Student pursues U.S./Canadian law degree

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News
Aruna Vithiananthan’s grandfather was a well-known criminal defense lawyer in Sri Lanka, who continued to practice law as a Canadian citizen. Vithiananthan, a Canadian native born and raised in Toronto, heard stories of his cases from a young age.

“Law was his passion but he always told me, ‘law is a jealous mistress,’” she says.  “I never had an unrealistic view of the legal profession – I knew the work and dedication it took to be in this field. He was compassionate, intelligent, and had a sense of duty. After losing my grandfather over five years ago, being in legal profession makes me feel connected to him.”

A student in the Canadian & American Dual J.D. program offered by the University of  Detroit Mercy School of Law and the University of Windsor Faculty of Law, Vithiananthan is enjoying the challenge of completing two law degrees simultaneously.

“The program forces you to multi-task and to learn comparatively,” she says. “These are skills dual students will be able to carry forward into the workplace where our peers have completed one law degree in the same time period it took us to complete two.”

Vithiananthan appreciates the ability to learn in two different teaching environments, with double the opportunities and resources.

“This is a unique program that’s made possible because of the close proximity of Detroit and Windsor and it sets its graduates apart in the legal field,” she says. “The interesting part of learning American and Canadian law simultaneously is seeing the intersection between the two systems. Canadian law is heavily influenced by American law, so being able to learn the American system in depth only furthers my understanding of Canadian concepts.”

Vithiananthan enjoys the atmosphere at Detroit Mercy Law, where she finds the staff to be helpful and personable.

“I’ve developed great bonds with some of my professors and am continually impressed by the diversity of experience they offer,” she says. “I’ve worked with the Dual Director Brian Miller on many occasions and appreciate his dedication to the program and students.”

The commute from her home in Windsor to the law school in downtown Detroit takes around 20 minutes door to door – a faster commute than she experienced during her undergrad years at Western University in London, Ontario.

“Coming into the program, I was initially concerned how commuting would work logistically – however, with carpooling and the Nexus card, it has proven to be a non-issue,” she says.

Selected by the dean to be a presidential ambassador for Detroit Mercy Law, Vithiananthan assisted with an alumni event as well as Red Mass this year.

“It’s been a fun way to be involved and volunteer my services,” she says.

Vithiananthan is the incoming president of the Detroit Mercy Law Chapter of “If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice,” the only cross-border student club for the two law schools. Last year the group focused its attention on raising money for “Enough Said Detroit” to test the backlogged rape kits sitting untouched in Detroit.

“If/When/How is an incredible national network of law students and legal professionals and I’m looking forward to leading the club this year,” Vithiananthan says. “I attended the If/When/How Leadership Institute in Washington, D.C., on July 9 and 10, and am still amazed at the organization’s ability to mobilize law students from across the U.S. for a worthy, and necessary, cause.”

For the past four summers, Vithiananthan has worked at the Labourers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA), Local 183 in Toronto, the largest Construction Local Union in North America. 

“The legal team is fantastic and they’ve taught me invaluable and practical lessons about labor law,” she says. “Ideologically, working in-house at a union aligns with my personal and political perspective.”

Vithiananthan, whose older sister is in medical school, attributes her success to her parents, who immigrated to Canada in the 1980s and have made Toronto their home ever since.

“My father has taught me the value of hard work by example and my mother has shown me how to put others first,” she says.

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