Law schools have a mixed relationship with the universities of which they are a part. Subject to the universities’ rules, law schools nevertheless also give the impression of having an “independent” status. In Nothing Less than Great: Reforming Canada’s Universities (“Nothing Less than Great“) (University of Toronto Press, 2021), Harvey P. Weingarten assesses the state of universities across (mostly) English-speaking Canada and makes general recommendations for reform. While he refers to law schools only in passing, much of what he has to say is relevant to the landscape of Ontario law schools and legal education. Here I explore how Weingarten’s assessment of universities writ large can inform our understanding of law schools’ development.
[Disclosure: I met Harvey Weingarten at the University of Calgary when he began his presidency and I began my deanship of the law school in 2001.We have maintained a friendship ever since I left U of C in 2006.]
Weingarten’s post-student association with universities goes back to his faculty position with the Department of Psychology at McMaster University, later becoming provost there. Following his tenure as president at Calgary, he became the head of Ontario’s Higher Education Quality Council (HEQCO) and from there arrived at his current position as Principal of the School of Applied Health Sciences at the Michener Institute of Education at the University Health Network. He knows English Canadian universities and, what’s more, I know from many conversations that he cares about their current and future quality.
Nothing Less than Great benefits from this experience and knowledge of institutions across the country with which he dealt during his time as president of Calgary. He knows the nuances of the relationship between Ontario universities and the government from his time at HEQCO. The book is chock full of data culled from a wide array of studies and secondary sources. In contrast, I don’t populate this post with corresponding stats about law schools. Rather, my comments are more impressionistic, with concrete real life experiences thrown in for good measure.
Several themes appear in connection with questions that form the focus of the book’s chapters:
the value of going to university, including the kinds of employment graduates can anticipate, the expectations of employers and university education’s role in upward mobility in society; the relative hidebound nature of universities, which have a reluctance to innovate and, at the same time, the need to innovate; the relationship to government; and the sustainability of universities, both economically and with respect to quality.
Weingarten concludes with a “recipe for reform”, the ingredients of which are several considerations necessary if universities are to move from “good” to “great”. It is generally beyond the capacity of this post to apply this recipe to law schools, other than one or two comments in the Conclusion.
Here I focus primarily on the value of going to law school and law schools’ capacity and willingness to innovate.
My familiarity with the inside track of law school development began with my appointment to UNB’s Faculty of Law in 1992, where I remained until I became dean at Calgary’s Faculty of Law in 2001 (until 2006). As dean, I attended the law deans’ council meetings that kept all of us deans connected to developments at law schools throughout (mainly) English-speaking Canada. My connection to law schools has since been more indirect. As the founding executive director of the Law Commission of Ontario (LCO) until 2015, I was connected to the goings on at Osgoode Hall Law School, the home of the LCO. Furthermore, I visited all the (then) law schools in Ontario annually (at least) as part of my executive director outreach.
Since then, I’ve kept abreast of law school developments more as an interested “outsider”. Law schools have changed in some ways since I began teaching and less so, it seems to me, since my direct connection ended. Nevertheless, I can speak to some of the issues Nothing Less than Great raises as applied to the law school context.
THE PLACE AND QUASI-INDEPENDENCE OF LAW SCHOOLS
The UniRank website lists some 100 accredited public and private universities in Canada of which, according to Wikipedia‘s list, about 70 are public universities. In contrast, there are 24 law schools across the country. Five are in Quebec (where civil law predominates, with McGill providing an integrated program resulting in a civil and common law degree and Sherbrooke offering a common law and transnational JD degree) and the remainder in the rest of Canada (common law schools, with the University of Ottawa offering common and civil law degrees and Osgoode Hall Law School providing an opportunity to do both a JD and an LLB (Civil) in collaboration with a Quebec law school). I’m limiting my comments to the common law schools.
The first year enrolment of Canadian common law law schools is approaching 3,000 annually. After the last law school opened in 1976 (at the University of Calgary), there were no new schools until Thompson Rivers Faculty of Law opened in British Columbia about ten years ago and the Ryerson Faculty of Law (now the Lincoln Alexander School of Law) and the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law at Lakehead University in Ontario opened in 2013 and 2020, respectively. The latter two established the most “innovative” curriculum in many years. (I wrote about these programs in a previous Slaw post, “Whither English-Canada Law Schools?“.)
