June 23, 2020

Class of 2020: Desire to help others leads to road less travelled

Criminal law wasn't on Sara Sicherman's radar when she started law school

When a candidate for a new criminal law position asked Sara Sicherman what she would change about UCalgary Law, the wheels started to turn. Once she started to talk about it with her classmates, they realized there was not an equal focus on criminal law as there was on corporate law.

“I felt a bit isolated in my first year because I did not want to follow the same path as my classmates,” explains Sicherman. “That is when I started getting interested in criminal law.”

She wanted to make something that would give law students a place to go if they were interested in criminal law to get more exposure, and to find out about career opportunities in the field. With support from assistant professor Lisa Silver, and sessional instructor Markham Silver as the faculty adviser, she created the Criminal Law Society in 2019, which saw tremendous success in its first year. The group hosted two career panels and a mixer, all of which saw great turnout from law students and practicing lawyers in the field.

“It was pretty exciting to see the number of people who attended our events," says Sicherman. "It is obvious there is a lot of interest in the area which we were not aware of."

Sara Sicherman, JD'20

As a volunteer at Calgary Legal Guidance, Sara Sicherman saw that many people involved in the criminal justice system are marginalized.

Student undergoes change of heart

Criminal law was not on her radar when she started law school in 2017. In fact, she was distracted by how glamorous TV shows like Law & Order and CSI made the field out to be. The summer before law school, Sicherman was working in Italy helping refugees coming through Africa who had been sold into human trafficking.

Naturally, she thought immigration law and working with refugees would be her path. But after taking an immigration law course and talking with immigration lawyers in the city, she had a change of heart.

The work itself appealed to me, but the day-to-day work did not. I was not sure where I would end up, but I always knew it was going to be a type of law where I would be helping people.

During her first-year criminal law course, Sicherman started volunteering at Calgary Legal Guidance. She saw that many people involved in the criminal justice system are marginalized. She discovered that offenders in Calgary and across Canada are dealt a bad hand and end up in the criminal justice system because of circumstances outside of their control. It was then that Sicherman realized she wanted to pursue a career in criminal law.

She has been getting experience in criminal law matters as a volunteer with Student Legal Assistance, a pro-bono legal clinic that provides legal information and representation to low-income residents in Calgary. Most of her clients were dealing with sentencing for their crimes, and she was mostly arguing for discharges.

Sicherman’s work with the Criminal Law Society, Law Needs Feminism Because Forum, and her volunteer work prior to law school resulted in a unanimous vote for the Dean Michael Wylie Social Responsibility Award. The award honours a graduating student who has made a significant contribution to the understanding or resolution of social or human rights issues while acquiring his/her legal education at the Faculty of Law at the University of Calgary.

Sara Sicherman, Law Needs Feminism Because Forum

Sara Sicherman gives a presentation at the 2020 Law Needs Feminism Because Forum in Calgary

'Proud to have had the opportunity to teach Sara'

Silver acknowledges the positive effect Sicherman had on the law school, her classmates, and her clients. “Sara is special. She is an engaged, curious and creative thinker who enhances every learning environment,” says Silver. “Her work product is polished, professional and persuasive.

"Sara is also kind and generous; ready to help a friend and eager to ensure that the law school is inclusive and responsive to diverse interests. I am proud to have had the opportunity to teach Sara and to learn from her as well."

Now that law school is done, Sicherman will start articling with Alberta Justice in July. Following that, she will spend at least a year with the Crown attorney’s office. Eventually, she would like to work for the International Criminal Court if the opportunity arises.

But is a career in criminal law as glamorous as the TV shows make it out to be?

“It is always interesting to read case law about murders, drug deals and the things you see on TV,” jokes Sicherman. “It is actually pretty close to what Law & Order depicts, and I think it is pretty glamorous.”

Sara Sicherman, JD'20

Sara Sicherman's t-shirt refers to the iconic 'dunn dunn' sound from the TV show, Law & Order. She says criminal law can be as glamorous as what we see on TV, but her biggest motivation is a desire to help people.