Trudeau Scholar had an early fascination with law and justice
By Anne Russell
|Lisa Kelly started her post-secondary education at UFV where she earned an Associate of Arts degree. Since then she's gone on to obtain a Bachelor of Arts with a major in history from the University of British Columbia, a law degree from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Laws from Harvard. And she's not done yet.|
Your first clue that Lisa Kelly (AA ’01) had a future in law?
As a 10-year-old, she’d rush home from her Fort Langley elementary school so as not to miss a minute of Matlock, the TV law drama starring Andy Griffith as a crusty public defender. Your second? As a 13-year-old she’d have her father drop her off at the Supreme Court of BC in New Westminster so she could watch legal dramas unfold in person. Your third? Her youthful penchant for reading the works of American legal icon Clarence Darrow and others.
“I knew I wanted to be a lawyer before I had ever met one in person,” Lisa recounts. “The performative elements of law, particularly the narratives of trials, stood out for me from an early age.”
The still youthful Kelly hasn’t hit 30 yet, but she already has a string of credentials after her name: a Bachelor of Arts with a major in history from the University of British Columbia, a law degree from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Laws from Harvard, as well as the one that set the foundation for her future success: an Associate of Arts from UFV, earned after spending her first two years of post-secondary studies at her local university. She articled with the federal Department of Justice in Ottawa, and was called to the Law Society of Upper Canada in 2007. In 2009/10, Lisa served as a law clerk to Justice Marshall Rothstein of the Supreme Court of Canada.
“That was a truly amazing experience,” Lisa says. “I worked closely with an extremely talented group of clerks and a very articulate and thorough justice. The experience gave me a greater appreciation of law as a craft, as a mode of reasoning and argumentation. After seeing the judicial decision-making process firsthand, I read judgments differently now, and I hope, in a more nuanced way.”
For the summer of 2010, Lisa interned at Pivot Legal Society, a non-profit legal advocacy organization located in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Pivot’s mandate is to advocate for social change through political, legal, and media advocacy. It seeks to raise public awareness about the concerns of marginalized people, specifically in the areas of child welfare, addiction and health, housing, policing, and sex work.
“I worked pretty exclusively on the sex work campaign this summer,” Lisa says, “and I was truly inspired by the people I met and worked alongside. This is an area of pressing importance. I think it’s incumbent on all of us to take stock of how our current laws and policies contribute to sex workers’ marginalization and vulnerability.”
Now Lisa is back at Harvard Law School where she is an SJD (doctor of law) candidate working under the supervision of Professor Janet Halley. Lisa was recently awarded a prestigious doctoral scholarship by the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation. The scholarship, worth up to $180,000 over a three-year period for living, research, and travel expenses, supports research of "compelling present-day concern” to Canadians.
As she moves through the highest levels of academia, Lisa is conscious of the strong foundation she developed during her first two years in the humanities at UFV.
|Lisa Kelly's doctoral work focuses on the legal regulation of children and adolescents.|
“It’s difficult, if not impossible, to analyze the tensions and ambivalences in law without a sense of the cultural and historical strands that inform it,” she notes. “My early studies in the humanities were essential groundwork for my legal career.”
Key to any interdisciplinary insights is engagement with peers and faculty who introduce new ideas and push the boundaries of current thought. Lisa recalls how important such engagement was for her.
“A university is about the people who inhabit it, and at UFV, I regularly had instructors who read over my drafts, provided thoughtful feedback on my writing, and introduced me to new thinkers and ideas.”
She recalls English professor John Carroll reviewing student writing and teaching students to read texts closely. She also acknowledges the dedication of the UFV writing centre staff and librarians in this regard.
Lisa credits history professor Chris Leach with encouraging her to use literature as a way to understand the complexities of the human condition.
“We read Erich Maria Remarque’s The Road Back, which recounts the tortuous journey of soldiers’ return from war, as a lens on the Inter-War period in Germany. The brutality of trench warfare recounted in Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front is followed in The Road Back by a prolonged and, in some ways, more wholly enveloping sense of displacement. And, of course, we face these same questions today when soldiers return from conflict.”
In addition to her studies in modern European history, Lisa fondly recalls the passion and nuance that history professors Sylvie Murray and David Milobar brought to U.S. history.
“Their courses really brought to the fore the role that law played in slavery and in the denial (and subsequent recognition) of civil rights for African-Americans and other persons. These courses were important in giving me a more nuanced view of law — law not just as narrative, but also as deeply regulatory and constitutive of persons’ status.”
