Professor Michelle Lawrence—In the Spotlight

Practice Point

Professor Michelle Lawrence—In the Spotlight

February 2021

This month’s spotlight shines on Professor Michelle Lawrence, of UVic Law.

Her current teaching and research focus is on criminal law, sentencing, and evidence. She engages in issues at the intersection of the criminal justice, mental health, and family law systems, as well as in the development of empirical measures for use in adjudicative proceedings and in aid of law reform.

How did you first get involved with CLEBC?

I do not have a specific memory of my first involvement with CLEBC, but it surely would have been as a participant in a CLEBC course in my early years of practice. I relied on those courses to bridge academic studies in law with the practical, applied aspects of my work as a lawyer.

What are you currently working on (or have most recently worked on) with CLEBC?

I have stepped into Professor Gerry Ferguson’s role as a primary contributor to Canadian Criminal Jury Instructions or “CRIMJI”. This is a resource that Professor Ferguson developed with the late Mr. Justice Bouck more than 30 years ago, and one that is well-known and well-used by criminal litigators and trial judges across the country.

What inspired you to focus your career in the area of criminal law?

My career trajectory shifted to criminal law as a result of my work with Len Doust, KC. In 2002, I returned to McCarthy Tétrault after a one-year sabbatical, during which time I completed an LL.M. at Cambridge. I fully expected then to resume a business litigation practice. Those plans were forever altered, however, after Len invited me to work with him on a criminal matter. I was immediately hooked. In the years that followed I became so interested in the experience of individuals in our criminal justice system, and in the study of criminality itself, that I ended up resigning from a comfortable partnership in favour of a less lucrative but remarkably more enriching PhD program in Criminology. I work now as an Associate Dean and Associate Professor at UVic Law. I teach and research in the areas of criminal law, sentencing and evidence.

You were the recipient of the Terry J. Wuester Teaching Award for two consecutive years (2016 and 2017)!  What are the most rewarding aspects of being a law school professor? 

To paraphrase the late Professor Wuester, the four most rewarding aspects of academic life are May, June, July, and August.

You are also a founding member of the University of Victoria Access to Justice Centre for Excellence.  Can you tell us more about that?

The Access to Justice Centre for Excellence is the brainchild of former Lam Chair of Law and Public Policy Jerry McHale, KC. I was one part of a team he assembled to build this research centre in response to the 2013 Equal Justice CBA report. That report called for the creation of three centres of excellence for access to justice. It is my understanding that UVic Law is the only institution to respond to that call, so far at least.

What is the most valuable piece of advice you have received?

“There are some things, Michelle, that we are duty-bound to rebel against” Len Doust, KC, circa 2005.

Other than law, what are you passionate about? 

Experiential learning. Among those things, I feel duty-bound to rebel against is the podium-style teaching methods of earlier generations. There can be little doubt that the needs of today’s law students are materially different than they once were, even in recent past. I feel strongly that future innovations in legal education must include enriched experiential learning opportunities. I see skills training as an essential aspect of modern legal education.