Law schools tend to operate as quasi-independent bodies within the university. They are subject to many of the university’s requirements (budget, research requirements, faculty evaluation processes and procedures, among them). But, by virtue of their connection to the legal profession, they also have independent sources of income on which they have become highly reliant. Their faculty, if unionized, will be in a separate bargaining unit or may be subject to a separate collective agreement from that applicable to the rest of the university. Still, they share the larger university challenges of funding, ensuring the currency of their curriculum and seeing their graduates find jobs, both as articling students (most students find places in their second year) and when these same graduates enter the workforce (after third year and usually additional professional requirements).
THE “PURPOSE” OF UNIVERSITIES AND LAW SCHOOLS
While the purpose of a university education is increasingly viewed as being to obtain employment of certain kinds and at a certain level (Nothing Less than Great makes clear the advantage in earnings for university graduates), a university education can be valuable in other ways. It can prepare students to be useful citizens, for example. Weingarten refers to the purposes Derek Bok identifies: “things like the ability to communicate, a capacity for critical thinking and moral reasoning, preparation for citizenship, a capacity for global thinking, and so on.” (Nothing Less than Great, p.44)
Of course universities prepare students to enter many different fields and types of employment. While outsiders may think of law schools as preparing their students to practice law, in reality law graduates also enter different fields, although practice predominates. However, the question of the “purpose” of a legal education may still appear unsettled.
Law schools have difficulty deciding exactly what their purpose is: training lawyers ready to practice or training people with an ability to engage the law in different ways, as well as to become active citizens. (On this, see “The Evolution of Legal Education” in Canadian Lawyer.) On the one hand, however, although some schools have stressed they prepare graduates for a career in legal practice, they have nevertheless promoted their broader education. On the other hand, schools that are able to do so more fully reflect the dual nature of law schools as trade schools and academic institutions, offering many experiential opportunities along with academically-oriented courses. With the two new schools, the demarcation between “trade school” and an academic or dual program has become clearer.
Some proportion of students begin law school with an understanding of law school and the law based on a parent’s experience; intergenerational lawyering is not uncommon. Others have little knowledge of law other than what they have “learned” from television shows, which may be (and usually are) wildly unlike real life. Yet others have taken an undergraduate “law” program or believe that taking an undergrad political science degree will give them a “leg up”. When they leave law school, however, most of these students, regardless of their entry disposition, have learned (for good or ill) how to “think like a lawyer”. This is a crucial part of the law school experience: teaching law as a distinctive way of thinking that permeates one’s life (in my experience, and however, critical one might be about “the law”).
As Weingarten points out, in some professions the regulatory body establishes the components of the program for which graduates need to show competence. Law schools in Canada teaching the common law must meet the the National Requirement “that specifies the competencies and skills graduates must have attained and the academic program and learning resources law schools must have in place” for their graduates to gain admission to the law society bar admission programs. (See Canadian Law School Programs).
The National Requirement does not specify courses, but competencies and skills; however, its list of “substantive legal knowledge” simply reflects certain principles that identify with particular areas of law. Law schools can name courses as they wish, as long as the content is consistent with the principles. It is easier, though, it seems to just use the traditional labels for the most part.
This more ostensibly structured requirement has been the case only since 2015; previously, law schools, once accredited, developed their curricula as seemed appropriate to respond to their own goals and emerging trends affecting the law, subject to approval by academic bodies. In addition, their programs satisfied the provincial law societies’ expectations about what students should have learned. In fact, the programs are much the same as they were before the National Requirement and whatever innovations the schools have implemented are independent of the National Requirement.
I review the law schools’ courses as they have developed to prepare citizens, the meaning of “ethics” education and the attention various communities have received in society .
- Structure and Content of Law Programs
Common law schools in Canada offer more or less the same curriculum in first year; it has remained unchanged for many years. The first year is standard because courses reflect the building blocks of law (contracts, torts, property, criminal, constitutional law and some kind of legal method course, for example). Nevertheless, some schools do replace one or two standard courses in first year with other perhaps more immediately exciting and, from the school’s perspective, topics with which all students should be familiar. They make the omitted courses mandatory in second year.
However, law schools differ considerably in their upper year programs. Some have a fairly long list of compulsory courses, with some options; some have many options with only a few mandatory courses. Those that emphasize the mandatory list tend to laud their practice-ready programs; for example, UNB’s Faculty of Law boasts of its “strong emphasis on career readiness“.
The teaching of professional ethics has long been part of the law school curriculum everywhere, as expected by the regulators. The National Requirement now requires it. However, it apparently views ethics — and one might include here moral reasoning — primarily within the narrow confines of the practice of law. This means understanding the professional rules and how to comply with them, rather than figuring out whether something is right or wrong. One of the struggles at least some law students face is how to reconcile the rules with their own concept of right or wrong or with the larger question of justice.
