Guest Post by Ron Penney
March 14th the Board of Regents of Memorial University will have it’s regularly
scheduled meeting and it is anticipated that the issue of creating a new Law
School at Memorial will be discussed.
academic governing body of the University, the Senate, has approved the
creation of the Law School but the final decision will be made by the Board of
Regents, who will hopefully demonstrate more sense than Senate.
is amazing that the most highly educated body in the Province, the Senate, is
totally oblivious to our fiscal situation, which the Parliamentary Budget
Officer describes as the most dire in the country.
was asked to make a submission to the University committee studying the issue,
as I was a member of an earlier committee which recommended against it.
points I made in the submission are still valid today.
I have not been able to get current information on the number of local students
in law school at this time but I think the number is significant. Because I
as a sessional lecturer in Political Science for many years, I have observed
many of the better students I have taught have gained admission to Law
and have become successful lawyers. I suggest that the committee get
on this because one of the key questions is whether there are good
who are not successful in obtaining admission.
When I was admitted in 1972 I was one of 3 admitted that year. At the time I
Director of the Law Society between 1990-93, the number of admissions
gone up to 30-40 a year and I understand that there are significant numbers of
still being admitted each year. I checked the Law Society website and there
717 practicing lawyers and 36 articling students at present. I don’t have the
of practicing lawyers when I was admitted but I suspect they were less than
(I was number 311 on the roll, which was the total number of lawyers admitted
the formation of the Law Society. I understand that the number of admissions
over 2500 at present.)
Is there any evidence that there is an unmet demand for lawyers in the
told by practicing members that there isn’t and there are a significant numbers
practicing in smaller communities throughout the province, which certainly
the case when I was admitted.
I out of 7 law students in Ontario cannot get articling positions and the Law
Upper Canada is considering alternatives to articling. This is indicative of an
of lawyers in the largest jurisdiction in Canada. The local bar could not
an increased supply of lawyers produced by our own Law School. I
that not all graduates would want to article or practice here but a
This initiative comes at a time of severe budgetary restraint and considerable
about resource based revenues in the future. Because I have close
with the University I am aware of the severe constraints being
by various faculties. When we can’t afford what we already have how
the University seriously entertain such a costly new venture?
I fear that we already have an institution which is already much larger than we
as a small jurisdiction with uncertain and volatile resource revenues.
I suspect one of the motivations for the University comes from the feeling that
is not “complete” without a Law School and that we could attract
go to the UK to do their law degree. There is no doubt that our low tuition
attract such students but what would their future be, in an already saturated
lawyers market, and a graduate in a very small jurisdiction with little ability
provide articling positions. (As an aside how can it make any sense to make our
fees so low that is is cheaper for students from other provinces like Nova
to attend here and pay for their accommodation rather than attend University
their home province. This is part of a larger debate about artificially low
have been frozen for many years, and which will be politically difficult to
when the time comes when they must increase.)
The argument was made during the deliberations of the Bruce Committee that we
have been in a stronger position on the major public policy issues which had a
component such as the offshore or the Upper Churchill contract. As those were
which took place when I was involved I know that we obtained the best
from both within and outside Canada. Whether or not faculty members of a
School located here would have had the interest or expertise on a particular
policy issue would have been pure chance.
Flowing from the above, it is argued that the quality of our public policy
those that have a legal component, would improve. If that were true, it
make a strong argument, but I fear that the very limited contribution made by
faculty, with rare exceptions, would carry over to law professors. There is a
tolerance for dissent in this province and little incentive for faculty to
of public importance. Notwithstanding the public engagement initiative
by the university, by and large public engagement by faculty is restricted
non-controversial subjects. As I have learned from my own foray into a
public policy issue, very few individuals, either within or outside the
have the courage to take a stand, even those with tenure. I, along with
have encouraged the Harris Centre, to facilitate informed public discussion
public policy issues, with limited success. As an example, there has been a big
on changes to our access to information legislation, largely led by the media,
is to be expected, but there has been no contribution to the debate by a
of our Political Science Department. My own efforts to have the Harris
host a session on access to information and aspects of the democratic deficit
this province, such as a lack of a committee system in our House of Assembly,
been unsuccessful thus far. The University is very sensitive to its
government and doesn’t encourage faculty to contribute to the public debate on
issues. If anything the opposite is true.
While issues of other competing demands in the administration of justice may
the concern of the Committee or the University, I share the concerns expressed
John Crosbie that there are other more pressing concerns, such as court
the City. I can add to that the disgraceful conditions in the penitentiary,
to be replaced years ago.
I note the remarks of Chief Justice Green made to the Committee and reported in
about the fact that there is no academic comment on their decisions. To
extent that their decisions merit academic consideration I suggest that those are
being addressed in the myriad law journals published in Canada. The
decisions are appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada and the recent
of our Court of Appeal have often not been well received by that court.
I accept the argument that not all law school graduates end up practicing law
legal training is useful for other activities. I am a good example of that, as
career was in the public service, where my profession was very useful. But the
majority of law students wish to article and be admitted at the minimum before
decide what they may want to do. And a significant number will want to attempt
practice either here or in the rest of Canada. I fear that many will be disappointed,
those who graduate from a new law school which will likely take many
to achieve a good reputation.
I understand that one of the arguments is to provide access to students who
and pay the very large tuition charged at those institutions. I suspect those
students who cannot gain admission to Canadian law schools. If Memorial was
be permitted to establish a law school with full-cost recovery tuition, similar
schools or my old alma mater, the Faculty of Law of the University of Toronto,
see that it might make sense, but I doubt the government would agree. A law
created here is likely to be have the lowest tuition in Canada, no doubt
it attractive to out of province applicants.
There is merit in having our students go out of province to get their
Many will have done their undergraduate degree at Memorial and they
to have their academic horizons broadened with the added opportunity to
article and then practice in other jurisdictions. That was certainly my
Does Memorial Need a Law School?