The End of Law Schools?

Next week Benchers of the Law Society of Upper Canada will (hopefully) decide on the future of articling in the province of Ontario. So, rightly or wrongly, one piece of the legal training puzzle in Ontario will be determined.

The elephant in the room however is the law schools.

Many will say that law schools are there simply to serve the purpose of providing a legal education that students are free to use in whatever fashion they choose; ensuring students become lawyers is not the role of law schools.

This is naïve. And it would only be the most hard-hearted law professor who could look her class in the eye and make such a comment.

On the legal profession’s side of things, lawyers will say that law school should provide vocational training so that students are better equipped to practice law upon graduation. This again may be naïve as law schools are far less equipped to provide such training than any other body.

Readers can argue the merits of either case ad nauseam, so let me suggest something completely different.

Let me suggest that law school (and articling for that matter) are unnecessary.

Yeah, I said it.

What if you could, right out of high school, follow a program that allows you to become a lawyer within 5 or 6 years at a fraction of the cost of law school?

The program would work something like this:

1. Graduate from high school

2. Work in a law office for 5 or 6 years while taking a number of part-time law courses provided by a community college (kindof what many Canadian paralegals do now to get their certification).

3. In the end, you are a certified to practice law perhaps in only a few specific areas (which is what a number of lawyers do in any event).


Well, such a program already exists in England.

The CILEX program creates Chartered Legal Executives who are fully able to practice law. They have trained at a much lower cost, built usable skills while taking academic courses part-time, been of long-term value to their employer (at affordable rates) and made a decent living at the same time.

Is there a role for CILEX in Canada? And would it give law schools a run for their money?

The answer to both questions is, “Yes!”


  1. David Collier-Brown

    Gee, that sounds like the legal training Abraham Lincoln had (:-))

    I’m not sure about the formal schooling part, though!


  2. In the UK, of course, a law degree is a first degree. Here most people have at least one degree before starting their legal education. I think there’s a good argument for requiring people to have some education of the rigour of a degree (i.e. that varies… but it’s not nothing) before law. After a degree in something, we had the apprenticeship model with supplementary courses in Ontario up to 1957. It wasn’t thought a good model at the time. Should we bring it back?

    I’m inclined to think that almost any lawyer is a better lawyer for being educated as more than a technician, even if he or she spends most of the working day doing technical stuff. But it’s fair to say that this ideal comes at a cost that not all can pay (though so do most other positions or achievements in the world.)

  3. Susan Anderson Behn

    This reminds me of the system in place in British Columbia before the Law School at UBC graduated its first class after WWII.

    My grandfather arrived here in British Columbia, with a degree from Mount Allison University in biology as part of a survey crew bringing lines into southeastern BC in 1912. He was persuaded to enter B.C.’s three year articles by a business man to wanted him to become his personal lawyer. He articled for three years with his brother-in-law in Vancouver, and was called in 1916.

    My father finished his degrees at UBC in 1938…there were few jobs during the depression for entomologists, so he also articled for three years, and was called to the bar in 1941, and joined his father’s sole practice.

    There were no courses to take, but I think the practical, detailed, work undertaken during those three years of articles, plus the work required during years of practice in those pre-internet times, was as good a basic education in the law as you could get.

    It certainly provided the discipline which they both showed all of their lives, doing huge amounts of reading each week, to ensure that new case law from across the country, was understood and incorporated in the work of the firm.

    I can remember discussions between them in the late 1950’s about how to provide sufficient education in their specialist field to a potential articling student in one year, when the UBC Law School had provided NO COURSES in their area of law in the program. In the end they recommended the student article in Ontario, where there would be more scope for his interest,than in Vancouver.

  4. Very interesting article. Coincidentally, I have been reading the biography of Chief Justice Laskin. And it delves, in surprising detail, into the mechanics and politics of legal education from the 1930’s. If memory serve it notes the system you describe and it also makes mention of the system in Britain.