Most of her family has a connection to UFV. One brother launched his science studies here before proceeding to medical school, while the other took his BBA in aviation at UFV and Coastal Pacific Aviation. And her mother recently completed a Literacy Tutor certificate. Education has been an important part of her family’s life. Lisa’s parents, immigrants from Ireland, moved from the interior of British Columbia when she was young so that her father could commute to college and later to medical school at UBC, having decided to become a doctor in his late thirties.
Lisa’s current research at Harvard builds on her work at UFV, UBC, and the University of Toronto.
“Throughout my undergraduate and law school studies, I became increasingly interested in the legal regulation of the family.”
In law school, where she was a Fellow of the International Programme on Sexual and Reproductive Health Law, Lisa co-authored a report for the Department of Justice with Professor Rebecca Cook on Canada’s international obligations concerning polygamy. Later, while working toward her Master of Law, she examined the legal regulation of inter-country adoption, specifically the ways that state interests manifest themselves in international laws governing international adoption.
“My thesis argued that the isolated child — the child that has been separated, practically or legally, from his or her biological family — becomes a child of the nation,” she says. “The child can be used as symbolic capital by both sending and receiving states. Refusals by sending (or potentially sending) states to permit international adoption can serve to reinforce national identity in opposition to receiving states, which are generally affluent, Western nations. ‘Hands off our children’ can help to define the ‘we’ in contrast to the Other. On the receiving side, international law requires that legal ties to the child’s birth family be completely severed. Adoption must imitate what nature produces. This forecloses the potential for subsequent family reunification claims by the adoptee and his or her birth family, something that would strike at receiving states’ border control interests. The child must cross boundaries as a discrete individual. While states deploy myriad rhetorical images of the child, the interests of actual, material children are often oddly out of sight.”
A consistent theme in Lisa’s work is her focus on the ways that law regulates our everyday lives.
“I think it’s really important to remember how many banal laws and regulations shape much of our daily existence from our family life to our workplaces to the roads we use to get to and from those places. Too often we see things as fixed, as how it has to be. But I like to think much more of it is up for grabs than we might first think.”
This vantage point has led her to draw on critical approaches to law, which are well supported at Harvard.
“My work has a critical focus in that I’m very interested in analyzing how different laws and policies are a reflection of choices, motivated by ideational or material concerns. There’s nothing intrinsically natural about how law develops. It is shaped by choices about how to distribute different rights and obligations. Costs are imposed on some people, and benefits on others, depending on the context.”
Lisa’s doctoral work focuses on the legal regulation of children and adolescents.
“I was drawn to the subject of the child because so much has been written on gender and adult relations in the family, but far less work has been done on the ways that young people are constructed through law. I see it as very important because if we consider how minority and dominant belief systems, modes of thought, and economic norms are transmitted, the child is the key.”
Lisa is especially interested in the deep ambivalence the law exhibits toward the child — viewing young people as innocent and in need of protection in some contexts, and as deviant and deserving stricter punishment in others.
“We see this duality where minors must be shielded from the lure of online and offline predators, but are also understood as predators themselves when they commit offences. There is this constant ramping up, particularly in criminal law, of protectionist and punitive rhetoric toward youth.”
Her project is a comparative one and will look at Canada, the United States, and international law where relevant. History and culture remain an integral part of Lisa’s work. She notes how important the history of Western childhood is for law.
“The gradual transformation of the 19th and early-20th century child from worker and material producer to affective and innocent dependant underpins our legal understanding of the child today. Much of what we might think of as natural or innate is actually very historically and materially contingent. The child was understood very differently across historical periods.”
Lisa also notes that much of our social and legal construction of childish innocence has been class- and race-contingent. At the same time that white children were increasingly being viewed as innocents who should be shielded from market labour, Aboriginal children in Canada were being constructed as deviant.
“The residential school system was predicated on a policy of ‘taking the Indian out of the child. In other words, the Aboriginal child was viewed as inherently tainted. The Aboriginal child was cast in opposition to the white child, whose innocence and purity became so central.”
Lisa’s work has real stakes. She is interested in how these ideas shape the governance of minors at home, at school, and in detention.
“I hope my work can make visible some of the underlying commitments we hold about the child. And, in turn, hopefully it will raise questions about the distributive consequences of these ways of governing for differently situated young people.”
Lisa is continuing her doctoral research this fall and hopes to eventually teach at a Canadian law school. Her childhood influences, the fictional Matlock and the eminent lawyer Clarence Darrow, would be proud, as will her former professors at UFV.