Ryerson University has been dealt a major setback in the final stages of its plan for a law school, after the province has said it will not approve Ryerson’s submission to create a new juris doctor program in Toronto.
The Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities’ refusal to grant Ryerson program approval for the law school may make it unlikely that the school will be able to move forward an enrolment funding budget it had previously proposed for the law school.
Merrilee Fullerton, the minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, said in an emailed statement that “it was not in the best interest of the people of Ontario to approve the proposal at this time,” citing concerns surrounding the use of tax dollars.
“The Ministry considers many factors in making a recommendation to me. Factors like: whether the program duplicates other programs in the province; labour market demand; student demand; appropriate tuition rates, and if the program aligns with an institutions Strategic Mandate Agreement,” said Fullerton.
Ryerson’s initial proposal was based on escalating provincial funding through 2021, without which it could be unsustainable, according to the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, which reviewed and approved the submission in December 2017.
Ryerson said, however, that it is not looking for new funding but “rather to transfer enrolment funding and OSAP, already approved by the government, toward legal education.”
Ryerson’s law dean of record, Anver Saloojee, said earlier this year that a type of provincial funding called a basic income unit was requested at $5,700 per student for 150 students entering the program in the first year.
Fernando Garcia, vice president of legal and compliance and general counsel at Cargojet, says there are “huge access-to-justice issues” and that the Ryerson program was proposing to deliver the kind of lawyer to the community that would serve more of it.
“There’s lots of opportunities that could come around. For example, if you can’t afford a lawyer but you have a new type of lawyer that comes out who utilizes legal technology to minimize the cost of providing legal services, you can now, in essence, hit a whole new market that was not being served before because it couldn’t afford it,” he says.
The manager of public affairs of university relations at Ryerson University, Johanna VanderMaas, said in an emailed statement that the school is “very disappointed” and noted that the law school had been approved by three accreditation bodies.
“We will continue to work in good faith with the provincial government to explore a path forward to offer OSAP-eligible legal education that’s innovative, promotes access and diversity and produces practice-ready lawyers to meet the growing needs of Ontarians and small businesses across the province,” she says.
However, in her statement, Fullerton said that law “jobs are expected to be more difficult to find, the probability of unemployment is higher and wages and salaries have recently increased at a slower rate than other occupations.”
Ryerson’s law degree program was set to open applications in August 2019 and begin classes in September 2020, the school’s website says.
The addition of another Toronto-area law school would have made it the ninth in Ontario and 24th in the nation, based on data from the Council of Canadian Law Deans.
However, the proposal came at a time when some young lawyers said they were facing a number of challenges, including mounting debt and a job shortage.
Statistics from the law society and from Ryerson’s law school approval proposal FLSC show the average debt of first-year Ontario law students is $35,358, which rises to an average of $53,876 in the second year and $71,444.17 in the third year.
Then comes the challenge of finding a job to pay down that debt.
A May 2018 report about the lawyer licensing process by the Law Society of Ontario’s Professional Development and Competence Committee said only 10 per cent of Ontario law firms currently provide articling positions.
An estimate by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario projects 1.6 new licensed lawyers for every one practising position in Ontario by 2025.
Ryerson initially set tuition at $20,000 per year for law students, according to a report last year from the Academic Standards Committee of Ryerson’s Senate.
Law schools need to change to become more closely aligned with the marketplace for legal services, says Mark Cohen, CEO of Legal Mosaic, a legal business consultancy firm.
Cohen says he is “really disappointed” with the province’s decision.
“Ryerson was to be a very different type of law school with a very different curriculum. . . . And it was really designed to address and remedy the very problems that were cited as the reasons for voting down the proposal,” he says.
— With files from Aidan Macnab