This is a great time to be a Canadian labour and employment lawyer, but Canadian law schools now employ fewer full-time labour and employment professors than they have in decades. This post highlights the issue and invites comment about the relationship between our law schools and the maintenance of a vibrant and well-qualified labour and employment bar.
The declining faculty issue first caught my attention when, in February, York University professor David Doorey published a blog post entitled “Employment Law Practice is Booming, But Someone Should Tell the Law Schools.” Professor Doorey noted the significance of labour and employment issues to in house counsel and quoted statistics about labour and employment being a “top concern.” He also bemoaned the dwindling support for the practice by Canadian law schools as reflected in the declining number of their full-time faculty members who are dedicated to the study of labour and employment law.
As a proud member of the Ontario labour and employment bar and member of Hicks Morley’s student committee, I appreciated Professor Doorey’s suggestion that law schools should better prepare students to become practicing labour and employment lawyers. I immediately recorded (but never published) a message to law students about why they should consider becoming labour and employment practitioners. I explained how ours is a great practice for young advocates who are otherwise becoming more starved for hearing opportunities, how there’s remarkable variety to the practice (with developing sub-specialities in legal areas like human rights, privacy and pension and benefits law) and, finally, how it’s a great practice for building rewarding client relationships.
Of course, encouraging student interest in the practice is not necessarily the same thing as encouraging law schools to hire full-time labour and employment professors nor is it clear that the shrinking number of Canadian labour and employment professors is due to lack of institutional support. I spoke with Windsor University’s professor Brian Etherington last week, who raised the significance of market factors:
To a certain extent law schools are dependent on the research interests of the young scholars that are in the job market when they are recruiting new faculty. While they can attempt to entice established scholars away from other schools, their ability to do so successfully will depend on the willingness of such scholars to move and the resources made available by the university (which have been very tight in recent years) to lure them to their institution.
Professor Etherington’s point raises one of many good questions that need to be considered by those with an interest in labour and employment scholarship and practice. Are Canadian law schools failing to compete for talented labour and employment scholars? Who are they competing with? Or, if this is about the value Canadian law schools currently place on labour and employment scholarship, why is labour and employment scholarship not valued? Is student interest in a practice area a proper reason for hiring a full-time faculty member? Is full-time faculty member count the proper measure of support for a practice area? Are the number of upper year labour and employment courses (whether taught by faculty or sessional lecturers) a better measure? If the bar supports labour and employment scholarship should it have any expectation of return? What’s reasonable to expect?
At least some of these questions are being considered by the Canadian Labour Law Association – an organization with a mandate that includes promoting the study and understanding of Canadian labour law. The CLLA has recently embarked on a campaign to revitalize the teaching and study of labour law at Canadian law schools. According to an open letter recently written by CLLA co-director Jeffrey Sack of Sack Goldblatt Mitchell, the CLLA’s program will include meeting with law school deans to encourage appointments, funding visiting professors from abroad and organizing conferences on international labour law. I was able to reach CLLA executive committee member Brian Burkett of Heenan Blaikie for elaboration, and he explained that the CLLA is acting in the belief that developing and maintaining a strong and knowledgeable labour community (as a whole) is in the public interest. This non-partisan objective is admittedly more legitimate than that reflected in my own initial urge to promote the practice. The CLLA’s objective is not about members of the bar asking law schools, “What can you do for us?” and, instead, sets an objective that can be shared by scholars and practicioners alike.
Are you a law student, legal scholar, law school administrator or labour and employment practitioner with a view? Please comment!
- Welcome to the Future: Law School, 22 June 2009.
- Open letter from Mr. Jeffrey Sack (Co-Director, CLLA) to Ms. Sheila Greene, 26 May 2009.
- Employment Law Practice is Booming, But Someone Should Tell the Law Schools, David Doorey, 26 February 2009.
- Advice for Future Labour Law Professors, 10 February 2009.
- Critics clash over role of law schools, 12 December 2008.