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An LLM in Dispute Resolution Grad Trip that Turned Online Classmates into Lifelong Friends

November 9, 2022

Andrea Chau

As a student of Osgoode’s Professional LLM programs, you’ll build and grow a network that lasts a lifetime. But how exactly does this happen? For one cohort of the Dispute Resolution LLM, it meant finding ways to reconnect after completing most of their degree online.

They were an unlikely group of lawyers, mediators, arbitrators, doctors, social workers, union representatives and other professionals, sharing a desire to excel in solving disputes.

We spoke with past and current students Rhona Buchan, Kim Gale and Amanda Rogers to find out how this motley crew from the Dispute Resolution LLM decided on a group trip to Newfoundland to bond after a year of pure online learning.

(Pictured: Rhona Buchan, Kim Gale, Amanda Rogers)
(Pictured: Rhona Buchan, Kim Gale, Amanda Rogers)

Tell us about your professional backgrounds and what led you to pursue the LLM at Osgoode.

Rhona: For 20 years I worked for Legal Aid NL as a family and criminal lawyer, practising in courts across Newfoundland and Labrador, which involved a lot of litigation. My work as Duty Counsel to St. John’s Supreme Court Family Division in particular showed me the value to clients and self-represented parties, of assisted negotiation in resolution of family matters, even after the litigation process has begun. This inspired me to try to practice law a bit differently and to learn about work as a neutral third party, not just an advocate.

Many years ago, a judge I appeared before (William English LLM (ADR) 2012) recommended the LLM in Dispute Resolution to me. I tucked the idea away until I was ready for a change and until a time when it fit with my family life. Osgoode offered the flexibility to complete this program as quickly or as slowly as one’s career allows. Attending class in person for one immersive week at a time made it accessible for me, while living in Newfoundland.

Kim: I was a paralegal working in the UK at a Bay street equivalent, having already graduated and written almost all my NCA exams. I was ready to come back to Toronto, a place I am from but for the last decade hadn’t really lived in. I finished my NCA exams and began articling immediately. I did some LLM courses and then it went on the backburner as I was articling and wedding planning (priorities!).

Flash forward to 2019, I had the chance to take my time and really think about my goals. What did I want to learn? In fact, my mentor turned articling principal did the LLM in Alternative Dispute Resolution and spoke very highly of it. I also reached out to a few other lawyers about their experience and there seemed to be something about the program that brought a twinkle to people’s eyes. So I re-enrolled in the LLM in Dispute Resolution.

Amanda: I decided to pursue the LLM in Dispute Resolution when I moved my labour law practice from advocacy into neutral work in 2019. I chose Osgoode because of its fabulous reputation—but also because I really liked the idea of taking condensed courses in-person full-time in Toronto. It felt like getting in a time machine to be able to fly to Toronto and spend a week being a full-time student again! I absolutely loved it.

What experiences do you think connected you as a group in the Dispute Resolution LLM program?

Kim: I had the benefit of two in person classes where we had mock mediators, dynamic speakers (a few made me cry) and a room that was buzzing with excitement. And what an interesting group of people; We had lawyers from all over Canada, two doctors, mediators, a judge and other professionals. We were eclectic and of all ages.

Rhona: Classmates came from all different fields. Together we respectfully debated the full spectrum, or continuum, of processes and theories that can help resolve disputes. Colleagues from across the country connected over a shared desire to shift the paradigm by which we practice law, to a more collaborative, interest-based model. It helped to have each other’s support as we strived to do this!

(Pictured: Marc Bhalla, Monique Browne, and Rhona Buchan at York Convocation on June 4, 2022 for the 2021 and 2020 Dispute Resolution LLM Cohorts)
(Pictured: Marc Bhalla, Monique Browne, and Rhona Buchan at York Convocation on June 4, 2022 for the 2021 and 2020 Dispute Resolution LLM cohorts)

Each cohort clearly develops its own unique bond. The immersive nature of week-long in-person courses with small group work, enhanced the ability to make and deepen connections with like-minded colleagues.

Amanda: There were lots of inside jokes and discussions about things that had happened in class and how we’ve incorporated what we learned in the LLM program into our varied practice areas.

The people I met in the program were amazing and we would often find something fun to do in the evenings whether that meant going to the theatre or getting together for dinner. That’s where we first started discussing the idea of taking a class trip together.

What spurred the idea for this trip to Newfoundland together?

Rhona: In September 2019, the first week with the 2021 cohort, we discovered that there were 5 Newfoundlanders in the group and quite a few fans of the hit musical set in NL, Come From Away.

Kim: The joke became that we will celebrate graduating in Newfoundland and of course – everyone agreed, though it was more of a pipe dream. Aside from a few colleagues being from Newfoundland, there were no concrete plans. Then we all know what happened in 2020. The Dispute Resolution LLM moved online.

Rhona: Our 2021 cohort for the Dispute Resolution LLM only had 2 theory courses together in person, then the rest of the classes were over Zoom online. 2021 came and went without the ability to travel safely and with a very anti-climactic graduation via YouTube. But when it looked like travel in 2022 was going to work, I picked up the idea of an LLM NL grad trip, drafted an itinerary and floated it with the cohort to see if anyone was in fact serious about it. As some of us had spent classes with the 2020 cohort who also had an anti-climactic graduation, the invitation was extended.

