The University of New Brunswick (UNB) recently announced that Peter A. Allard School of Law alumnus John Kleefeld (LLB ’99) would be joining their faculty as the incoming Dean of Law and Professor. The love of learning and connecting has been a driving force throughout Kleefeld's career. “People tell me I was born to teach,” says Kleefeld, who reflects that he gets “energy from both the intellectual engagement with my subject matter and the interpersonal engagement with students.”
Prior to enrolling at the law school, Kleefeld worked as an economic analyst. While he enjoyed the work, understanding numbers day-after-day didn't seem to promise long-term satisfaction. “I realized that I wanted to work…more with words and with people,” reflects Kleefed, “I also wanted a career that would stimulate and sustain me intellectually.”
That thirst for intellectual stimulation was well-fostered at the law school. Among Kleefeld's most enduring memories were classes in which professors asked students to take a position on an issue, defend it, then switch to a different position and defend that. To him, this was one of the most valuable things in a legal education; the “ability to see a problem from multiple perspectives.”
After graduating in 1999, Kleefeld didn't stay away from academics for long. He earned an LLM in Alternative Dispute Resolution from Osgoode Hall Law School in 2002 while working with the Vancouver firms of Lawson Lundell LLP and Branch McMaster, an endeavor which gave him greater “competence and comfort in working with a wide range of dispute resolution tools, from negotiation to mediation to litigation”- all of which he sees as important resources given the variety of types of conflict.
Kleefeld sees this flexibility of approach as critically important for the changes the legal profession faces in the year ahead. “More and more people are handling important – even life-altering – matters without the benefit of legal advice or representation,” Kleefeld stresses. “In some cases, they are even doing a credible job of it, drawing on a wider range of publicly available resources than used to be available.” The challenge will be for future lawyers to show they are an asset, potentially through an ability to provide a breadth of dispute resolution tactics.
Kleefeld recalls the advice given to him as a law student by Brian Higgins, who was a supervising lawyer with the Law Students’ Legal Advice Program (LSLAP). “He told our entering class that law is a helping profession, and that this was true whether you helped a person or a corporation," Kleefeld says, adding his own twist: “By helping others, you will be helping yourself – in law as in life.”
It is this value of service that has perhaps brought Professor Kleefeld to the doorstep of serving as the new Dean of Law at UNB. Poised to mark its 125th anniversary this year, it is a moment which presents the opportunity to celebrate tradition while considering changes to ensure the school’s future success. It’s a task to which Kleefeld looks forward to. “The student body comes from across Canada, and the faculty members range from those who have spent their entire careers there to those who have just started. I look forward to working with such a diverse group of people.”
John Kleefeld was profiled for the May 2017 Alumni Newsletter, in coodination with The Peter A. Allard School of Law History Project