By Lucianna Ciccocioppo
Talking about law was part of normal dinner conversations when Gillian Lester, LLB 1990, was growing up in Vancouver. The dean of law at Columbia University is the youngest of four children, with two brothers who are lawyers, as well as her father. As an undergraduate student at UBC, she opted to study neuroscience, with the aim of going to medical school. Working in a lab, however, changed all that.
“At some point surrounded by scientists, I felt I was missing a conversation that I had known growing up about making a difference in the world through law, and the role lawyers could play in shaping society, politics and justice. I realized it had gotten into my blood.”
Soon she was at the U of T Faculty of Law, getting to know her classmates in her small group section, taking on a research assistant position with Prof. Patrick Macklem, and participating in competitive moots and the Law Review.
“U of T taught me to have the confidence to stand in front of challenging interlocutors and think on my feet, to really stretch myself intellectually with ideas, not just in oral advocacy, but in the seminars too. It was an environment where I was already called upon, as an undergraduate law student, to think ambitiously about the law and its possibilities. It was a critical, formative time in my life for intellectual development.”
Lester is enthusiastic about her U of T law school days, and to this day, is grateful to the many professors who mentored her: Jennifer Nedelsky, Patrick Macklem, Ron Daniels, Michael Trebilcock, and Rob Prichard, to name a few. “And Prof. Rebecca Cook helped me to find an exciting internship at the World Health Organization after my third year. I was able to go to the UN in Geneva and interact with people doing international health work.” You can hear the gratitude in Lester’s voice.
A proud Faculty of Law alumna, it was an easy decision for her to support the Campaign for Excellence without Barriers, with her gift of a named bursary.
“U of T Law is a school with a global wingspan. It’s a school whose faculty and graduates have a tremendous influence in Canadian society and beyond. The Faculty of Law is clearly on the cutting edge of both research and advocacy, preparing lawyers who can really shape the path of society and civic institutions.”
And giving back to ensure access for those law students who need it most was an important way for Gillian Lester to say thank you.
“Going to U of T law school prepared me for life; it gave me confidence and helped launch me into a vibrant academic career. It’s a really valuable gift to be able to help someone get a U of T legal education and become a citizen-lawyer. A person’s financial circumstance should never be what defines their ambition,” says Lester.