The end of a year is a time to reflect upon the previous 12 months. The end of 2019 also provides the opportunity to reflect on the past decade.
Is it an exaggeration to say that the past decade has seen more changes in legal education in Canada than at any point in the past half-century? Since the opening of Queen’s, Western, and Ottawa in the 1950s? Or perhaps since the transfer of Osgoode Hall to York University by the Law Society of Upper Canada in 1965?
The decade that ended saw the opening of two new law schools (Thompson Rivers University, 2011; and Lakehead, 2013) and the launch of a third (Ryerson, opening fall 2020). The prospect of a fourth new law school (Trinity Western University) represented both a regulatory and an ontological challenge to the profession and to Law Societies in at least three provinces (BC, Ontario and Nova Scotia). The Supreme Court’s 2018 decision seemed to put and end to TWU’s plans, at least for now.
In Ontario, the debate over articling subsumed the entire decade, leading to the creation of an alternate pathway to the profession through the Law Practice Program (LPP) at Ryerson and the Programme de pratique du droit at uOttawa. It cannot be said that the debate over articling was resolved, but rather exhausted. The focus on articling also exposed the ugly underbelly of articling: the rampant nature of discrimination and harassment, not only in Ontario but in other provinces as well. In the past decade, the profession seemed unable or unwilling to face the reality of what by any standards should be considered a crisis of harassment and discrimination within its ranks. Whether it will have the motivation or the courage to face it in this decade remains to be seen.
The biggest phenomenon for legal education is undoubtedly the massive increase in foreign-trained lawyers seeking to qualify to practice law in Canada through the National Committee on Accreditation (NCA). The majority of NCA graduates are Canadians going abroad to study law. The majority seek to practice in Ontario.
There are two ways to enter the licensing process in the common law provinces: by receiving a degree from an accredited law school in Canada (all common law faculties are currently accredited) or obtaining a Certificate of Qualification from the NCA. At the beginning of the decade (2010), 17% of all students admitted to bar admission courses outside of Quebec were NCA grads; 83% were graduates of Canadian law schools. By 2017, the numbers had jumped significantly: 36.6% of all students admitted to bar admission courses outside of Quebec were NCA grads; only 63.4% were from Canadian law schools.
This change reflects the impact of globalization on legal education in Canada. It is not clear that the profession has fully internalized this reality. Lawyers complain about the number of law students, criticize new law schools or assert that Law Societies should let fewer lawyers into the profession, ignorant or oblivious to the anti-competitive and indeed illegal nature of such sentiments.
In reality, while we debated the approval of new law schools in Canada, law faculties overseas embraced and recruited Canadians in large numbers. In the UK, Leicester Law School now boasts over 300 Canadian students or 25% of its population. In Australia, Bond University has over 150 Canadians studying at “Australia’s largest Law School for Canadian Juris Doctor and Bachelor of Laws candidates.” Many other law faculties in the U.K. and in Australia have followed this example in recruiting Canadians.
In this new decade, we in the profession and in the academy will have to internalize and respond to the changes of the past decade. Law Societies, with the exception of Ontario, have come to focus more and more on skills training, leaving the “learning the law” to the law schools. This was demonstrated most recently by the November 2019 announcement of the Nova Scotia Barristers Society that it will be moving forward with a new Bar Admission Program, the Practice Readiness Education Program (PREP). Notably, the Nova Scotia Barristers Society stated that, “There will no longer be a Bar Examination once we fully transition to this program.” [emphasis in original]. Ontario remains an outlier in its failure to provide any transitional training between law school and articling.
Law schools and their regulators (the Federation of Law Societies) will have to confront the reality that foreign-trained lawyers (as well as Quebec lawyers and notaries) do not require an undergraduate degree yet it remains the norm for entrance to Canadian law schools outside of Quebec. If the trend of stagnant articling positions and increasing numbers of bar applicants continues, we will all have to face the reality that many more qualified lawyers will not in fact practice law.
In short, the changes to legal education brought over the course of the last decade will bring challenges to the profession and to the academy in this decade.
 See “Admissions”, Federation of Law Societies of Canada, 2010 Statistical Report, https://flsc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/2010-statistical-report.pdf (reporting 3975 total students admitted to bar admissions courses including 1,304 from the Barreau du Quebec and 208 from the Chambre des Notaires, reducing the total of 3975 by 1512 to 2463).
 See “Admissions”, Federation of Law Societies of Canada, 2017 Statistical Report, https://flsc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/2017-Stats-Report.pdf (reporting 4311 total students admitted to bar admissions courses, including 1430 from the Barreau du Quebec and 144 from the Chambre des Notaires, reducing the total of 4311 by 1574 to 2737).