Law grad follows personal quest for knowledge


- Mitch Wright

After her first year of university, Jan Clark decided maybe school wasn’t for her. But that’s not the end of this story: her CV now boasts an alphabet of academic credentials after her name.

Clark always loved learning, but started her post-secondary career taking “the usual courses” and nothing captured her imagination. Then she took a summer job with a geologist, and that experience fired her interest in earth sciences. She returned to the University of Calgary the next fall and earned a BA in archaeology and physical geography.

She was then working for Mobil Oil, coordinating the company’s environmental impact statement for the Hibernia offshore rig, surrounded by people with PhDs and master’s degrees, and feeling out of place with her BA.

So she returned to UofC for an MSc in soil science, while continuing to work for Mobil on the Hibernia file. Not long after, a UofC law prof working for Mobil while on sabbatical suggested Clark consider law school. A year later she did and embarked on a successful 22-year career in environmental law, regulatory law and natural resources law.

But throughout, there was a niggling curiosity that stemmed from her very first day articling, when she was asked to file a writ with the sheriff.

“I had taken no history course, no political science course, no legal history course,” Clark says. “I had no idea what a writ was, and I didn’t even know we had sheriffs. I thought a sheriff was a guy with six-shooters.”

It took her a full day, but she filed the writ and also became fascinated with the history of law—particularly how and why all the “quirky” traditions developed. After retiring to Victoria, she decided to pursue the fascination by applying to UVic’s Graduate Program in Law and Society in 2009.

She graduates this month after completing her thesis delving into the history of the common law last summer.

While studying, a common question from fellow students was how she plans to use her degree. It’s perhaps an obvious question, coming from younger students keen to embark on careers. Not so for the recently retired lawyer.

“I was there purely for learning. I was there to answer a question that had been in my mind for a very, very long time,” Clark says. “It was all just for me.”

That it was a personal quest for knowledge didn’t make it any less daunting.

“It was hugely challenging. My learning curve defied gravity, because I had no historical background—none,” Clark says. “In these three years, I’ve basically learned medieval history of Europe and England from the fourth to the twelfth century, learned the history of the church during that same time, , and then learned the history of the development of both the church law and the common law in that period. That’s a huge, huge amount of material.”

Clark hopes her experience might offer inspiration for others, in particular mature adults feeling bound by age as well as earlier educational or career choices.

“It’s the whole concept of thinking that you have hurdles in your way, like thinking your age is going to be a problem; but I now realize that none of that is a hurdle,” Clark says. “We have a tendency to imagine hurdles where they really don’t exist.”


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Keywords: grad, student life

People: Jan Clark

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