Two titans of law celebrated during Spring Convocation

Two legal titans received honorary degrees from York University last Wednesday during convocation ceremonies for graduates of Osgoode Hall Law School. Retired judge and legal scholar Vibert Lampkin and Harvard University law Professor and Canadian constitutional scholar Paul Weiler were honoured by York University for their contributions to legal scholarship, overcoming barriers and their transformative influence on the practice of law.

In his convocation address, a humble Lampkin urged graduates to use their training to better the world and to consider a variety of professions, not just the law. Lampkin, a recently retired judge of the Ontario Court of Justice, has almost 300 reported decisions. He has made a significant contribution to Canadian criminal jurisprudence throughout the course of his judicial career as both a judge and as a scholar.

Left: Vibert Lampkin

There is a certain discipline that is unique to the study of law, Lampkin told graduates, saying that this discipline serves as a strong foundation for other careers. He urged graduates to pursue, in addition to their roles as lawyers, alternative careers in public service and business. Lampkin asked graduates to consider roles in universities as academics and administrators, and as politicians or diplomats, where the skills obtained through the study of law are highly valued.

“Lawyers and those with a legal background are always needed on public commissions and public boards such as the Ontario Securities Commission, Ontario Human Rights Commission and the Parole Board,” said Lampkin. There is also a growing need for individuals with a legal background, he said, for roles in the diplomatic corps and with international non-governmental organizations.

“Whatever direction you take, whether as a practising lawyer, public servant, politician, in business or as a diplomat,” said Lampkin, “remember always that deep in the heart of each and every one of us, there is a common theme – we must each work for justice and peace because we are all one.

“Live by Newton’s Third Law of Motion – for every action, there is an equal, and opposite reaction, this law is as true of life as it is in mathematics,” said Lampkin. "Look upon the law as a living tree that is constantly growing, developing and changing by legislation and by decisions of the courts to meet the challenges of the society that it serves.

“Into whatever field you embark, you must endeavour to do your best, because anything worth doing is worth doing well,” said Lampkin.

A sweet homecoming for an indelible Canadian

For Paul Weiler, the Henry J. Friendly Professor of Law Emeritus at Harvard Law School and a former professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, coming to York University to accept an honorary degree was like coming home.

Weiler, who is considered by many in the legal and academic communities to be the foremost labour law scholar in North America, is also one of Canada’s leading constitutional scholars. He taught at Osgoode from 1965 to 1981 before joining Harvard Law School, and has advised governments in both the US and Canada. In the 1980s, he conducted a comprehensive review of workers’ compensation in Ontario that led to significant policy and administrative changes including the creation of an independent, external appeals tribunal, which is now the Workplace Safety & Insurance Appeals Tribunal.

“For me, the extraordinary compliment of receiving an honorary degree from York University and Osgoode Hall Law School is even sweeter because in so many ways it represents a homecoming. It is a homecoming because no matter where I live or what passport I carry, I am indelibly Canadian and this country will always be the homeland of my heart,” said Weiler.

Right: Paul Weiler

The Osgoode convocation was also a homecoming to Toronto for Weiler, because the city represents where he began his career. “It is also a homecoming to my law school alma mater – Osgoode Hall Law School – the institution that generously nurtured my early development as a legal thinker and scholar.”

Weiler said that he is grateful to colleagues from that time in his life who remain true friends including his teacher and mentor, Osgoode’s former dean and York University President Emeritus Harry Arthurs, and Osgoode Hall Law School Dean and York Provost-designate Patrick Monahan, who was a graduate student at Harvard and a former student of Weiler’s.

He urged graduates to consider the law as an activity of the heart. "I am certain that all of you have well developed capacities for legal thinking and strategizing," said Weiler. "I hope that you have the same capacity for empathy. As lawyers, or government policy-makers, or eventually as judges, you should try to ensure that our legal system is humane and that it treats those who engage with it as humans with all the consideration and respect this signifies.

"Apply this advice as well to the way you approach your personal life," said Weiler. "Do not neglect your human selves by devoting all your time and energy to professional demands. It is impossible to imagine someone at the end of life regretting not having spent more time in the office."

For a complete listing of the ceremony schedule, click here. York University’s 2009 Spring Convocation ceremonies will be streamed live over the Internet.