DOES MEMORIAL NEED A LAW SCHOOL?

The
President of Memorial University, Dr. Gary Kachanoski, thinks it is time to “again examine the feasibility of establishing a law school at Memorial.  It’s been
25 years since the university last reviewed this avenue”, he stated in February.

University
Presidents tend to like legacy projects. Mose Morgan built the Music School;
others, including engineering, medical, nursing and business are all important legacy
projects of Memorial Presidents.

But, do we
need a law school?  The arguments are
murkier than those advanced for the other professional schools.

This Province’s
population has actually declined, and the number of practising lawyers has
increased, since the idea of a law school was first studied. This might suggest
that the number of lawyers, per capita, is a meaningful measurement of how well
a society is served, by that group.  But,
is it?


The Canadian
average, according to a McLean’s 2009 article, is one lawyer for 421 people.

In Nova
Scotia it is 485 people, Alberta 458 and in Saskatchewan 660.  The three Provinces have law schools.

In Newfoundland
and Labrador the per capita average is one lawyer for 710 people.

Still, lawyers
have set out a shingle in pretty much every town of reasonable size.

Is the
arithmetical imbalance, cited, evidence of a social deficit? 

Comparisons
with other Provinces help the analysis but the numbers, alone, should not be
weighed too heavily. More than individuals, businesses represent a large demand
for legal services. 

NL has an
economy dominated by big government and a small number of big companies,
especially big oil, whose needs are met largely by firms with international
heft.  Increasingly, our law firms, too,
are connecting with those in Halifax or elsewhere, to achieve better economies
and access to diverse expertise. 

NL does not
have a big economy, independent of oil, nor a mature sector of small to medium
sized businesses with which to combat our propensity for boom and bust, and as
an alternative to mega projects. 

Can the
Government even afford to underwrite a law school? 

It is a
fundamental question. The public purse already funds over 70% of Memorial’s capital
and operating costs.  Despite our nascent
wealth, the Government still relies upon deficit financing.

Is a law
school a priority within Memorial?

Our
University, has an infrastructure, which until very recently, was visibly
crumbling.  It is still hard pressed to manage
many of its essential programs.  Should
it achieve more breadth, rather than depth, before reaching into additional program
areas? Count on many, inside and outside Memorial, to have a problem with that
suggestion.

The issue of
a law school is no minor matter.  Because
it represents both significant upfront and recurring costs, the question should
be tested not just against a benchmark of priorities for Memorial.  It needs to be butted against those of the Province,
as a whole.

This Fall,
Lakehead University, located in the northern city of Thunder Bay (population
122,000), will accept law students to “Ontario’s first new law school in
decades”, in a province “already teeming with lawyers”, wrote Canadian Press
reporter Allison Jones, whose article dwelled on the problem of Ontario law students finding article positions.

Lakehead Law
School Dean, Lee Stuessar argues that scarce article positions are not a
problem in northern Ontario. In addition, local aboriginal bands are “thrilled”
with the new law school and expect more native students to attend and more lawyers,
sensitive to native issues, to be an outcome.

“I’ll
be blunt, I think that many…universities want a law school for the wrong
reasons…They perceive it as being somewhat prestigious…,” said Dean Stuesser.

The Dean’s comments
underscore the issues which are central to the question the Memorial University
President poses. 

In
particular, they suggest we should ask whether our legal community, or the
broader community, has identified serious deficits in the legal representation
of our disadvantaged. Have our aboriginal people been crying out for more ‘aboriginally
sensitive’ lawyers?  Are our many small
rural communities suffering from a lack of such services? How far away from a
law office is considered remote and can that community sustain the costs of
such a professional?

If the
answer to any of these questions is in the affirmative, why haven’t we heard
from any of these groups?  Indeed, when
have we ever heard any citizen experiencing difficulty seeing a lawyer?  Isn’t the message of every “Make the Call” legal advertisement a plea for a full docket?

Dean Lorne Sossin, of Osgoode Hall, acknowledges that Canadian law schools face some of the same
challenges as those that underpin “an existential crises” among U.S. Law
Schools, citing high tuition costs, high student debt and problems of articling.  He suggests the situation in Canada is different;
that our tuition fees are “on average, about half the cost of an American legal
education”.

Implicitly,
the Osgoode Dean acknowledges the large subsidies, that underwrite a
substantial portion of the cost of professional schools, are an integral part
of the Canadian law school equation.

Dean Sossin turns
aside the problem of articles.  He believes:
“We need people capable of making the justice system work in the public
interest. We need problem-solvers. We need champions of economic innovation and
social justice. We need leaders. Lawyers remain very much in demand,
particularly to address access to justice for middle-income communities…”

Dean Sossin
seems to submit that lawyers are more valuable than their contribution to GNP
suggests.  He places them in a special
circle, one that ascribes  a public
policy role as well as qualities less definable than those of, the ostensibly
more pragmatic, Dean Stuessar of Lakehead.

Then, let’s
ask the question: 

Would more
lawyers assure this Province a more vigorous citizen participation in public
policy issues, both with and without specific legal import? Would more lawyers
reduce the prospect of unwise legislation or other government sponsored
initiatives?

