you finish?
Intake generally finishes at 7PM and there are usually notes I have to type up after that. So, I often stay late and then leave around 8:30. Then, I commute and get home around 10:30PM/11:00PM. I eat dinner and then I go to bed.
That sounds like a long day, what time do you start?
The start time is flexible, theres’ no official start time. I try to get in at around 10.
“Follow your dream and follow your interests. There’s no specific path to law school.”
Do you work and go to school?
Yes, I have a job on campus that caters to students. There are shifts from 6pm to late at night.
How many days a week do you work there?
You’re required to work there three times a week.
What student groups/activities are you involved in currently?
I’m the co-president of Osgoode’s Black Law Students Association. I’m also the events officer for the Osgoode International Legal Partnerships (ILP). ILP is a student run organization that connects students with international social justice work.
What do you like the most about being a law school student?
As a law student, there are many opportunities to help people and get involved in the community. You learn great skills like how to write and talk persuasively, and how to pinpoint important parts of very wordy material (laughs).
What’s the most challenging?
A lot of work and long hours.
What do you plan to do after graduating law school?
I either want to article internationally in Africa or in a Canadian firm that specializes in international human rights, refugee law, or immigration. After I article and am licensed, I want to work with an international NGO in Africa.
What’s your dream for your career?
I would love to have an international career doing great human rights work in Africa. I also want to pursue my interest in immigration law perhaps through the avenue of assisting refugees and having a firm in Canada and throughout Africa that specializes in immigration and refugee law.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten from anyone?
Follow your dreams.
What advice would you give to aspiring law school students?
Follow your dream and follow your interests. There’s no specific path to law school.