June 18, 2020

Class of 2020: French program in law opens doors for graduate

Matthew Benson is first graduate of law school’s Certification in Common Law in French
Matthew Benson at the Supreme Court of Canada
Matthew Benson at the Supreme Court of Canada Matthew Benson

When Matthew Benson, JD’20, first started researching law schools, he discovered a French-language certificate at the University of Saskatchewan College of Law. Growing up in North Battleford, Sask., Benson was intrigued. He ultimately chose to go to law school at UCalgary, and when the Certification in Common Law in French (CCLF) was announced in 2019, he knew it would be great opportunity.

“I knew I could use a brush-up on my French, so I took the first class in the program and it just worked out from there,” he explains.

  • Photo above, Matthew Benson appreciates the career advantages he has received under the Certification in Common Law in French program.

Benson is the first UCalgary Law graduate to earn the certification, aimed at increasing access to justice for French-speaking litigants in Alberta and across Canada. Offered in partnership with the University of Ottawa, the program allows students to gain valuable skills in French legal writing and advocacy, as well as a deeper understanding of the important issues surrounding language rights in Canada.

The French-speaking population in Alberta "is one of the fastest growing ones in Canada," says Benson.

The program is helping increase access to justice for those who find themselves navigating the legal system, and provides students a great opportunity to learn about language rights and different aspects of the law.

Mooting success despite global pandemic

Not surprisingly, Benson’s experience in the program took an unexpected turn when the COVID-19 pandemic started spreading. Along with his teammates — fellow UCalgary Law student Omelia Todesco-White and two law students from the University of Saskatchewan — he was planning to participate in the Michel-Bastarache Moot in Language Rights at the University of Ottawa in March.

The event was cancelled and it seemed as though all of the team’s hard work was for naught. However, the team was pleasantly surprised when the committee decided to continue with the evaluation of the factums and awarding the prizes for the best ones. The Pierre Foucher Prize was awarded to the two teams with the highest marks in the assignment. The Calgary/Saskatchewan team placed second, a pleasant surprise amid everything that was going on.

“It was a long and arduous training process, and we spent months training,” recalls Benson. “We thought we had a good shot of winning the event, so getting recognized for our hard work on the factum was really exciting.”

“If the moot had not been cancelled due to COVID-19, I have no doubt that he would have performed extremely well. I was very proud of the team for all the work they put in,” adds Alexandra Heine, JD’19, coach for the UCalgary team.

Internship benefited both parties

Benson also spent several months in an internship with Richmond Tymchuk Family Law LLP in Calgary. Because of the CCLF, he was able to help the firm open up a new client group. He spent time preparing workshop materials for French newcomers to Canada, and participated in client consultations. Diana Richmond, a partner at the firm, spoke in glowing terms about Benson.

Matthew was fantastic to have in the office. He was open to learning, excited about the law and never said no to a new opportunity. We enjoyed having him with us this winter and wouldn’t hesitate to have another CCLF student join us again.

Benson appreciates the opportunity to learn a different aspect of the law, and the opportunity to improve his French language skills. Caroline Magnan, the director of the CCLF, acknowledges Benson’s contribution to growing the program.

“It has been a joy to have Matthew as a student and see his tremendous improvement over the last years. Matthew has shown great courage in forging a new path for himself and others at the UCalgary Law by choosing to take one third of his JD in French, his second language. He is a shining example of tenacity and commitment to improving access to justice in both official languages.”

Matthew Benson

Due to his experiences in the Certification in Common Law in French program (CCLF), Michael Benson was able to help a Calgary law firm open up a new client group.