Contrary to this narrower view, law schools on their own initiative have exposed their students to issues relevant to preparation for citizenship and similar objectives, particularly access to justice. When Windsor Law welcomed its first class in 1968, it was the first law school to define itself as centering its program on access to justice. Most schools now reference training lawyers in “access to justice” as some aspect of their purpose, but Windsor still stands out as claiming access to justice “is a pillar upon which we review everything we do“.
For example, Osgoode Hall Law School’s first year curriculum includes a required course on “Ethical Lawyering in a Global Community”, which includes not only the professional rules but lawyers’ “collective responsibilities in relation to the public interest and access to justice” (see here). Students may also take an upper year course, “Legal Values: Access to Justice”, which, among other issues, requires the students to consider how lawyers contribute to a lack of access to justice (see here).
Windsor’s “Comparative Law and Social Movements” includes consideration of the role of lawyers in social movements and collective action, professional responsibility and the conflicts that can arise when representing clients as a part of a larger collective strategy. This kind of approach transcends the individual lawyer-client relationship to appreciating the part lawyers can play as lawyers in the broader society.
At Osgoode, the 40 hour public interest requirement supports the teaching of law professionals’ obligation to serve the public; however, the “public interest” goal does not seem to be sufficient, for the purported benefits go beyond that: “contributing to access to justice, identifying areas of interest, gaining practical skills, meeting mentors, role models and potential employers, engaging with the community and appreciating the practice of law in a profession which has the privilege and responsibility of self-regulation” (see here). And it is possible to gain credit for this “public service”, not merely contribute because it is a good thing to do.
- Experiential Opportunities
Pointing out the extent to which universities have established entrepreneurial co-operative programs, Weingarten is critical that measurement of the skills students learn in these programs is lacking (Nothing Less than Great, pp.59, 75). Law schools have long integrated experiential learning into their programs. When it seemed law schools were susceptible to criticism because some of them were becoming “too academic”, the schools began not only to increase the experiential opportunities, but to proclaim rather loudly they were doing so.
Students have the opportunity to participate in a legal clinic, which often has an academic, as well as practice component, or semester-long intensives, again learning substantive law integrated with skills training. Moots are “legal debates”; usually students participate in at least one moot and may be able to take upper moots for credit. In some cases, the incentive arrives from outside the law school, as is the case with Pro Bono Students, which provides advice and services in partnership with community organizations and lawyers who supervise the students. The University of Toronto’s program illustrates the range clinical programs can take (see here) from those connected to access to justice (such as an externship at the Barbra Schlifer Clinic, which assists domestic abuse victims) to a clinic on “innovation and entrepreneurship”.
Some of these opportunities not only train students in practice skills, but also introduce them to the conceptual underpinning of the skills and how they are most effectively implemented. Nevertheless, on the whole, these programs echo Weingarten’s concern that they do not adequately measure students’ achievements.
- Indigenous Initiatives
Law school curricula tend to go through phases. When I began teaching (as the Chair in Women and Law) at UNB in 1992, law schools were (and had been) introducing various courses on women and the law. In the years following, students have been able to take courses that consider the impact of law on various underrepresented communities, such as “Critical Race Theory” at U of T or “Disability and the Law” at Osgoode, which also offers a “Disability Law Intensive Program”.
The most recent surge has been a considerable increase in courses relating to Indigenous peoples. When I attended Osgoode Hall Law School, there was one optional upper year seminar on Aboriginal law; now there is an Indigenous and Aboriginal Law Requirement (my emphasis).
Some schools have included a course in their first year curriculum and almost every school offers courses in this area. Examples of first year courses include the Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia’s courses in “Indigenous Settler Legal Relations” and “Aboriginal and Treaty Rights”, Dalhousie University Schulich School of Law’s “Aboriginal and Indigenous Law in Context” and Windsor’s “Indigenous Legal Traditions”.
At Saskatchewan College of Law, first year students take a course called “Kwayeskastasowin Setting Things Right“, which in content resembles other Indigenous law courses elsewhere; however, the course description states the course requires “skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism”. (As the University of Alberta Faculty of Law website explains, “kwayeskastasowin” is “a Cree cognate for the term ‘reconciliation’ that means “setting things right”‘.)
