Giving youth a legal understanding
Thousands of young people in Ontario have gained an insider’s perspective on the provincial justice system thanks to the work of Anna Solomon, Law’05, a champion for law education, whose passion for the field was sparked during her time at Queen’s.
As a law student, Anna spent a couple of weeks one summer teaching Grade 11 and 12 students about trial advocacy. The training was part of a “mini university” program run by Queen’s to give high school students an insight into campus and academic life.
After being called to the Bar in 2006, Anna worked for three years as a civil litigator for the City of Toronto. Her brief experience teaching law at Queen’s stuck with her, though, and in 2009 she enrolled in the BEd program at U of T’s OISE.
“I had always thought I’d give law education a shot, but I didn’t know in what way,” she explains. “Then I learned there’s an entire study sector devoted to this area, where the law and education overlap.”
In 2010, Anna joined the Ontario Justice Education Network (OJEN), a non-profit organization that aims to make the public more aware of the inner workings of the legal system in order to make it more inclusive and responsive. The group runs a variety of experiential programs to teach middle and high school students about trial proceedings, courtroom processes, and the work of justice professionals.
Nowadays, her day-to-day work as a program manager with postsecondary schools involves creating program plans, identifying suitable youth audiences, ensuring justice education content meets Ministry of Education curriculum expectations, and recruiting and training volunteers.
“It’s easy for youth to feel isolated from the justice system,” Anna says. “We don’t want the first contact they have with it to be negative, so we’re promoting an attitude to the system that will enhance young people’s access to it and prevent them from coming into conflict with it.”
Anna also works with law and law-related programs at universities and colleges that provide justice education to high school students. She helps them adopt OJEN’s initiatives, including mock hearings, legal debates, crime scene simulations, police-youth relations town halls, justice radio shows, social justice volunteer opportunities, and direct interactions with judges, lawyers, and other legal workers. So far, she has helped introduce youth justice education initiatives to the law programs at Queen’s, the University of Windsor, and Seneca College.
Not only did her own law-student experiences spark Anna’s career, Queen’s is also where she met her husband, David Watkins, Law’06, who now works as general counsel for a renewable energy company. Anna and Dave live in Toronto with their 14-month-old daughter, Isabella. “I had a very positive experience at Queen’s,” says Anna. “It led me to my husband and to a career that allows me to promote access to justice for youth and to stay in touch with the legal world.”
This spotlight was based on an interview done with Anna in the summer of 2012.