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Tamara Barclay dove deep into constitutional law at OsgoodePD

April 30, 2024

OsgoodePD

The roots of Tamara Barclay’s determination to become a lawyer go so deep that even she can’t remember a time before her sights were set on the profession.

“The family story is that as a little girl, I always liked arguing. One day, I announced that I was going to be a lawyer,” Barclay says. “And the rest was history.”

But the path to her chosen occupation was a little bumpier than Barclay family lore would suggest.

After a first year at law school that failed to live up to expectations, Barclay began questioning her choice, before an encounter with Peter Hogg, Osgoode’s legendary constitutional law professor, helped get her back on track and kickstarted her enduring love affair with advocacy.

In 1997 and again in 1998, Hogg served as Barclay’s coach for The Wilson Moot, an annual competition held in memory of Supreme Court Justice Bertha Wilson, which focused that year on a case with Charter implications.

“That was a great experience,” Barclay says. “One of the things that I really loved – and this goes back to that little girl – was any chance to get on my feet in a courtroom or a mock courtroom.”

According to Barclay, one of the reasons her early law school experience failed to resonate was the mismatch between her educational temperament and the surface-level nature of some of the introductory course content.

“I’m that kind of geek that loves learning. When I don’t know something, my natural inclination is to dive in, get as much information as I can and figure out what is going on,” Barclay says. “In the first year in particular, there were a lot of survey classes and required courses that I didn’t really enjoy as much as the ones that I did in the upper years. That’s also where there were opportunities to do presentations, moots, trial advocacy and mock trials.” 

After graduating from law school, Barclay worked briefly in private practice at a major Bay Street law firm before joining the Crown Law Office’s civil division in Toronto, where she remains a senior counsel handling a wide range of civil litigation matters, including Environmental Protection Act cases, insolvencies and Aboriginal Law, among others.

“All the major lawsuits that are brought against the provincial Crown come through the Civil Law Division, so there are a lot of diverse and interesting issues and cases to work on,” Barclay explains.

The office is also responsible for cases in which the provincial Crown’s duty to consult with Indigenous communities is engaged, a subject matter where Barclay sensed an opportunity for one of her signature deep dives.

“I was working in this area of law where I didn’t feel like I had as much of a background or as much understanding as I wanted,” she says. “So my response was to put a lot of personal hard work into learning about it.”

Barclay quickly identified Osgoode’s part-time Professional LLM in Constitutional Law as the program to meet her goals, due mainly to the flexibility of its schedule, which allows candidates to fit in evening classes around their jobs. Barclay was also able to take some extra time to complete her LLM after giving birth to her third child during her studies.

“In one sense, it was gruelling for me doing it while practising full-time, first with two children and then with three, including a newborn,” she says. “But it was also very enjoyable and I was lucky that I was really interested in everything that was presented.”

“Like anything, you get out of it what you put in. If you choose to dive in and engage with the issues, it’s worth the time and effort, because it’s a great program and the level of instruction is really top notch,” Barclay adds.

She also appreciated the diversity of knowledge and experience that her Constitutional Law LLM colleagues brought with them to classroom discussions. More than a decade on from her 2013 graduation, Barclay remains in contact with a number of them, including lawyers working in private practice and government, as well as one who has since been elevated to the bench.

Constitutional law issues still feature heavily in Barclay’s day-to-day work, but she says she can feel the impact of her LLM across the full spectrum of her practice.

“Constitutional law may be the focus of the LLM, but the skills are really transferable. It teaches you how to think analytically and how to take complex facts and legal issues and apply them to real-life situations. That’s something that you can build on, regardless of your area of specialization,” Barclay says.

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