The Schulich School offers four upper year courses, addressing different aspects of Indigenous history and current life. Upper year Saskatchewan students must select one from a lengthy list of courses on Indigenous issues. Windsor also offers students a lengthy list of courses in Aboriginal law, including “First Nations Women and the Law”. Calgary Law also has developed a menu of Indigenous Initiatives, including courses (for example, Indigenous Business Law) and other activities.
Some schools, such as UNB and Lakehead, have appointed an Indigenous individual as an in-house Indigenous guide (see UNB’s Wihkwatacamit or “the person who loves to tell stories”). And taking the issue beyond the traditional law school classroom, the Allard School also offers an Indigenous Cultural Competence Certificate not only to students, but also to staff and faculty.
The University of Victoria’s Faculty of Law has taken the opportunity to take the study of Indigenous legal and related issues a step further; it offers a four year joint degree in Canadian common law and Indigenous Legal Orders.
Although temporally-limited, two programs deserve mention in the context of Aboriginal law. In both cases, the programs’ purpose was to educate Inuit students in law in order to increase the number of Inuit lawyers in Nunavut. The first program, Akitsiraq Law School, involved co-operation between Victoria Faculty of Law and Nunavut Arctic College. It ran from 2001 to 2005. Students earned an LLB from Victoria. Created from 2017 to 2021, the Nunavut College of Law was a partnership between Saskatchewan Law, the Arctic College and the government of Nunavut. As was the first program, its purpose was to graduate lawyers to “improve access to justice for Nunavummiut” (residents of Nunavut). Students earned a JD from Saskatchewan.
LEARNING CRITICAL SKILLS
One can see in the National Requirement skills those Weingarten identifies as components of “classes of learning outcomes” for university students generally (Nothing Less than Great, pp. 50-51). It reflects the “learning outcomes perspective”, which, Weingarten says, “forces [an] organized, cohesive, and comprehensive approach to curriculum design” (Nothing Less than Great, p.46). Commonly, syllabi explain the learning outcomes students should expect from a course and law school course outlines are no different. However, in some cases, the law school identifies these competencies and outcomes in relation to the entire program.
One commentator has suggested that “admired lawyers”
have a deep and broad knowledge of important subject areas of the law and the values, policies and principles that underlie them; understand the potential and limits of legal institutions and their essential characteristics in a society committed to the rule of law; have the ability to recognize and to define legal and public policy problems clearly, and to contextualize and view them from multiple perspectives; are able to identify the arguments and interests on all sides of any issue; appreciate the inherent ambiguities of language, the variety of potential meanings in a particular formulation, and who have an understanding of how context gives meaning to terms but also about the ambiguity of context itself; are able to determine the relevance of the methods, theories and findings of other disciplines to legal and public policy decision making; and have a deep appreciation of the multiplicity of factors that explain both legislative outputs and judicial decisions.
(See Kim Brooks, “The Law Practice Program Should Not Be Integrated Into Canadian Law Schools”, Slaw (2014))
This list does not address the more prosaic legal skills practising lawyers need to achieve. The National Requirement does list less advanced skills, but does not take things much further. A legal education purporting to prepare students to use law in myriad ways should allow students to take a range of courses and experiential options that encompass both these paths.
As Weingarten indicates, there is a dispute about whether skills such as critical thinking or literacy “must be done within the context of the discipline” or whether they are “context independent and can be measured in a similar way regardless of the field of study” (Nothing Less than Great, p.55).
One assumes that at least some critical thinking skills, for example, transcend subject matter and permit people to assess what they see and hear for whether it is internally consistent, consistent or not with similar material accessed elsewhere and with broader understandings of what works or is “right”. These are the skills (which do seem sadly lacking among too many people) that allow a “proper” reading of the newspaper or online material or a useful listening of political speeches or rants or podcasts. Or, indeed, an ability to appraise lectures in the classroom.
But different disciplines require its proponents to have the ability to work within the discipline, bringing the foundational principles and knowledge to bear on the various ways it is manifested. Interestingly, in law, there is a movement to make “the law” intelligible to those who haven’t studied law, motivated by pragmatism and an ethical sense that lawyers should not have a monopoly on this knowledge and practice. Partly, this is because too many people cannot afford lawyers and we still want to believe that they can get a fair deal from law, despite evidence to the contrary, and the rise in the access to justice movement. Yet we also believe that those who are skilled at navigating the law are those who graduate from three years at law school.
