Osgoode’s Dean for a Day knows about hard work and being busy

Some people might not have considered that being the mother of seven children was good training for law school – and you can bet your last loonie they haven’t met Laya Witty, this year’s winner of Osgoode’s Dean for a Day essay competition. With her skill at organizing a busy family, where the kids range in age from five to 18, Witty turned her instincts for domestic efficiency into an idea for an article that struck a chord with Dean Patrick Monahan.

Laya WittyRight: Dean for a Day Laya Witty knows how to multi-task

In her direct, no-nonsense submission, Witty suggested students could save time if certain cornerstone law cases were taught once, instead of several times in different courses. “I have received the benefit of several instances in which material in different courses dovetailed, producing a wonderful synthesis,” she wrote. “I have to assume that the remarkable moments have been products of serendipity rather than curriculum planning.”

With those words, which echoed changes already being considered by Osgoode’s curriculum committee, Witty caught Monahan’s attention and earned the right to spend a day in the dean’s office to meet with staff to discuss building plans, do an interview, consult with staff in Osgoode’s Career Services Office and meet a representative of the Legal & Literary Society while Monahan attended her classes.

Witty correctly pointed out that her interviewer would not have asked a man the same questions about being a busy parent, but she still happily described how she manages a full slate of first-year law courses while she and husband Avraham care for their five children who are still living at home. Does she like a challenge? “Oh, yeah,” she says. “People have been asking me for the month since classes started, so ‘how is it?’ and I tell them the truth, I have never had so much fun.”

With a degree in psychology from New York’s Yeshiva University, Witty originally intended to pursue a master’s degree in social work – a plan that was sidetracked when the couple decided to have children 19 years ago. Now that the youngest of the brood is in school full time, Witty decided it was time to get back to school herself but not to become a social worker as she had originally planned. “I just don’t have the patience for it now,” she admits.

Osgoode Dean Patrick Monahan and Laya WittyLeft: Witty offers Monahan some tips on modern note-taking

After taking some vocational tests, she was advised that her best career match was to become a clergy person – a non-starter for an Orthodox Jewish woman – and so she decided to try the second-best suggestion and become a lawyer, a challenge she welcomed immediately. “I’ve spent way too much time in No Frills,” she joked. “At a certain point in my life, I was carrying around the prices of about 200 items that I buy on a regular basis, in my head. When that’s not mentally challenging anymore, you need to do something else.”

While attending law school might strike some as more than a mere challenge for anyone, let alone a busy mother who also serves on the board of her local synagogue and can’t study on the Sabbath, Witty was undaunted. “The only downside I ever heard to law school was ‘it’s hard’…so, big deal,” she says matter-of-factly. It’s at this point that the idea of motherhood being good preparation for law school starts to sink in.

Family life has also inspired Witty’s choice of law she hopes to practice: wills and estates. “A lot of lawyers get paid because people are fighting with each other,” she explains. “With wills, if you do them right, you might be able to prevent a fight. There are families that are absolutely destroyed over issues revolving around a will.”

As Witty spoke with Monahan about the day’s schedule, which included his attendance in her class and taking notes, she took time to point out that to represent her in class, he would have to put his hand up – a lot. “If you’re going to be me, you have to put your hand up on every question,” she said. “You don’t have to answer all of them but you have to at least tell them you’re ready.”

Monahan promised to do his best.

By David Fuller, YFile contributing writer