The Muskrat
Falls issue, for example, enshrouds a multiplicity of legal and economic issues
as well as those of governance and transparency. On the legal side, alone, the
complexities mount with decisions, like that of Nova Scotia’s UARB and latterly
with additional legal challenges involving aboriginal groups and Hydro Quebec.

The
implications are staggering, when their economic and social impact, by a
prematurely sanctioned multi-billion dollar mega project, is considered.

Then there
is Bill 29. 

Apart from
two of the three that are Cabinet Ministers, you can count on one hand the number of NL
lawyers who were actively engaged in the issue, on either side.  The NL Law Society counts 717 lawyers as
practising Members.

How many
more lawyers must graduate before those, that Dean Sossin calls “champions of
economic innovation and social justice”, put up their hands?

Perhaps, I
misinterpret Dean Sossin; he may have been speaking in a more commercial
context.  Perhaps, my expectations are
too high. Perhaps, lawyers like most other professionals, just want to work
without the burden of any overriding preoccupation with higher ideals.

But, if that
is true, where is the pay-off for the society that underwrites much of the cost
of creating the excess of law graduates who, as in parts of Ontario, can’t find
articles or as in the U.S., can’t find jobs? 

Does
Memorial need a law school?

Students
from across Canada come here to enroll in Memorial’s diverse programs. Can
other campuses continue to supply seats for our law applicants as, for example,
we now provide in our medical school? Do Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have
difficulty gaining access to law schools? 

Acceptance
is a competitive process based upon academic merit. According to one lawyer,
who would know: “there has never been a problem for good Newfoundland students
to get into law schools in the rest of Canada.” 
Another, sagely, adds: “It’s not such a bad idea if our lawyers, lived
for a while and were trained in a place other than where they performed their
undergraduate work”.

Has our
legal system received critical review?  

Retired Canadian
Supreme Court Justice Antonio Lamar, in 2006, conducted a public enquiry and
issued a “scathing” 486 page Report, in which he made 45 recommendations for
improving the administration of our justice system; he made no mention of a deficit
of lawyers in the Province.

NL possesses
an increasingly large group of aging and “low income”, many of whom are
associated with seasonal work, in our widely dispersed outports.    

Will more
lawyers make the cost of legal services, to them, less pricey or the Court
system more efficient? That is certainly doubtful. 

In last
year’s round of budget cutbacks some lawyers, in the Prosecutor’s Office,
received the ax. This is hardly the action of anyone, including the Minister of
Justice, suffering concern over a paucity of legal talent. Though some reinstatement
followed the ensuing outcry, one should not be too hopeful that a heavily
subsidized law school will be matched with bigger budgets for the justice
system.    

Advocates of
legal aid services, too, have always despaired over the availability of money; not
the availability of lawyers.  Those
offering private legal services are none too private about deriding the paltry
legal aid rates that fail to cover the cost of running an office.

Some local lawyers
whisper that already Firms, in St. John’s, have young hires who should be a lot
more productive.

Is Memorial
looking for a law school or is it searching for prestige?  According to Lakehead’s Dean of Law, on some campuses,
just possibly there is a relationship.

It will cost
many millions of dollars to construct a campus, develop a law library, hire
professors and subsidize tuition. Students will come, but our better students
will still want to go to established law schools with good reputations.

Let me declare my bias, in case it is not already evident:  I value our University. I am on the side of what strengthens Memorial; but, any decision predicated on extracting more funding from an unpredictable and already over-stretched public purse, does not work for me. 

 
If
Memorial’s President intends to establish proof that the need exists for a law
school, one that transcends notions of prestige, and that exceeds all other
priorities, his Committee truly has its work cut out.
Des Sullivan
Des Sullivan
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada Uncle Gnarley is hosted by Des Sullivan, of St. John's. He is a businessman engaged over three decades in real estate management and development companies and in retail. He is currently a Director of Dorset Investments Limited and Donovan Holdings Limited. During his early career he served as Executive Assistant to Premier's Frank D. Moores (1975-1979) and Brian Peckford (1979-1985). He also served as a Part-Time Board Member on the Canada-Newfoundland Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB). Uncle Gnarley appears on the masthead representing serious and unambiguous positions on NL politics and public policy. Uncle Gnarley is a fiscal conservative possessing distinctly liberal values and a non-partisan persusasion. Those values and opinions underlie this writer's views on NL's politics, economy and society. Uncle Gnarley publishes Monday mornings and more often when events warrant.

GROUP SEEKS PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR CABOT MARTIN RESEARCH AWARD

Cabot Martin’s sudden passing, in September, has stirred his friends, colleagues, and others familiar with his work, to honor him and encourage continued work in applied research and public policy development.

GILBERT BENNETT AND THE CONSEQUENCES OF CRONYISM

$1 million is not bad farewell for a fellow whose work performance represents one of the principal reasons for a twenty million dollar Public Inquiry, and who failed so badly in his job so badly that NL Hydro is still trying to define the mess that he (and others) has left behind.

THE “ODE”: SHORT CUT TO POLITICAL CORRECTNESS LANDS MEMORIAL IN HOT WATER

As much as anything else, it is also a simple love song to a people and to their place. It is deficient in the language of inclusion, yes, sexist by the standards of today, too, but only those who misunderstanding the language of respect ascribe to it offense whether to aboriginal, to gender, or to religious belief.