As far as I can tell, law schools struggle with other parts of the university in figuring out how to assess the skills needed “to think like a lawyer”. And yet, this ultimately seems to be a process of osmosis. Everything we learn in law school, different though it may be, and how differently it may be taught, results in brain synapses that just know how to analyse legal questions. Of course, some people are better at it than others, but we cannot tell that until they put it into practice, writ large.
DIFFERENTIATING LAW SCHOOLS
As Weingarten points out, universities differentiate themselves and are in fact different from each other in a number of ways: size, emphasis on teaching or on research, undergrad or offering grad programs, some with professional schools and others not (Nothing Less than Great, p.99). Perhaps it is not surprising that law schools seem similar to each other, since they are ostensibly preparing students for more or less the same thing. But like many animals that look quite similar to the uninitiated, law schools do differentiate among themselves and people in the law school world do distinguish them.
It is also the case that law schools seek to stand out from the crowd by focusing on certain areas of law or on broad objectives. They may also distinguish themselves by crowing about the high GPAs the members of their incoming class have achieved. The University of Toronto establishes its bona fides by offering third year students “The Academic Stream Intensive“, which helps them prepare for a career in law teaching.
One thing law schools share with universities more broadly is the attractiveness of their physical plant. Law schools also are “ranked”, as universities are, and there are the same questions about the validity of this process as for the larger institution Weingarten discusses.
Nothing Less than Great bemoans the lack of innovation in universities. After noting how old certain universities are in Canada, the United States and Europe, Weingarten writes:
The point is that universities have been around for a long time, and so there must be something about their nature, purpose, and structure that accounts for their longevity and apparent robustness. Some have suggested that one of the reasons for this is their capacity to resist change even when the whole world around them may be shifting. If so, this is an attribute that might admired. At present, however, the apparent reluctance of universities to move and adapt quickly and to be more responsive — their seeming inability to initiate significant curriculum or program changes or reforms — is seen as a negative. (Nothing Less than Great, p.103)
University curricula, especially in the arts and sciences, “would not seem foreign or odd to someone who graduated from that institution a half-century ago” (Nothing Less than Great, p.104).
One sees today articles about how the practice of law and the courts are little changed from years ago and in some ways remain the same as they were when law began in earnest in Canada. To some extent this is true, but these complaints — for they are always condemnations of the legal system — rarely consider how the system has changed (the use of technology, even before the pandemic; greater expectations about the use of different forms of dispute resolution; the rise in specialist courts; the resources available for self-represented litigants; and more).
To what extent, though, has legal education changed? I’ve discussed briefly the introduction of “access to justice” type courses and particularly the more recent incorporation of extensive Indigenous courses and programs.
However, the first year in all the common law law schools in Canada looks much the same as it did when I was in first year 40+ years ago, the same foundational courses in their separate categories. Even then there were efforts to ensure that students took some kind of “perspective course” or minor efforts to teach ethics as taking into account responsibilities beyond the profession’s own rules. Even a course that compared tort and criminal law would look innovative in most first year curricula.
However, the rest depended on the particular school: those which were then highly structured with few options remain so today; others that were wide open as far as course selection was concerned remain so today. The distinction there was between those schools that emphasized more of a practice curriculum and those that could offer a broader curriculum to those who expected to practice and those who thought their law degree would stand them in good stead in some other way.
There are new law schools that have sought to change their objectives and these have provided in some ways a contemporary version of the way law was taught in the past when apprenticeships were the basis of law study.
One of the ingredients of Weingarten’s recipe for reform is to allow greater differentiation among universities. While there may be many differences among law schools, like universities, there is a tendency for most law schools to portray themselves as providing a legal education that allows for different legal careers. Recently, however, two schoolms have broken away from the pack, making it explicit that they fit into a particular box: they are training students to practise law.
Although all law schools provide opportunities through clinics or placements for “hands-on” learning, two new schools provide a backward look at the nature of legal education. Legal education began with an apprenticeship with a practising member of the bar; it evolved to acquire a more academic bent within the boundaries of universities and over time the mix of practical courses and experiential options (experiential options) and the academic courses have formed a comprehensive curriculum.
The focus on “apprenticeship” now takes place through the more traditional articling (eight months with an approved principal) or through the Law Practice Program (“LPP”), a combination of a four month training course and a four month placement. By incorporating the LLP into their curriculum, the Lincoln Alexander and Boris Laskin law schools turn us back to an earlier form of preparation of lawyers, albeit in a contemporary mode.
