LSUC forwards response on approved common law degree

The Law Society of Upper Canada recently forwarded its thoughts on the approved common law degree to the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, but not before benchers debated how much the academic wing of the profession should be controlled.

“We need the room to innovate and experiment,” Bencher Constance Backhouse, who also is a professor at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law, told Convocation.

Benchers overwhelmingly passed a resolution to submit the licensing and accreditation task force’s response to a consultation paper from the FLSC, with a final vote of 40 for and four against, with four abstentions.

The law society’s response will be considered by the federation task force, which will use it in drawing up a revamped set of guidelines for the approved common law degree. Those guidelines will then need to be approved by Canada’s individual law societies.

The law society task force suggested the following competencies be required for entry to the bar admission program:
• Foundations of Canadian common law;
• the constitutional law of Canada;
• principles of statutory analysis;
• principles of Canadian administrative law;
• legal research skills;
• oral and written communication skills specific to law; and
• professionalism and ethical principles.

But Backhouse, a member of the LSUC’s task force, issued a minority view that was included in the full submission, in which she took odds with those competencies.

“This is a ‘static’ approach that fails to recognize that the practice of law is multidirectional, fluid, and that the pace of change has never been so fast,” wrote Backhouse. She also suggested, for example, that the federation task force failed to seek enough expert advice and that resource implications weren’t factored into its recommendations.

Backhouse wrote that, “The approach has the potential to stifle innovation, experimentation, and diversity amongst Canadian law schools.”

Bencher Laurie Pawlitza, also a member of the LSUC’s task force, said the law society’s submission adequately balances “the academic freedom that the law schools are entitled to.”

She told Convocation, “We see the foundational competencies that we have set out here as the anatomy of what’s required to move people forward from their law degree and into our process.”

Licensing and accreditation task force chairman Vern Krishna - also a law professor at the University of Ottawa and a member of the FLSC task force - suggested a rethinking of the common law degree curriculum is overdue. It was last studied in 1957, with minor changes in 1969, he said.

Ian Holloway, dean of the University of Western Ontario Faculty of Law and chairman of the Ontario Council of Law Deans, tells Law Times that, in his personal view, the law society has done a good job balancing its obligations to the public and profession with the submission.

“I think where there’s common ground between the law society and the law schools in Ontario is that we both acknowledge that the law schools aren’t perfect, but that the model of legal education that we offer in Ontario really is among the very best in the world,” says Holloway. 

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