Former SCC Justice Rothstein only hired law clerks from the "school of hard knocks"

Former SCC Justice Rothstein only hired law clerks from the "school of hard knocks"

As a lawyer and retired top judge, Justice Marshall Rothstein of the Supreme Court of Canada, the child of Eastern European immigrants, used to work 40-50 hour shifts on long haul trains from Winnipeg to Vancouver to pay for his education in the 40s.

Starting in 1959, for days on end, Rothstein worked his way up from the bottom of a hierarchal structure of people from all different walks of life who were employed by CP Rail . He said it is where he learned about the backbone of society, and it was this experience that stuck with him even through until his appointment to the Supreme Court by Stephen Harper several years ago.

He only hired clerks and assistants with prior experience doing hard work in blue collar professions.

"I want to make sure that when I hire a law clerk that (they have) had some experience with something other than an a theoretical, educational work; that they know what it’s like to be in the school of hard knocks," he said.

"Most people in the world are out there slogging out very, very difficult work. Sometimes dangerous work. I think that the experience I had in the dining car made me realize that there was a different life out there. As a lawyer I realized I was going to be lucky enough to not be working outside."

"My father came from Poland in 1912 and my mother in Russia in 1908 so they were part of that great wave of immigration that populated the prairies in the first world war. My father went to Yorktown Saskatchewan where he had an older brother or perhaps two other broths who had moved there from Poland. He became a bookkeper and later became a merchant, a small merchant, and so that was kind of his life," Rothstein said.

The one thing they hammered into Rothstein's head is that he ought to go to university, as they had not gone through the process of obtaining a degree in their lifetimes. Eventually he would go on to become a top lawyer in Manitoba before serving as a judge.

To watch the full interview with Justice Rothstein and his place on the SCC, please watch below.

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