Like Darryl Mountain in today’s Slaw.ca column, I have been thinking about law school lately. Or rather, I have been reminded about past thoughts on this topic. Whether law school should be changed or not is a current hot topic in the U.S. In addition to the New York Times article that Darryl points to, The National Law Journal has also just published the article What is Law School For, Anyway? by Karen Sloan about law schools not keeping up with what is needed in the profession.
One thing I believe the U.S. law school system has gotten right, however, has been allowing for parttime studies leading up to a law degree. It has allowed law degrees to be more available to students of a wider range of backgrounds, and allowed some to obtain the law degree to support work and previous education for other purposes besides practising or teaching the law.
It has long irked me that Canadian law schools are full-time study only (somebody please correct me if I am wrong). In the U.S., because law school is available on a parttime basis, roughly half of law librarians have both a law and a librarian degree (this is a guesstimate on my part, based on past discussions). In Canada the number is much smaller. I would be surprised if we could find more than 20 people across the country with both degrees.
Typically those with dual degrees have completed the law degree first, and then looked for alternatives to practice, thereafter seeking out library school. There are a few who have taken the dual degree in a program for that purpose. I am aware of dual degree programs at Dalhousie University and the University of Toronto; again, I would be interested if there are other dual degree programs in Canada. Even more rare, the odd librarian has gone back to school for law. But typically those people go into practice.
For a Canadian law librarian who would like to pursue legal studies, it means stopping work for 3 years, not only paying for law school but also potentially giving up an income for those years. It is not something that most would be willing to do. As a result, we have few with dual degrees.
Demand for law librarians in Canada, however, rises over time. Many law schools across the country, for example, require the dual degree for their library reference and management staff. Those with dual degrees are also desirable in some law firms for research lawyer and knowledge management positions. Supply is not up to the demand, so as a result those from outside Canada are found to fill the positions. This in itself is not a problem for individual positions, but what happens when we get to the point where most senior positions at our Canadian law school libraries are not staffed by Canadians? How does that affect service, instruction for law students, and the general philosophy of law school libraries?
Yes, you are correct if you pick this up as a personal rant. I have long felt that, had law school been available on a parttime basis in Canada as it is for my colleagues in the U.S., I would have gradually worked toward and completed a law degree to supplement my three other university degrees. I completed my library degree on a parttime basis while working fulltime in a law firm library. Starting a law degree 18 years ago would have been of great interest to me. I think about how different my career would have been. But there is no way I could have afforded to put my work life aside to complete a law degree fulltime.
If there is demand for the dual degrees, why is no one in the Canadian system doing anything to facilitate this? Why do law school libraries not hire those with library degrees who are willing to pursue a law degree while working? Is there another option?