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Theory and Practice: The Four Defining Pillars of Ryerson’s Faculty of Law

The Ryerson Faculty of Law is built on four pillars – a commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion, increasing access to justice, stimulating innovation and entrepreneurship, and providing sound academics with innovation pedagogy.

Ryerson’s proposal was shaped by widespread consultations within the university and in the broader legal community. This included continuous community engagement, solid academic input and feedback, stakeholder engagement, engagement with organizations representing lawyers from diverse backgrounds, and a comprehensive external review of the draft proposal.

In creating and refining a proposal for legal education at Ryerson, two separate internal committees were established. The first was a cross-campus body that studied the feasibility of establishing a Faculty of Law at Ryerson. This committee made a unanimous recommendation to Senate, the Provost and the President that the Faculty of Law at Ryerson was feasible. The second committee was primarily made up of exceptional academics drawn from Ryerson’s Business and Law program and Criminology Department and professional representatives from the Law Practice Program. This committee developed and refined the proposal for the Juris Doctor degree.

The approval processes the proposal went through were extremely rigorous. External approvals were required from the Ontario Universities Council on Quality Assurance, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, and the Law Society of Ontario. Internally, there needed to be approval of the academic program by Ryerson’s Senate, then approval by Senate and Ryerson’s Board of Governors for the establishment of a new Faculty. Final program approval from the Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities was received in August 2019. The proposal is all the stronger for having received sage advice from so many different quarters.

Ryerson acknowledges and respects the important work of the law schools that already educate law students in Canada. We propose a different kind of law school that trains future lawyers differently. Our law school will be innovative in focus, design, and approach involving a mandatory intensive practice element and collaborative co-teaching between faculty and practitioners.

We have created a curriculum and an approach to pedagogy that seeks to blend theory and practice. It is an approach that requires faculty members to work closely with practitioners in the delivery of the curriculum and it places emphasis on mentorship. It requires a one semester mandatory placement for all students in the fifth or sixth semester and it has mandatory specialized boot camps at the beginning of five of the six semesters.

From the outset, Ryerson was committed to creating a curriculum that would fulfil the requirements of an Integrated Practice Curriculum (IPC), with its 240 required competencies drawn from the National Entry to Practice Competency Profile for Lawyers and Quebec Notaries. The IPC places these individual competencies into three categories – skills, tasks, and activities. Each competency is also classified using three possible types of training – exposure, the need to demonstrate ability, and inclusion in a work placement. Finally, 45 of the 240 competencies include an additional need for a formal independent assessment. Viewed in their entirety, these requirements provide a rigorous structure for the type of education a law student receives. The purpose is to ensure that a focus on professional practice infuses every element of a law school’s JD curriculum.

It took us several months to complete a full scan of our program, drilling down to the most minute details of each of the 26 mandatory courses in our curriculum to ascertain that every one of the 240 competencies was met in the specific ways set out in the IPC report written by the Law Society of Ontario’s Professional Development & Competence Committee. As our original FLSC proposal had additional competencies above and beyond those found in the National Competency Profile – skills related to topics such as technological literacy, emotional and cultural awareness, and social innovation – these extra competencies were added to this new IPC exercise.

In April 2019, Ryerson presented a 150-page proposal to the PD&C Committee. At Convocation, the Committee’s own motion to approve our proposal was passed unanimously and Ryerson gained an IPC designation for graduates of our Juris Doctor program. We were heartened that several members of Convocation also chose to speak to this motion, expressing their support for the direction in which Ryerson is headed, given the underlying features of our JD program that the IPC designation captures. This designation means that our students will not be required to undertake articling or pass through the Law Practice Program before undergoing the bar admission process.

As we prepare to welcome Ryerson Law’s first cohort of students in September 2020, we realize it is now up to us to turn the ambitious plans outlined in our Federation proposal and our IPC proposal into a practical reality. We welcome the challenge and we welcome the support and encouragement we have received from the academic community and the legal community as we meet this challenge.

Anver Saloojee
Interim Dean of Law, Ryerson University

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