Over the course of his 36 years practicing mainly criminal law, Tom Engel has had the opportunity to observe and participate in the evolution of criminal law in Alberta. Tom was a member of the first graduating class from the University of Calgary Faculty of Law in 1979 and has spent his years since then building a meaningful practice in Edmonton, Alberta.
Tom’s firm, Engel Law Office, practices criminal defence primarily and specializes in cases where the police or jails have abused clients’ Charter rights. When Tom started practicing in 1980, it was before the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms had been passed in 1982 and this added protection dramatically changed criminal law and created new opportunities for lawyers to protect client rights. Tom’s favourite part about practicing criminal law is that every client has a unique set of problems that need to be resolved and it’s exciting to have the potential for an exciting new case to walk through his door on any given day. Practicing in this area means that Tom gets to think outside the box on a daily basis, “I like to try and be innovative, try to move the law in places where it hasn’t gone yet.” In addition to providing an intellectually stimulating environment, Tom also finds it rewarding when he can have a direct, positive impact in the quality of life for his clients.
Although Tom was not much of an academic before law school, he got his highest marks since grade 5 while at the U of C, which he attributes to the faculty and subject of law. Being part of the first graduating class was a unique experience for many reasons, but particularly because of the support of the members of the faculty in making sure that the school was successful. The culture of the school was exciting and lively. One of Tom’s fondest memories was being the lead vocalist in the University of Calgary Faculty of Law Gastroelectric Kazoo Band on National TV, “when you see the video, you’ll see why I had an awful lot of fun at the U of C Law School.” Notably, David Cruikshank, Iwan Saunders and Connie Hunt, professors, and Gail Starr, librarian, were Band members.
Law school is a time that Tom remembers fondly, and his advice to students would be to make the most of it and keep an open mind. When the law school first opened in 1976, a strong culture of support and camaraderie was developed at the University that exists to this day -where people shared ideas, notes, and worked together to create success. This collegial spirit still permeates the law school environment to this day and is one of the most rewarding parts of being a student at the University of Calgary.
Photo taken at the Edmonton Alumni Networking Event in August 2016. Tom Engel and Asa Hagel, 1L student at U of C.