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Carolyn McKeen

October 21, 2021

Roz Bahrami

We sat down with Carolyn McKeen, a Current Student Ambassador (CSA) within the Health Law program, to learn more about her, her experience in the LLM, and where she hopes to go next. Read on to learn more. 

Tell us a bit about you and what you do.

My primary area of practice is civil litigation (which can include everything from property claims to medical malpractice), but I have been trying to gain experience in other areas of law. I’ve been doing this for about 5 years and one of my challenges has been focusing in on one specific area. I’m really interested in technology and the health sciences, so one of the things that motivated me to get into the LLM was this desire to learn more about different aspects of health law.I’m always discovering new things that interest me, so a theme of my life lately has been trying to combine them all without getting stuck in something so unique that it’s unmarketable. 

Can you say more about your research and discernment process around the LLM? Why this particular degree?  

I decided that I wanted to complete a health-related LLM pretty early on in my career, but I wanted to get a few years of experience under my belt first. When I started working at my current firm, one of the associates was enrolled in the program, so I got to hear about it firsthand from her. Given my early interest in health law, I looked into the degree right away. I didn’t start right away, but that first impression was very positive.  

I’m from Toronto but I was practicing two hours down the road in London, so the remote attendance option bumped this LLM to the top of my list. I don’t think I really looked at too many other options because this one ticked all the boxes. It was flexible, it was affiliated with a reputable law school, and it had very interesting course offerings. 

What kind of expectations and concerns did you have? What did you discover upon actually beginning the degree?

My initial concern was that I couldn’t apply right when I wanted to, because the program doesn’t open up every single year. But I really wanted to get started, so I found out that I could do SCE (Single Course Enrollment) and get a couple of classes completed before applying to the program.  
Despite being open to remote learning, I did have some concerns about attending classes via video, which I was planning to do given my location well before the pandemic made it the norm. Now having done it, I discovered that it does work. I’m learning effectively and there’s also a benefit that I wouldn’t get in a classroom: the diversity. The variety of people completing this degree from across Canada is really something. Yes, a remote degree (and a pandemic) meant losing that in-person component, but this delivery method allows such an interesting mix of people to come together. My cohort includes physicians, nurses, pharmacists, chiropractors and other lawyers from across Canada which makes for a rich learning environment. The technology is working well, the professors are able to communicate effectively, and we get this nice assortment of people with very different jobs, perspectives, and experience.  

What were you hoping to learn from the degree? 

I didn’t come out of law school really knowing what “health law” was. I just had a vague interest in it. There was one health law course available during one year of my studies at Western, but we had to “bid” on specialty courses with limited enrollment to get a seat. I didn’t get the opportunity to take that one course in law school, so I graduated with this half-baked idea that I wanted to combine “health” and “law,” but I had no idea how to do that. The course offerings at York have given me a lot more clarity and introduced me to areas of practice that I had never thought about before. 

Now that you’ve had some time in the program, do you have an idea of where you’d like to take your career? 

The last course I took was Biotechnology and it briefly made me wonder if I should go back to school and become a geneticist! I’m not going to do that, but that’s how fascinating it was.  

The program has also made me realize how much I miss science! It has been nice to reconnect with that interest. I’d like to finish the program and try to figure out a way to use the knowledge I’ve gained. My firm has always been open to letting me try out different practice areas. They recognize that the knowledge I gain in the program could ultimately benefit our clients.  

Tell us more about your student life.  

The schedule is great. I take three-hour evening courses once a week for several weeks and find that very manageable. I’ve even stealthily stationary-biked through a few lectures! A couple of the classes have been three-day intensives, so I’ll take a Friday off. My firm is very supportive of continuing education, so this has never been an issue. If anything, I wish courses were even longer in duration! There is a lot of information to take in with each course, and there are so many interesting discussions to be had.  
I find the evaluation methods are very well-suited to working professionals, too. We generally have a take-home exam or shorter assignments that I can squeeze into my evenings and weekends. It’s not overwhelming – challenging, but not something I’ve struggled to fit into my life. 
I typically see the same group in every class, and you get to know people through class discussion and some small group work. The format gives you an opportunity to create a network.  

Do you have a favourite class?

That’s a 2-part answer.  
Subject-wise, Biotechnology has been my favourite course so far. I love science so I very much wanted to learn more about biotech, and the one course opened a whole new and interesting world for me! Epigenetics, gene editing … fascinating emerging science that law is rushing to catch up with.  
My most surprising favourite class was Mental Health Law with professor Ryan Fritsch. He was very engaging and delivered an excellent introduction to this challenging area of law. I really appreciated the opportunity to learn about it from such a well-informed instructor and his guests, who were actively working in the field. I have taken something valuable from every class, though.   

What would you say to a prospective student? 

I haven’t found another program that matches this one in terms of flexibility, variety of courses, and quality of instructors. I’m a very enthusiastic student and I enjoy a traditional academic environment, but once you get out into the real world, it is so beneficial to learn from people who are actually practicing in the field.  

If prospective students are comparing programs, I would encourage them to research the faculty and alumni and look at the kind of work they are engaged in. Consider the variety of courses on offer. Do the course descriptions sound interesting? Are you likely to cover contemporary topics that we read about and see on the news? Will the instructors be up to date on current case law?  

I also love that this LLM is open to non-lawyers, because their presence is giving me a much more three-dimensional view of health law than I might get in a room full of lawyers. My classmates are nurses and doctors – people who are literally living in the legislation we’re studying.  

I have five courses left in the degree and I’m really not looking forward to the end. It was absolutely the right choice for me.  

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