Osgoode professor and access to justice advocate starts five-year term Sept. 1
The law profession is at a critical juncture, not only in developments in how it is practised, but its role in dealing with issues ranging from access to justice and diversity to homelessness and climate change, says the incoming dean of law at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University Trevor Farrow.
“I don’t know if there has ever been a time where the law has been more important,” says Farrow, who begins a five-year term as dean starting Sept. 1. He takes over from Mary Condon who guided the law school for the past five years, which included the pandemic.
“The legal profession is dealing with new developments in how the law is practised and the impact of artificial intelligence and other technology, and also with how it situates itself in terms of decolonization, global warming, accessibility, inclusion and access to justice.”
Farrow says. "These aren’t just issues down the road; they are here now, and the legal profession needs to see its role as central to helping individuals and communities move forward to a better place.”
The “thread of law runs through so many aspects of life, private life, public life, social institutions, public institutions,” he says. “It’s all driven or touched by law and legal institutions in one way or another.”
Farrow is a full professor at Osgoode and served several times as associate dean at the law school. He is also the founding academic director of the Winkler Institute for Dispute Resolution at Osgoode, chair of the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice, and former director of the York Centre for Public Policy and Law.
His research is widely published in Canada and worldwide, and he has been ranked many times in the top ten percent of authors on the Social Science Research Network. His most recent book, The Justice Crisis: The Cost and Value of Accessing Law, co-authored with Lesley A. Jacobs, was published in 2020.
In announcing his appointment as dean, York University president and vice-chancellor Rhonda Lenton said that Farrow “has significantly contributed to the legal profession, research and policy communities in Canada and globally by serving on many advisory boards and initiatives.”
The law “was not a life plan” for Farrow, who grew up in Ontario and attended Upper Canada College. In fact, his ambition was to become a doctor, though the realization that he wasn’t “particularly good at math or science put an end to that ambition.” Instead, he focussed on political and social issues, and along the way, he fell into the law.
Farrow, who holds a PhD from the University of Alberta, studied politics at Princeton as an undergrad. While finishing up that degree, a friend suggested that he take a BA degree in jurisprudence at Oxford’s Wadham College. “That took me to my first law degree and introduced me to legal issues,” he says. After Oxford, he returned to Canada to get his LLB at Dalhousie University.
He worked as a summer student at a small litigation boutique, then at Torys, and upon being called to the bar in 1995, worked at Torys as a litigation associate, doing a fair bit of work in defamation and media law. He also worked in sports law, contracts and commercial litigation.
“I had a wonderful introduction to the practice of law and the strategic, ethical and professional issues that come up.”
But the lure of academic life was strong, so he attended Harvard for his master’s in law degree. As he got deeper into the law, Farrow says he “started to see it through the world of real people and their stories,” as well as appreciate its creativity. In 2001, Farrow started as a tenure-track professor at the University of Alberta.
He says that with its “buzz of the courtroom,” litigation also helped “animate” his academic career. “I’m not sure I could do what I do now without having had that immersion in the real practice of law in the way that I did.”
Farrow, who had previously taught a once-a-week course in civil procedure at Osgoode, joined the faculty in 2006. Much of his research focuses on the administration of justice, civil justice, and legal professionalism.
He is also a member of the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters (founded by the former Supreme Court of Canada judge Beverley McLachlin), an academic advisor to the Rules Committee of the Federal Court of Canada, a research policy expert for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); and expert adviser to various foreign governments.
As for what he hopes to accomplish during his tenure as dean, Farrow emphasizes that much has already been done to increase diversity and inclusion at Osgoode, "though there is always more to be done."
“We have a remarkable student body at Osgoode. And that’s not by accident. We have made a deliberate effort in prioritizing accessibility and inclusion, and we have deliberately taken on a holistic approach to admissions to do better in bringing in the strongest, most engaged and diverse students.”
He adds: “I don’t want to suggest that we have perfected things, but I think we’re proud of where we’re at. And we’re continuing to double down every year on moving forward on that front.”