A Life Well-Lived in Legal Education and Beyond: Ian Kerr (1965-2019)

On August 27, 2019, my pal and colleague on the uOttawa School of Legislation Ian Kerr handed away resulting from issues arising from most cancers. He was solely 54 years outdated.

Ian was an enormous in his subject. A visionary in AI and Ethics who thought concerning the implications of autonomous automobiles earlier than they even had a reputation. He was a trainer who deeply cared about his college students. He was a researcher who supported, mentored and championed his colleagues. However most of all he was our pal and we miss him dearly.

When Ian left us, tributes flowed in from world wide and he was celebrated in obituaries. We memorialized him on our web site and Ian’s shut pal and colleague Michael Geist wrote a stirring tribute to Ian on his weblog.

Ian’s quick however impactful profession efficiently rebutted a number of well-worn assertions in the authorized career and the academy.

First, there are these each inside and outdoors the academy who suppose there’s a stress between dedication to educating and dedication to analysis. Ian’s profession demonstrated the fallacy of this assertion. Ian was an internationally acclaimed analysis celebrity. A Canada Analysis Chair, who attracted hundreds of thousands of {dollars} in analysis funding, Ian was first and foremost a trainer. His analysis knowledgeable his educating, whether or not it was first-year Contracts, the Legislation of Robotics or Constructing Higher People.

Ian mentioned his strategy to educating on his weblog. In keeping with him, “one can not train successfully with out possessing a facility to determine with college students in a vital manner. To succeed as a trainer, one should be capable to take a look at, take into consideration, perceive, really feel, stay, and breathe the subject material beneath investigation in a lot the identical manner that one’s college students do.” Ian’s devotion to his college students was legendary. On his weblog, he wrote that “[t]he most satisfying and simply essentially the most rewarding side of my job is working with extremely gifted college students.”

Ian used the classroom to query, probe and problem analysis. About his course “Constructing Higher People”, Ian defined that the category would discover questions resembling “[w]hat is the worth of a analysis agenda that seeks in the end to create new types of intelligence that will someday exceed our personal? What are the implications of producing machines which might be in a position to self-assemble and in the end self-replicate? Why develop a science that will alter the human physique and operate past recognition? What values underlie such applications of analysis? What public pursuits are at stake in their improvement?”

Second, Ian’s profession demonstrated the folly of focussing solely on educating so-called “practice-ready” abilities. This criticism that legislation faculties are usually not coaching attorneys who’re sufficiently “practice-ready” is heard all too usually in the career. The truth is that legislation faculties in Ontario are doing extra sensible abilities coaching via experiential studying than they’ve at anytime in the previous 40 years. Regretfully, the Legislation Society of Ontario has by no means carried out much less over the previous 50 years to organize legislation graduates for apply than it’s doing in the present day. All of us have a task to play in a lawyer’s schooling and coaching and Ian’s profession properly demonstrated each the breadth of what we are able to do and the narrowness of some views.

Ian was employed in 1999. At the moment, there have been few sensible functions for “ethics, legislation and expertise” in 1999. Few in the bar have been possible complaining that our graduates “weren’t prepared” to “apply” in this subject, as a result of it barely existed. Merely put, Deans who seen their mandate as merely coaching the attorneys of in the present day don’t rent the likes of Ian Kerr. And what a loss that will be, not only for the academy but in addition for college kids and for our career.

Essentially the most thrilling moments in legislation faculty happen when college students are empowered to suppose not simply of what the legislation is however of what it may be.[1]

If our focus in the academy is solely on coaching “practice-ready” attorneys, we’ll lose loads: legislation reform, vital approaches to legislation and the chance to experiment in new topic areas (like environmental legislation and well being legislation in the early 1990s). We’re at our greatest in the authorized academy once we are focussing not simply on the right here and now but in addition on the longer term.

Our purpose in legislation faculty is to not put together college students to apply legislation on Day 1 however to organize them for a career and a profession in a world that’s altering in ways in which few of us can predict.

Ian did in reality predict lots of the adjustments that we’ve got seen in current years and in all probability some that we are going to see in future years. He impressed a number of thousand college students in addition to many colleagues not merely to consider future technological challenges however what the legislation’s position ought to be in addressing these challenges. In so doing, Ian left an indelible mark on everybody that he taught, labored with and collaborated. He additionally leaves an unbelievable legacy.

Could his reminiscence be a blessing and an inspiration.


[1] Cf. Robert F. Kennedy, “Some males see issues as they’re, and ask why. I dream of issues that by no means have been, and ask why not.”



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