The Bora Laskin Faculty of Law is unabashedly educating students to practice law: “Law professors are working with practitioners to create hands-on, realistic learning opportunities for students. Much like the model of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, law students learn by doing; where their classroom instruction is applied in the field.” (see here.) Given the size of the school (65 students in first year), course offerings are limited, although they include two mandatory Indigenous law courses, one being an experiential course in Aboriginal Perspectives. Students are expected to undertake a four month unpaid Practice Placement.
The Lincoln Alexander School of Law also prepares students for legal practice, as reflected in its first year curriculum: it is a “Co-teaching model that includes working lawyers to meld theory and practice in each subject area [with a s]pecial focus on current and future technologies that are relevant to legal service.” Ryerson also requires students to take a range of courses usually not available at law schools, such as a “Coding Intensive” and an “E[motional]Q/C[ultural]Q Intensive”.
Of course, other law school graduates who do want to practise law must undertake the traditional articling or the newer LPP when they graduate. Thus students at most law schools will have taken a more comprehensive program, even those schools that consider themselves “career ready”, compared to those graduating from Lincoln Alexander or Boris Laskin, who must fit this otherwise “next step” into their law school program.
How does one assess the degree of competence in “soft skills” students achieve through experiential learning? If Weingarten is correct about universities and if law schools are only as successful as the broader university, the quality of the assessment is not particularly good (Nothing Less than Great, p.59). I think it fair to say that law schools do not know how to assess soft skills.
One of the things I learned as dean is that different kinds of law firms responded differently to the desire of many law students to take as many experiential opportunities as possible. For example, lawyers at smaller firms welcomed these programs because the students they hired were likely, as they saw it, to be ready to go when they started, while lawyers at large firms preferred that they train students in their own approaches, unsullied by habits the students learned at law school.
As Weingarten was completing his book, the Covid-19 pandemic, as it did so much else, brought to the fore a topic minimally addressed otherwise: in this case, it required him to consider how well universities can function online and the extent to which this compelled resort to online might turn out to prompt thoughtful and more long-lasting digital initiatives. Law schools have been part of this turn to online teaching and learning, along with other components of the university. And similarly to many of the jobs for which university students are training, the work that many law students expect to do — legal practice — may also take place more online than it has.
The legal profession and legal practice has been slowly groping their way towards a more technology enhanced approach, whether video conferencing begun years ago to facilitate the participation of people in remote areas to apps and online systems today that promote their use by unrepresented litigants. Lawyers, of course, need to be familiar with these, especially in certain areas of law.
However, during the pandemic, courts and arbitrators have held virtual hearings. Similarly, law schools, as have the broader universities, have operated virtually. Now they may be operating in a hybrid model, relying on vaccination policies. Regardless, this has upped the ante in connecting law students with technology. The Lincoln Alexander School is tackling this head-on, requiring students to take an upper year course on Access to Justice and Technology with the objective of learning ways “to make legal services more affordable for individuals and organizations of limited means”.
As Weingarten writes, one needs to know what the purpose of a university is before it is possible to determine its “quality”:
Any attempt to assess the quality of a university or a university system will necessarily reflect a set of values and attitudes about universities and their purpose. If all that matters to someone is whether a university prepares one adequately for jobs, then their assessments of quality will revolve around post-graduation labour market successes and earnings. If to someone else the essence of a university is to prepare moral, engaged citizens, then their assessment of a university’s quality will centre on indicators that measure these attributes. If to others the central accomplishment of a university is to increase their prestige or international competitiveness, then the measures they select will index these purposes. (Nothing Less than Great, p.158)
The same is true of law schools. Producing more lawyers may seem the main objective, but for some schools exposing students to inequalities in the justice system and to provide the background necessary to assist in contributing to lessening them is also a significant goal. We might even say, they are trying to prepare “moral, engaged citizens” who have a facility to employ the legal system.
And now two law schools offer a more restricted — carefully defined? — understanding about what “law” is. Whether they offer few optional courses, as does the Bora Laskin Faculty, or purport to offer almost as wide a range as do bigger schools, as does the Lincoln Alexander School, these two schools provide a clear choice for students who are less interested in the conceptual understanding of law than in being ready to practice on graduation. For the latter especially, the nature of law is transparently a business (as, indeed, it is).
To the extent that law schools have the capacity to be “nothing less than great”, shrinking the meaning of law and its appreciation as a fundamental force in society, will leave legal education lacking for many students, albeit not for all. Struggling with the challenges of the hybrid nature of legal education holds out a more encouraging future for law’s capacity to bring about change and for those students who see their contribution as more than (or as defining) their legal practice. In that sense, law schools may at least somewhat satisfy the one type of university Weingarten envisages.