I’ve been teaching at University of Ottawa Law School’s compressed January term, which means a 3 hour class every day. It’s given me a sneak peek at the future lawyers of this country – and I like what I see.
If my class is indicative of the rest of the second and third year law students in Canada, they are bright, eager – and anxious.
Bright and eager is to be expected given that they're beginning a new challenging career – the anxiety however is troubling.
There is concern over articling positions for those staying in Ontario – no surprise there. Their anxiety also stems from a perception that benchers in Ontario don’t get it; that they're too far removed from being a student to comprehend in any meaningful way the full impact of this crisis.
But most of all, students feel that their views remain unheard and when they are heard, deemed to be irrelevant – a frustrating, powerless feeling which is magnified by the fact that the articling crisis impacts only students and no one else in the profession.
But this sense of being powerless does not stop at the articling debate.
We’ve been discussing a number of ways in which legal services are, will and can be delivered for the benefit of clients and for lawyers – in order to create a win/win, instead of a win/lose. Students are very excited about these innovations. They can see how social justice, access to justice, work-life balance and other goals can be achieved by simply rethinking how things are currently done using readily available technology and processes. They see a bright light at the end of a legal system tunnel that seems to be leaving more and more people behind.
Yet many students worry that their ideas to make our profession better and more accessible to all Canadians will be callously pushed aside by older generations of lawyers who, as McLuhan said “see the present through a rear view mirror.” Perhaps if I were to dig deeper, I might find a deeper fear; a fear that “we’ll turn out just like them in a few years.”
So my hope for law students is that you won’t lose your idealism or your desire to fix a delivery system that no longer addresses the needs of Canadian clients or lawyers.
And for those of you in the profession – please listen. These students are proud to become lawyers. They enjoy law, they want to safeguard a strong and independent profession – they just think it can be done in a better, more modern way….and they’re right. They can save the profession, but only if we let them.
In the immortal words of that great philosopher of the 1970’s, D. Bowie:
"And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They're quite aware of what they're going through"