UCalgary law dean receives meaningful, surprising recognition from peers

Ian Holloway recognized with honorary doctorate from Law Society of Ontario for outstanding achievements in legal profession
Ian Holloway

On June 13, 2022, the Law Society of Ontario presented Dr. Ian Holloway, PhD, QC, dean of the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Law, with a degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa (LLD) in recognition of his distinguished legal career.

  • Photo above, from left: Geoff Pollock, a bencher of the Law Society of Ontario; Mr. Justice Paul Sweeny, regional senior justice for Southern Ontario; Ian Holloway, dean of law, University of Calgary; Teresa Donnelly, treasurer, Law Society of Ontario; and Ryan Alford, a bencher of the Law Society.

The Law Society says it awards its honorary doctorates annually to “distinguished individuals in recognition of outstanding achievements in the legal profession, the rule of law or the cause of justice.”

“It’s a tremendous honour, it came as a surprise, but it’s quite meaningful to me,” says Holloway. “I still consider myself to be a member of the legal profession, so to be honoured by one’s peers in this way is a special thing.”

The honorary doctorate is a culmination of a career that has spanned decades and has included legal practice, study and teaching.

“Where I am and who I am now, is the result of everything I’ve done and everywhere I’ve been in the past,” says Holloway.

An 'unusual' and surprising path

He says that though it may not have seemed like it in the moment, every opportunity and experience has added up to him being where he is now. However, this path is the last thing a young Holloway could’ve thought of as he was finishing Grade 12 in New Brunswick.

The life I’ve led is pretty unusual when I think back to what my 17- or 18-year-old self would have expected.

A legal career was even more surprising for Holloway, who had never met a lawyer in his young life before going to law school. Nevertheless, it was this choice that has shaped one of Holloway’s philosophies used throughout his career, to embrace opportunities and take the road less travelled.

Holloway recalls a time later on in his career where he was on the partnership track at a big, established Atlantic Canadian law firm, and he decided to leave to pursue graduate studies, much to the chagrin of those around him.

“I did it, and I’m glad I did it,” says Holloway.

However, Holloway says the key is he departed in a way that didn’t burn any bridges with people. “When you part company, part as friends,” he says.

Legal studies lead to academic career

The decision to pursue graduate legal studies landed the East Coaster on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley, and he entered the degree feeling insecure and uncertain.

“To my delight and surprise, I found I could do it and keep up, so that was such an exciting year for me,” says Holloway. Following a successful master’s degree, Holloway pursued his PhD, and then began his teaching career in Australia.

Holloway says the law dean at Australia National University was a wonderful man who gave the professors lots of rope to experiment and try new ways to teach, which he says was quite fun. After the associate dean went on medical leave, Holloway was approached by the dean to step in.

While serving as the associate dean in Australia, Holloway was recruited to be the dean at Western University in London, Ont. He held that position for 11 years before coming to Calgary and serving as the law dean here for the past 11 years.

This makes Holloway the longest-serving law dean in Canada, and the second-longest serving in North America.  

“The average tenure of a law dean in Canada is less than five years, and I’m now completing year 22,” says Holloway, who has two years left in his appointment as dean here.

An enduring motto

To his students, Holloway says he has three professional lessons: work hard, be honourable and take risks.

“That’s what I’ve tried to do, and I’ve made mistakes and I’ve had doors closed in my face, but those three things have been my motto,” says Holloway.

In a career that has seen him gain membership to the American Law Institute (a distinction held by only a handful of Canadians), Queen’s Counsel appointments in both Nova Scotia and Alberta, and membership in the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada, to name just a few distinctions, Holloway says while there is no doubt the profession needs to change and improve, there is still honour in a legal career.

“It is the rule of law that makes Canada one of the most desirable countries in the world in which to live,” says Holloway. “It’s easy to forget that, but it’s true. And our students today will be the custodians of the rule of law tomorrow. That is why we owe them all a tremendous debt of gratitude for studying law.”