Monday, February 27, 2012

Canadian Views On Legal Education Reform

Learning by Doing by Heather Gardiner.  Some excerpts:

Osgoode dean Lorne Sossin advocates more hands-on learning in legal education. Regardless of the type of experiential learning, whether it’s participating in one of the law school’s clinics or one of its various intensive programs, he says it breaks down the barriers between the classroom and community, effectively creating better learning opportunities for students. “What we’re hoping is it sets our graduates up to have a real advantage that not every graduate of every law school will have,” he says. “[It’s] that experiential component that is very much what gives them insight into, for example, the different perspectives or lenses that a client might have, or a regulator might have, or the government might have, or the justice system might have. You start to look at issues from those different perspectives when you’ve seen how they play out in action. I think those are things that if you just go to law school and sit in the classroom for three years, you’re just less likely to get exposed to.”

Adam Campbell, an articling student at labour and employment law firm Harris & Co. LLP in Vancouver, agrees that his time at the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre was his most memorable experience during law school. At the clinic, he worked on one main file related to storm water and the infrastructural issues with the city’s drainage system. He says his clinical work was much more inspiring than any of his classroom work, and even more beneficial than his articling term so far. “At times I actually found [the clinical work] more useful than the articling period that I’m doing right now. I had way more control over an actual file for the entire thing than I have so far while articling,” he says.

In an article he wrote for 4Studentsonline, Michael Oxman points out the benefits he got from working at UVic’s Business Law Clinic. “I found it useful to get feedback from lawyers as opposed to law school professors. While professors may compare work against theoretical models and research papers, practitioners are focused on how work functions in the real world. Rhetoric and purple prose are discouraged. Rather than contemplating remote hypotheticals, students are pushed to consider the practical realities of running a business and the tangible concerns of business people.”

Doug Ferguson, director of Western’s Community Legal Services clinic, says there are several ways for law schools to integrate more practical training into their curricula. He says students should have the choice to take a certain number of credits in clinical and ethical courses to reduce or eliminate their articling term — much like the option suggested by the LSUC’s articling task force. Universities could integrate articling into the three years of law school, or offer a capstone course or a simulated summer program where students work at a virtual law firm, similar to the program at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, he suggests. These alternatives would also help address the current articling crisis in Ontario, he adds.

(Scott Fruehwald) (hat tip: Educating Tomorrow's Lawyers Blog)

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