Fabulously, 12 LLM students (10 from 2021 and 2 from 2020) and their families took us up on the offer & came to visit NL on July 15th 2022. They stayed from 3-10 days, hosted and guided by the 3 students who live in NL. We had a group of 26 people for the first weekend of celebrations in St. John’s!

(Pictured: Rhona Buchan, John Tieman, Ellen Tieman, Kim Gale on the Burnt Head hiking trail at Cupids)
(Pictured: Rhona Buchan, Jonathan Tieman, Ellen Tieman, Kim Gale on the Burnt Head hiking trail at Cupids)

What were some of the most memorable moments from this trip?

Rhona: I prepared everyone for Newfoundland’s typical variable weather with the local phrase “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes” and advised them to bring layers. Then Newfoundland did us proud and laid on a fabulous week of warm weather, allowing the whale watching and coastal hikes on the itinerary to proceed smoothly! Throughout the week our visitors were treated to whale sightings: a humpback whale at Bay Bulls; an enormous fin whale near Brigus; and a minke whale and more humpbacks in Trinity Bay.

(Pictured: Kim Gale, Pia Hundal and Ben Stokes getting screeched in aboard the whale tour boat)
(Pictured: Kim Gale, Pia Hundal and Ben Stokes getting screeched in aboard the whale tour boat)

Kim: We were fortunate to have fantastic weather and our real secret weapon Rhona Buchan, who organized the whole trip so well with a detailed itinerary and quite literally a clipboard.

I was very lucky to stay in a colleague’s home with a few other colleagues which was immaculate and overlooked the water. The hospitality in Newfoundland is unmatched and the pristine views, hikes, and fresh air is an unforgettable experience. I came back to Toronto with a new perspective having spent the week engaged in interesting discussions, learning about law and life, and eating scrumptious meals.

Rhona: One highlight was the private boat tour of the re-settled Trinity Bay communities of British Harbour and the island of Ireland’s Eye by a local fisherman, who told us the stories of the families who had lived and worked there, evidence of whom was seen in the overgrown foundations of the houses, the church and the mystical graveyard.

Another highlight was breaking bread together, enjoying some of Newfoundland’s best culinary experiences, while having stimulating discussions that deepened connections with like-minded colleagues who quickly become friends.

Reflecting back – what are the aspects of the Dispute Resolution LLM you enjoyed most?

Amanda: Reflecting back on the program, what I enjoyed most about the program was the emphasis on creativity and collaboration in dispute resolution and the exposure it gave me to different approaches to this multifaceted discipline.

Rhona: Overall highlights are that the Dispute Resolution LLM at Osgoode provided me with an opportunity to connect with like-minded colleagues (in-person and online!) from across the country, who share a desire to practice law with a paradigm shift – a more interest-based model that incorporates the people and the problem. I now have a network of valued colleagues across the country with expertise in all kinds of law, including family, labour and employment, indigenous, construction, wills and estates, and people who have expert skills in mediation, arbitration and adjudication.

(Pictured: Amanda Rogers, Ben Stokes, Pia Hundal, Danielle Elder, Rhona Buchan and Jonathan Tieman playing a card game in Brigus)
(Pictured: Amanda Rogers, Ben Stokes, Pia Hundal, Danielle Elder, Rhona Buchan and Jonathan Tieman playing a card game in Brigus) 

Specific highlights of the program for me were:

1. The small group video role plays and written analysis in the Mediation Workshop with Prof. Michaela Keet which demanded an in-depth consideration of the nature of conflict.

2. The Creativity and Collaboration course with profs Linda Ippolito and Joan Haberman. My first career was performing in theatre. I deeply appreciated the opportunity to bring together and reconcile my artistic brain and my legal brain. This innovative course was an exciting, inspired and fun opportunity to embrace the value of collaborative approaches in negotiation. A series of strong art and music metaphors are used to analyze the nuances of conflict, to hear the dissonance and the harmony, and to appreciate the beauty of brainstorming, illustrated by the awesome live jazz vocal improvisation of singer Adi Braun accompanied by double bass.

3. It surprised me that I revived an appreciation for academic study and writing. It was a valuable opportunity to explore and develop ideas and reflections that have been mulling during my litigation career. I miss the class stimulation and find that I would consider doing more studies in a group like this!

Any final thoughts you’d like to share?

Rhona: This LLM has inspired me to leave my job of 20 years to establish my own dispute resolution practice, to take on the challenge of the paradigm shift and put the ideas into action!

Amanda: I wish the COVID-19 pandemic had not cut short our in-class experience. But taking the NL trip together more than made up for the in-person time I missed with my new pals.

Kim: I plan to work with my career counsellor to look at the upcoming schedule as I have only two courses left (I am so close)! My journey continues and I am excited to still be a student and have more time to spend learning and meeting new people. It has been such a fantastic personal growth to broaden my horizons and meet such talented and interesting people. I look forward to continuing my studies! The next celebration will be when I graduate from the LLM ADR class!

Want to learn more about the Professional LLM in Dispute Resolution? Sign up for an Information Session!