Upholding the law in the land down under

With a finger-pointing, I've-got-you-now grin and an iconic light grey suit, criminal defense attorney, Ben Matlock, entertained television audiences for almost a decade with his ingenious perception and gritty determination to fight for truth. For one young boy growing up in the small town of Coronation, Alta., however, Matlock was more than mere entertainment; he was pure inspiration.

"It was the courtroom drama that got me. I used to watch Matlock and think, if he can do it, I can do it. When I watched him I knew I was born to be in the courtroom," explains solicitor, Jay Merchant (BA '05), who was recently admitted as a member of the Australian legal profession by the Supreme Court in Queensland.

Along with his interest in law, Merchant developed a love for politics and a passion for curling that have also strongly influenced his life's journey.

"The first time I heard Preston Manning speak I was fascinated by his personal approach to politics. I became a member of the Reform Party at age 15," says Merchant.

Jay Merchant
Jay Merchant, right, along with Barrister Debra Wardle, who moved his admission into the Supreme Court in Queensland.

Merchant's love of curling was a family affair. His father played in national oilman's competitions and his mom and older brother curled as well. Merchant spent the majority of his childhood winters at the rink, either watching the game or developing his skills.

"My older brother curls on a recreational level when he has time. He boasts he can kick my butt, but I am still waiting for him to put his money where his mouth his," jokes Merchant, who is a player-coach with the Australian National Curling Team.

With his three-fold passion, Merchant says that the move to Lethbridge to attend the University in 2000 was a perfect choice.

"Coming from a small town, the University was exactly what I needed, and I wouldn't change anything, but it was a steep learning curve for me. I was never a good writer but I had excellent professors, two in particular, Dr. Alan Siaroff and Dr. Geoffrey Hale. They had such a strict writing guide and they focused on using logical arguments and logical structure. I do a lot of writing now and without their dedication I would not have achieved what I have. It was a painful process but I am forever grateful to them," says Merchant. "I attended Bond University in Australia for my post-graduate studies and the common theme between both institutions is that you are not just a number. I know my professors and consider them to be my mentors. There is something really special about that."

While completing his undergrad, Merchant kept busy with local politics and curling. He was a member of Rick Casson's steering committee and curled out of the Lethbridge Curling Club.

"I played juniors for Alberta and made it to provincials a number of times. I played for the U of L in 2003. We made it to the Canadian University Championships; I think we were in the top five. I also have a few banners up at the Lethbridge Curling Club," recalls Merchant.

Jay Merchant
Merchant eyes an Olympic berth for Australia down the line.

Merchant completed his bachelor's degree in political science in 2005. He spent one year working in a municipal internship program in Red Deer before moving to Australia to pursue a master's of business law at Bond University, which he completed in 2007. That same year the Australian Winter Olympic Committee asked him to migrate to Australia on a distinguished talent visa, but because curling is self-funded in Australia, Merchant had to return to Canada to earn enough money before he could take advantage of the AWOC proposal. He returned to Australia in 2010 to coach and play with the Australian National Team and pursue his law degree at Bond, which he completed in 2012.

"I did my Postgraduate Diploma of Legal Practice, with a placement in criminal law. I loved it. I plan to go into prosecution and later become a barrister. As for curling, Lyn Gill, my partner in mixed doubles and I are heading to Fredericton, N.B. in April to compete at the world championships. I am really looking forward to that!" says Merchant. "My long-term focus is on continuing to develop the sport in Australia and to qualify teams for the 2018 Olympics."

For anyone who happens to be in Fredericton in April and wants to wish Merchant good luck, you'll find him easily enough if you listen for his ringtone – it's the theme from Matlock.

This story first appeared in the November 2012 issue of the Legend. To view the full issue in a flipbook format, follow this link.