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Social justice and human rights inspired law grad's career path

Sophie Purnell’s journey to law school included leaving Burundi to working in energy sector, before finding her calling
June 9, 2016
Sophie Purnell, a Faculty of Law graduate, says she chose law school at the University of Calgary because of its reputation for fostering a collegial community and to fulfill her passion for employment and human rights law. Photo courtesy of Sophie Purnell

Sophie Purnell, a Faculty of Law graduate, says she chose law school at the University of Calgary because of its reputation for fostering a collegial community and to fulfill her passion for employment and human rights law. Photo courtesy of Sophie Purnell

Sophie Purnell was born in Belgium and lived in Burundi for several years before moving to Calgary nearly 20 years ago, when her family fled that country’s increasing violence.

While working in the oil and gas sector, and with the support of friends and family, Purnell decided to pursue law school. Her first priority was to stay in Calgary.

“It’s a great city and I am reminded daily of how fortunate I am to live in a country that has an understanding and appreciation of the role of law in society,” says Purnell.

Helped launch the school's public interest law clinic

Picking up on the Faculty of Law’s reputation for fostering a collegial community, she decided on the University of Calgary's law school. Four years later, graduating with the Class of 2016, Purnell has accumulated a number of fascinating experiences.

While in law school, she had her first child, which made her second term of third year all the more interesting. She says, “having a child added a new and exciting perspective in how I look at law and also how I approach my studies."

At the same time, she was an inaugural member of the Public Interest Law Clinic at the law school, which launched in the fall of 2015. Although it's still in its infancy, Purnell believes the clinic will accomplish precedent-setting work.

“We were able to do some important legwork to get the clinic up and running," she says. "I look forward to seeing the projects that will be accomplished [by members of the clinic] in the coming years.”

Plans to incorporate passion for employment and human rights law into legal career

Through all of the new experiences that she’s had at law school, Purnell has not forgotten her purpose behind pursuing a legal education. Her strong interest in employment and human rights law is what inspired her to attend law school in the first place. She hopes to incorporate this passion into her legal career.

“Despite how busy life will get in my legal profession, I do not want to dilute my commitment to social justice," she says. "Part of that will entail taking a step back every year or so and remembering the reason that I came to law school.”

It is with this reflective mindset that Purnell will meet the demands of litigation practice head on. After clerking with the Provincial Court of Alberta this year, she will finish her articles at Burnet, Duckworth & Palmer LLP, where she summered after her first year of law school.