Allard Law student Austen Erhardt was drawn to studying law because of its potential to effect meaningful societal change.
“I saw law as offering an intersection of my interests: environmentalism, social justice, politics, advocacy and language,” says Austen. “I also love the dynamism of the practice of law – that you’re not called to the bar as a solicitor or a litigator, but as a lawyer.”
This spring, Austen was named a Wesbrook Scholar, UBC's most prestigious designation given to senior students with outstanding academic performance, leadership and involvement in student and community activities. For Austen, that’s included volunteering with the Law Students’ Legal Advice Program and the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and serving as co-chair of the Environmental Law Group. As one of his nominators puts it, Austen is “driven by a passion for and commitment to environmental protection and social justice.”
Now in his third year of law school, Austen shares a bit about what stands out from his time at Allard and what’s next.
At Allard you’ve worked as a research assistant and served as co-chair of the Environmental Law Group, among many other activities. Which of these opportunities has had the biggest impact on you?
Working as Professor Bakan’s research assistant was an immensely impactful experience. I researched cases to inform the development of his new Advanced Charter seminar, focusing on cutting-edge Charter cases from the past several years that addressed topical issues like housing, healthcare and climate change.
I always appreciated the “Living Tree” of Charter jurisprudence: that the interpretation of the constitution should be dynamic and should evolve with our society. These cases demonstrate some of the ways that law is being used to create, or at least advocate for, positive social change in Canada. I was grateful to be able to work with Professor Bakan in this capacity, whose expertise in this area – and leadership in understanding and applying the Charter in progressive ways – is inspiring.
What’s been your favourite law class to date?
It’s too hard to choose just one! Allard has an incredible roster of professors, and one of my only regrets leaving law school is that there are so many courses that I still want to take. Some of my favourites are Green Rights and Warrior Lawyers, Charter Litigation, Advanced Contract Law, Administrative Law, Major Project Regulation, Evidence and all of the (four) classes I’ve taken with Professor Bakan.
The courses I’ve enjoyed most at Allard invited us to explore beyond what the law is and consider both the underlying principles and perspectives that shape it, and whether the law is what it should be. In Green Rights, for example, we learned how law is being used in novel ways around the world to address environmental concerns and discussed the potential for similar approaches to be applied in Canada.
Is there anyone at Allard whose support you’re particularly grateful for?
So many of my professors have been incredibly supportive throughout my time at Allard. I’m particularly grateful to professors Joel Bakan, Caitlin Ohama-Darcus, Oliver Pulleyblank and Stepan Wood, who – in addition to being great instructors – have been invaluable mentors. From their willingness to discuss related and tangential legal topics outside of class, to their guidance regarding post-graduation plans, each of them was enormously helpful and supportive throughout my time at Allard.
You have been involved with Allard Law’s Environmental Law Group throughout your time at Allard and served as co-chair. What have you taken away from that experience?
Being involved with the ELG has been one of the highlights of my time at Allard. I came to law school with a pre-existing interest in environmental law, and the ELG’s community of students and professors who share that passion has supported me in exploring and developing that interest.
I joined the ELG at the start of my 1L year. As with most of Allard’s clubs at the time, its activities were a bit limited by COVID. The executives did a great job of keeping the club active and continuing to hold our major events virtually, but with the lifting of restrictions, this year provided an opportunity to get back to in-person gatherings and reinvigorate the ELG.
In addition to holding our typical events, such as the negotiation competition and the environmental law careers panel, we held our first research-a-thon a few weeks ago. We collaborated with West Coast Environmental Law to identify environmental law research questions that we worked on in teams over the course of an evening. We had a great turnout, and it gave participants, including myself, a chance to experience the kinds of legal issues that arise working on public-interest environmental law files.
What are you most proud of from your time in law school?
Competing in the Laskin Moot! On top of our team making it to the finals, the entire moot was a great experience. Our coaches, Julia Lockhart and Emily Lapper, were fantastic and arranged for us to practice before dozens of lawyers and judges – including a justice of the BC Supreme Court and three justices of the BC Court of Appeal.
We put a lot of work into our oral and written arguments, and the entire process was extremely rewarding. It was nice to have our efforts recognized at the competition!
What are you looking forward to most after graduation?
As much as I’ve loved my time in law school, I’m really looking forward to applying what I’ve learned at school in practice. I’ll be articling at Hunter Litigation Chambers, where I hope to focus on the areas I’ve most enjoyed studying over the past three years – such as public, contract and environmental law – while also developing my broad litigation skillset.
After being called to the bar, I hope to support social justice and access to justice by working on public interest files – particularly in the areas of constitutional and environmental law. Law has enormous impacts on our society, and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to play a small role in helping it to develop in a just and equitable manner.