University of Calgary

Law students learn it pays to be a geek

UToday HomeMarch 22, 2013

By Ali Abel

Chrystia Freeland speaks at law faculty’s Merv Leitch Memorial Lecture.Chrystia Freeland speaks at law faculty’s Merv Leitch Memorial Lecture.Chrystia Freeland is a petite woman but she’s not afraid to question some of the richest people in the world on their wealth and how the rise of the super-rich affects global economies.

Freeland, editor at Thomson Reuters Digital, recently released her book Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else. The book explores the growing gap in income around the world and how globalization and a technology revolution are making the chasm between the 99 per cent and the one per cent more extreme.

Freeland discussed the rise of the super-rich in the Faculty of Law’s 2013 Merv Leitch, Q.C. Memorial Lecture on March 18.

Who are the super-rich, according to Freeland?

“It’s not the elite of previous ages, not Downton Abbey or the elite of F. Scott Fitzgerald,” said Freeland. “They are entrepreneurs who are taking advantage of the technology revolution. They are really geeky, with backgrounds in science and math. They live global lives and think of themselves in global terms.”

During the 1970s in the United States, the top one per cent only accounted for about 10 per cent of the national income. Today, this group makes up 25 per cent of the national income, with the top 0.1 per cent accounting for 10 per cent. According to Freeland, the 2008 financial crisis led to a widening in the gap between the super-rich and the middle class, but we weren’t aware of it, and it has snuck up on us.

What can future lawyers do to help decrease the gap?

“You’re being trained to be professional and have a set of values that supports free market capitalism, but is also separate from it,” said Freeland.

“Access to justice must not only be the privilege of the rich,” said Faculty of Law student Alastair MacKinnon. “It’s important for legal professionals to help deserving clients who lack the resources to hire a lawyer. It is my hope that the return-to-community ethic that animates the law school experience will translate into a pro bono work ethic amongst practicing lawyers after graduation.”

The annual event also acknowledges recipients of the Merv Leitch, Q.C. Scholarship. This scholarship is awarded to a student entering their second year with an emphasis on Constitutional Law, and a student entering their third year with an emphasis on Natural Resources Law. Anthony Reitboeck and Nelson Medeiros tied for the Constitutional Law scholarship, and Colin Poon won the Natural Resources Law scholarship.

All three winners have the potential to become a part of the geeky one per cent, according to Freeland’s definition, as they all have backgrounds in science.

Nelson Medeiros

Nelson Medeiros is a second-year law student. After receiving a Masters in Environmental Design, Nelson worked as an urban planner for the city of Calgary where he was involved in a number of regulatory and policy projects concerning land use. In law school Nelson has volunteered with ProBono Students Canada as part of the pilot program for the civil claims duty counsel project; contributed to the faculty’s blog on developments in the law (ABlawg), and is currently a student editor for the Alberta Law Review.

Anthony Reitboeck

Anthony Reitboeck is a second-year law student. After completing an undergraduate degree in Biology at the University of Ottawa in 2009, he worked for Health Canada’s First Nations and Inuit Health Branch prior to starting law school. He is currently an executive member of the Innocence Project of the Calgary Branch of Pro Bono Students Canada. His current career interests include administrative law and civil litigation.

Colin Poon

Colin Poon is in his third year as a law student. He completed an undergraduate degree in chemistry and mathematics at the University of Calgary, where he was also a member of the Dinos men’s volleyball team. Colin has volunteered with Student Legal Assistance and has participated on a number of the faculty’s intramural sports teams. Prior to attending law school Colin spent time working in the oil and gas industry, and later for a small sportswear business. Colin will be articling with Borden Ladner Gervais next year.


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