Canada’s longest-serving Supreme Court judge urged Class of 2026 students on their first day of law school Aug. 24 to always maintain their integrity and humanity and to seek diverse experiences that provide them with the opportunity to contribute and grow.
“How you live your life is as important as what you do in your life,” said Justice Andromache Karakatsanis, a member of the Class of 1980. “So how you can enrich the community, the human connections we make and the small kindnesses are just as important as any grade you achieve.”
Justice Karakatsanis, who grew up in Toronto working in her parents’ Greek restaurant, told the students that they will quickly learn in the legal profession that their reputation is everything. And while advocacy is important, it should not be allowed to cloud their ethical standards, analytical skills or good judgment.
During a Q & A session in Osgoode’s Moot Court before an audience of 1L students, incoming dean and Professor Trevor Farrow noted that Justice Karakatsanis’s message resonated strongly with Osgoode’s distinctive emphasis on legal ethics – beginning in first year with its first-semester Ethical Lawyering in a Global Community (ELGC) course.
Appointed to the Supreme Court in 2011, Justice Karakatsanis looked back fondly on her legal education at Osgoode and especially her experience at Parkdale Community Legal Services, which she called “transformative.”
“That was one of the reasons that I came to Osgoode,” she told the students. “I grew up in an immigrant household in a warm, supportive environment,” she added. “At Parkdale, I encountered people who had not had that and it really opened my eyes. It brought home for me that the law is about helping people.”
There’s no need to have a grand plan for your law career, advised Justice Karakatsanis. “No matter what you choose to do in life, law school will serve you well,” she said. “These skills will prepare you to open your mind to the world and to become involved in your communities. Be open to opportunities that interest or challenge you.”
After law school, she related, her goal was to become a Crown attorney, but she was passed over. “I was devastated,” she recalled. “I thought my career was over before it began.
“Why do I tell you this story?” she asked. “Because when one door closes, another opens.”
As a judge with the country’s highest court, Justice Karakatsanis said some of the cases that continue to concern her most touch on issues of privacy and technology’s impact on the law.