Law Students: In the Midst of Change

The report of the CBA Futures project found, unsurprisingly, that “the legal profession in Canada is entering a period of major change.” From my perspective as a 2L law student, the thought of entering the profession in the midst of such change is both exciting and overwhelming. Exciting because there will be novel opportunities; overwhelming as uncertainty in the profession could make the transition from law student to lawyer a tough one. Many of the 22 recommendations in Futures report have special resonance with students: from admissions, to debt reduction programs, to post-call training.

One such recommendation is the idea that educational institutions should create new models for legal education (recommendation 15). As a student at Lakehead University, home to Canada’s newest law school, I already have some personal experience with one such model. Lakehead’s Faculty of Law integrates practical skills training into their standard 3-year curriculum, which includes a four-month work placement, so students do not have to article after graduation.

I have found this new model of education that synergizes theory of law with practice of law extremely useful. It forces us to apply what we have learned almost immediately. In my first year alone I did several skill-based exercises involving oral advocacy and legal writing, which were judged mostly by members of the local bar. I had to prepare and conduct a bail hearing and a sentencing hearing in front of a leading criminal defence lawyer. Opportunities such as this are a bit overwhelming at first, but they give students invaluable experience and attract students to such new models of legal education. Recently, Dean Lee Stuesser has called for students to demand more accountability from educational institutions for the skills they impart to students.

Another Futures recommendation is that stakeholders in legal education work together to establish debt-forgiveness programs (recommendation 13). This is a great way to increase choices for law students who are trying to balance competing interests: paying off student loans while working jobs that might not pay much, such as working in remote communities or in areas of social justice. Manitoba’s Faculty of Law has already taken such an initiative, and recently Osgoode Hall Law School has also decided to take a novel approach to debt forgiveness. However, these law schools seem to be amongst the few and there is much that law schools across Canada can do.

Join myself and 3L law student Sameer Zuberi on Twitter, September 25, 5-6 pm (EST) for a discussion of these Futures recommendations and others of particular concern to students.

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