The summer before law school, I attended a music festival where I ran into former Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin. In awe, I asked her, “What advice do you have for success in law school?” Her answer: “Look for the story behind the case.” As someone who was going to law school because of the ways the system had silenced my story and led to the greatest loss of my life, I knew at once she was right.
At the heart of the law are human lives. People come to the law when they are up against a wall. They bring with them stories that are complex and multifaceted. The cases we read about in class are the stories of the lucky ones–the stories of those who are able to access the justice system and have their voice heard. But behind every story that is brought to the law, a million untold stories and perspectives never see the light of day.
In my first year of law school, I remembered Justice McLachlin’s words often. With every case I read, I thought about the lives behind the cases. I thought about the stories behind the official story. I remembered and understood that those stories and their outcomes were connected to families, friends, and entire communities. Peel back a few layers, and untold human tragedy bubbles just beneath the surface of case law.
In an adversarial system when there are winners, there are also losers. Some communities and identities disproportionately fall into one group or the other because of systemic racism and discrimination, lack of access to justice, and lack of judicial representation. The “reasonable person” is always contextually situated. When male judges adjudicate on abortion, they do not know what it means to walk through life in a woman’s body. When judges disbelieve survivors and tell women to keep their legs together, they have no idea what it means to be sexually assaulted, raped, or to face your abuser in court. When judges disproportionately sentence Indigenous and Black lives, or objectify and subjugate them through the oppressive colonizer lens, they are blind to what it means to walk in their shoes. That kind of blind justice leaves the whole world blind–blind to the suffering of others, and blind to the iniquities of a system that maintains those injustices.
The story of the law is always read through the lens of our own lives. That is why your story matters. That is why we need more self-identified women, 2SLGBTQ+, BIPOC, disabled, working class, single parent, and other diverse perspectives in the law. Centuries of precedent have excluded our voices. We need diversity in the law because it helps us to see. Your story, your voice, your lived wisdom matters. Each of us brings a world of experience needed to humanize the law and ground it in fairness. Your story can bring justice to the stories of countless other lives. Time to raise your voice and be heard.