The problem becomes the path

May 08, 2024

David Sandomeirski stands on the stairwell of the Western Law building as students walk past

By Kaleigh Rodgers | Photography by Frank Neufeld

When Professor David Sandomierski graduated from law school, he felt limited by the expected career trajectory before him. He loved the intellectual exploration law school offered, but felt the experience lacked exposure to the diverse range of professional options for future lawyers.

“Coming out of law school, there seemed like one or two doors that were really big and obvious to enter, and all the other possibilities faded into the background,” reflected Sandomierski. “To me, that had a lot to do with what was implicitly being prioritized in the hidden curriculum and the implicit norms of the law school.”

Sandomierski wasn’t alone in his assessment. He watched talented friends and peers struggle through multiple stops on their career journeys before finding the right fit. Instead of taking the same path, he’s dedicated his career to helping solve the problem.

As an assistant professor at Western Law, Sandomierski guides students through the intricacies of Contracts, and teaches an upper-year seminar on Legal Theory and Professional Practice. His research aims to enhance the capacity of legal education to cultivate versatile professionals and critical, engaged citizens. Through his research agenda, he examines the elements of law school and the levers the institution holds to educate students and inspire a vision of the myriad ways they can serve society.

His latest project, The Architecture of Law Schools, brings legal education and architecture scholars together with practicing architects to uncover what the built form of law schools implies about their role in society. With the support of a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight Grant, Sandomierski (as the principal investigator) and fellow researchers will explore what law school buildings communicate about the law, legal professionalism and legal education.

"I think if law schools can help cultivate an ability to reflect on who you are as a lawyer early on, we’ll end up with a legal profession that’s much more efficient in the social sense." - Professor David Sandomierski

“An example we give is that every law school has a moot court. No law school I’ve ever come across has a mock parliament,” Sandomierski explained. “That’s an example of a vision of law that’s communicated just by the physical building. The presence of a moot court shows a preference for adjudication and judge-made law. The absence of a mock parliament shows an underemphasis of the legislative process.”

The team will also examine how the buildings influence teaching and learning and what groups are excluded from the space. Members of the team will visit approximately 20 North American and six international law schools to observe and analyze the buildings and conduct interviews and focus groups with students, faculty and staff. The project aims to be a resource to inform the construction of future law schools that facilitate enhanced learning and teaching innovation.

“If we can start to think about how to match the ideals we have for the law school, with how we build the school, we’re going to end up with more creative, evocative and precedent-setting architecture,” said Sandomierski. “Many other features of the law school, like our curriculum and case method of teaching…are very hard to change. Architecture could be the one place where a school could make a dramatic departure… [that could] push us into a new paradigm.”

The Architecture of Law Schools will extend Sandomierski’s previous work analyzing the messages implicit in other features of law school, including teaching, curriculum design and grading. Across his research, he blends interests in contracts, comparative legal thought, legal history, and the empirical study of legal education and the legal profession. He contributes this unique perspective to his current role as a teaching fellow with Western’s Centre for Teaching and Learning.

As a teaching fellow, he’s focused on actionable educational leadership and innovation projects. He supports educational excellence in the Faculty of Law through convening the Legal Education Seminar Series. In the classroom, he’s implemented co-teaching between academics and practitioners. He hopes the project will effectively integrate theory and practice and help students reflect on their professional identity and future career paths.

“The goal is that by having an academic and a practitioner focused on one class, you’re helping the students see the interrelationship of theory and practice,” Sandomierski explained. “We want to help students develop a rich and deep ability to reflect on who they want to be as a legal professional.”

Sandomierski acknowledges that many inherited traditions of a law school have been deeply entrenched for over 150 years, but that doesn’t detract his focus from finding new ways forward. Across projects, he’s driven to help future generations of lawyers understand how they can best align their unique skills and interests to make a positive contribution.

“I would like to see our profession…get to that point where we’re thriving and contributing as much as we can earlier on in our career,” said Sandomierski. “I think if law schools can help cultivate an ability to reflect on who you are as a lawyer early on, we’ll end up with a legal profession that’s much more efficient in the social sense. I think we’ll see a lot less of the burnout and some of the other negative elements we see in our profession.”

This article appeared in the 2023 edition of the Western Law Alumni Magazine. Read the full issue here