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‘Pressing’ issues tackled by deans

|Written By Robert Todd

The Ontario Council of Law Deans is collecting data on law students to decide what steps the educational wing of the profession can take to tackle issues that have led to proposals for new law schools in the northern part of the province.

‘The law deans are united in the view that there is a real problem in terms of the graying of the northern bar, and the lack of legal representation in aboriginal communities,’ said Dean Ian Holloway.

“The law deans are united in the view that there is a real problem in terms of the graying of the northern bar, and the lack of legal representation in aboriginal communities,” Ian Holloway, dean of the University of Western Ontario Faculty of Law and chairman of the law deans, tells Law Times in an interview.

“We weren’t of the view that the best way to solve this problem was to create a new law school at Lakehead [University] or Laurentian [University], or anywhere else,” he says, adding the deans want to discuss the issue with interested parties.

The deans met via teleconference recently, and concluded the problem must be researched further before a solution can be proposed, says Holloway. Specifically, he said it’s unclear whether the problem is due to student recruitment - that too few northerners are coming to law school - or if it’s a placement problem, and northerners are coming to law schools, but prefer to practise in the south.

Holloway says the deans will generate datafrom their individual faculties on questions such as the number of northerners enrolled, the number of applications from northerners, and the number of students who have

expressed interest in articling in the north.

Holloway says “very few” students at Western article in the north, and it’s unclear why that is.

While there’s no specific timeline for accumulating the data, he says the deans view it as a “matter of pressing concern.” They meet again in November at the annual meeting of the Council of Canadian Law Deans in New Brunswick.

One idea that has been speculated on in the media, prematurely according to Holloway, is the creation of a satellite campus of a southern law school at a northern university. That idea is similar to one carried out at Akitsiraq Law School in Iqaluit, Nunavut. A one-time program there saw several Inuit students receive law degrees in a partnership with the University of Victoria Faculty of Law and Nunavut Arctic College.

“It’s not for us to decide what the solution is,” says Holloway. “But the deans talked about a number of possibilities, including the Akitsiraq model, including other models as well. But it’s premature to make a decision about one or the other, because we want to find out what the problem is.”

Holloway says the deans’ approach may also depend on a report from the law society’s licensing and accreditation task force, which was to be discussed last week at Convocation.

The report, an advance copy of which Law Times received and had yet to be considered by Convocation come press time, recommends retention of the 10-month articling requirement. The report called for a number of measures to make the articling program more effective, however, including the creation of an online registry of articling opportunities.

An apparent lack of articling placements was one reason cited by Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities John Molloy in July for announcing the government won’t fund any new law schools in the province.

Proposals for new schools had come from Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Laurentian University in Sudbury, and Lakehead in Thunder Bay.

Lakehead’s proposal was the furthest along, with the school having conducted an external review if its proposed curriculum, the $1 million purchase of a building, and the law society’s decision to pass the proposal along to the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA).

Lakehead’s proposal was largely aimed at addressing the need for more lawyers in the North, and more specialists in Aboriginal law. Lakehead president Fred Gilbert says the Nishnawbe Aski Nation and County and District Law Presidents’ Association asked the university to create a school producing graduates to fill the gap.

While the government has said no funding will be available for new law schools anytime soon, Gilbert is pressing on with his campaign to get approval for the school, but says the NCA has held off on considering it pending an internal study to determine if the country’s law programs must be altered.

Gilbert says he recently received a copy of a letter, dated in August, to law society Treasurer Derry Miller from the law deans, proposing a southern Ontario law school presence in the north.

“What they’ve done is clearly demonstrate what we’ve been saying, that there’s a need in this area,” he says. “But we don’t need the largesse of the southern universities to deal with the issue. We’re quite capable of dealing with it ourselves and in a way that is more appropriate.”

Gilbert says he won’t view any proposal from the deans as an adequate compromise considering the government’s refusal to provide funding.

“They should in fact be encouraging us to proceed, and my disappointment is that they haven’t looked at this proposal as complementing what’s going on in the south,” says Gilbert. “It’s a continuation of the sense that the south can take care of the needs of the north, which it can’t and hasn’t in the past.

“We feel very strongly that there’s a legitimate case here, and we’re going to continue to press it.”

While the law deans are discussing the matter, Holloway says the entire profession in Ontario must work together on finding a solution.

“It’s important for all of us as stakeholders in the profession to accept ownership of the issue,” he says. “The rule of law is as important in Timmins as it is in Toronto, so it’s important to ensure the legal profession continues to flourish throughout Ontario.”

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