School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Award-winning Researcher and Lawyer Credits Queen’s Mentors for Success in the Courtroom, Classroom and on the Bookshelf

May 2016
By Sharday Mosurinjohn

Alumna Rebecca Sutherns

Alumna Dr. Rebecca Jaremko Bromwich 

In the field of legal studies research, Rebecca Jaremko Bromwich has had to advocate for herself as much as for the clients she has represented in the courtroom. And in both domains – research and practice – Bromwich has taken the road less travelled. 

After finishing her L.L.B. and L.L.M. at Queen’s, Bromwich articled with a large firm and then went into private practice for seven years as a courtroom lawyer for criminal, family, and civil litigation. For those of us whose main exposure to law is the courtroom TV drama, this may seem unremarkable. But as Bromwich explains, “these days most lawyers spend most of their time working with clients and colleagues, and doing paper work out of court.” In contrast, she loved taking over high-conflict cases from her colleagues in their collaborative law centre and seeing the matters through the adversarial part of the process. 

But during this time, the research agenda Bromwich began developing during her Master’s (LL.M) with the youth criminal justice expert Nick Bala remained alive and growing. In the late 2000s, Bromwich began a PhD in Law. Her approach to the research was considered unconventional, however, and she was coming up against the boundaries of the field at every turn. What she did then was reach out to her old mentor, Bala, for advice. After talking it through, Bromwich decided to switch to a program in the field of Legal Studies and there her project found the room it needed to take off. 

"I would not have been successful in that next degree if I never had Nick’s advice. Because my Queen’s mentors, most notably Nick Bala and Mark Weisberg, made the investment they did and still cared about me, that helped me get through my next degree somewhere else." It's true what they say, Bromwich affirms, that when you're Queen's alumni, you're Queen's alumni for life. 

With that support, plus that of a family that includes her four children and husband Matthew Bromwich (Queen’s Meds 2002), in 2015 Bromwich became the first PhD graduate from Carleton’s program in Legal Studies with her award-winning project on Ashley Smith. Smith was a 19-year-old woman whose 2007 self-strangulation death while in Canadian federal custody was ruled a homicide, on account of the fact that prison officials stood by and watched without intervening. Now a book published through Demeter Press, Looking for Ashley: What Re-Reading What the Smith Case Reveals About Governance of Girls, Mothers and Families in Canada has redefined what it means to use a “case study” in research on law. 

"In the Ashley Smith case," Bromwich explains, "there's no judgment to study like there is in other cases. There is a set of recommendations from a jury but no authoritative narrative of judicially-approved facts.  Plus, a lot of what happened was in microprocesses in day-to-day interactions outside of the courtroom. So how do you study that?" Bromwich came up with a methodology to solve that problem, applying the tools of discourse analysis to media coverage of the case and using the theoretical foundation of Foucauldian "governmentality" to understand the interplay of - among other things - gender, power, and technologies of governance in this tragic case.  

Alumna Rebecca Bromwich with family

Alumna Dr. Rebecca Bromwich with her family

In the course of doing so - that is, breaking away from traditional ways of studying legal cases - Bromwich spent time considering how popular culture is an important source of the legal. What Legal Studies allowed her to do that Law did not was to look beyond the visible tip of what she calls "the iceberg of the legal." "Much of the boundary work" around acceptable research methods and topics in the discipline of law "is about upholding that mythology of law" that says it is coextensive with just that clearly defined tip. 

As Bromwich is now beginning to shift her research sights away from youth criminal justice toward corporate criminal liability, students at both Carleton and the University of Ottawa are lucky that she is also shifting her schedule to spend more time in the classroom. While she teaches at both schools, she now has a preliminary faculty appointment at Carleton University.  In addition, she has accepted a position as Policy Counsel with the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, which she will be balancing with her teaching role at Carleton. 

Thinking back to her own time as a student, Bromwich remembers Queen's with particular fondness. "Since I was coming all the way from Calgary, I had to jump in with both feet." Even still, Bromwich admits that there was a time when she used to make fun of Queen's jackets, intramurals and rituals - but eventually she "got swept away by them." In her L.L.B. she held the high profile position of President of the Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS), but "the best," she laughs, "was inner tube water polo. There's nothing like being young and silly together." 

As Bromwich continues to count on the network she became part of by joining Queen's over a decade ago, the Queen's community is fortunate to count this distinguished alumna among its own network of once and future Gaels. 

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