A New Chapter: Off to Law School

If you squint, you can actually see McGill.

It was time to scratch that itch.

It is with great excitement that I announce a new chapter in my life and career: after ten years of pondering it, I have finally decided to go to law school. Beginning next week, I will be attending McGill University, where I will be enrolled in the school’s BCL / LLB programme. I’m thrilled to join a world-class department, to steep myself in both common and civil law, and to combine this new adventure with my continuing work in the field of international justice.

There are many reasons that I have decided to take on this new challenge in my career. As readers of JiC will know, I have studied and worked at the intersection of law and international criminal justice for the past ten years. However, I have always felt that there was something more that I could, and should, do. That something was to gain a greater understanding of the law and its practices, adding it to my career toolbox.

While I strongly believe this should not be the case, the reality is that even after years of working in international criminal justice, there are still some ‘rooms’ into which some of us are not invited or to which we do not have access, for the single reason that we are not lawyers. Law at various levels continues to exclude many people – including those whose rights it seeks to uphold. I remain frustrated and worried about the lack of fluency that exists among citizens around the world to the law and legal issues, often due to the fact that law often remains practiced through inaccessible jargon and verbiage. From the outset, this blog was an attempt to translate complex legal ideas and developments into an accessible format that wouldn’t require much, if any, expertise in international criminal law. Over the coming years at McGill, I hope to spend much of my time thinking about and working on how to continue translating key legal developments and subjects as well as working to decolonize international criminal justice.

I am particularly excited to gain a richer understanding of the fascinating and unique logic and forms of argumentation that exists within legal practice. At a time where the demand for global accountability far outweighs its supply, I want to look for creative ways to apply new skills and tools to issue areas of interest, including the linkages between transnational organized crimes and core international crimes and the nexus between migration and atrocity crimes. I would also like to explore the relationship between population flows, relevant laws, evidence collection, and global accountability efforts.

I sincerely hope that my decision does not suggest a belief that one cannot carve out a career in international criminal justice without a legal foundation. Let me stress: it is absolutely possible. My decision is not due to being ‘stuck’ and it does not represent a career-change. It instead reflects a desire to add new tools to a career in international justice and conflict resolution that I will continue in the coming years. My aim is to be fluent in both the politics of law as well as the law of politics.

This is just the beginning of a long journey, but rest assured that JiC will continue to publish the work of leading scholars and thinkers in global and transitional justice. In the next couple of weeks, the site will play host to a number of new articles as well as a symposium on Libya and international justice. Stay tuned!

There are many people to thank for their support over the past few years and in making this decision, too many for this blog post. I am particularly indebted to Bettina Ambach and the team at the Wayamo Foundation. Bettina’s faith in my work and abilities has been humbling and inspiring. Being Research Director and then Deputy Director over the past few years has been an eye-opening and immensely rewarding professional and personal journey. I have had the opportunity to deepen my knowledge and understanding of the politics of international criminal law and to ignite a passion relating to the intersection of international crimes and transnational organized crime. I have gained access to the very heart of global justice efforts. I am therefore happy to also say that I will continue to act as policy and planning consultant for Wayamo.

Heartfelt thanks to everyone at the Munk School, especially to the inestimable Ron Levi, for their support over the next four years and their belief in my work. Because of them, I was also able to discover Toronto, which I have come to love dearly. I look forward to remaining affiliated with the institution – and keeping roots in my beloved Toronto.

Of course, I would be remiss if I did not thank you – the readers of JiC. Along with completing a PhD and working for Wayamo, creating and managing this blog has been the best and most fulfilling career decision I have made.

Most of all, I want to thank my family and friends. They have believed in this process and encouraged me every step of the way. They have challenged me and asked the right questions – and they have very much shared in the excitement that I feel. Thank you, I love you.

Finally, I have been struck by how many people have told me over the last year about how they have dreamt of going back to school. I can attest: it is not an easy decision. I initially did not decide to go to law school but rather decided to apply and see how I felt over time. My decision was made over the span of almost a full year. Over that period, I had to work through a number of feelings and many moments of second-guessing: am I too old for this? Is this too crazy? Am I giving up too much? What does it mean for my career? Can I afford it at this point in my life?

I am under no illusion that I will have to work through more such moments in the coming weeks and months; I know that I will. It’s human. But I have learned that such fears and worries aren’t good enough reasons not to lean into a new adventure. In fact, in understanding that I did not want to be beholden to such feelings, these thoughts cumulatively helped to convince me that this was the right decision.

I recently heard someone paraphrase Brené Brown’s observation that we can either be courageous or comfortable, but not both. I don’t know if Brown is correct; I tend to think there can be great comfort in courage. Regardless, if you are thinking about taking a leap of faith and ‘finally doing that thing, that crazy thing that you’d always dreamed of’, try not worry too much about the people and the voices within you that doubt it. Be kind to yourself, give those insecurities and feelings space, but don’t let them drive your decision.

Scratch that itch.


About Mark Kersten

Mark Kersten is a consultant at the Wayamo Foundation, a Senior Researcher at the Munk School of Global Affairs, and a law student at McGill University Law School. He is also author of the book, 'Justice in Conflict - The Effects of the International Criminal Court's Interventions on Ending Wars and Building Peace' (Oxford University Press, 2016).
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