Oh How the Mighty Have Fallen

For many years now my firm, Adler Bytensky Prutschi, has enjoyed the opportunity to host a student placement for Osgoode Hall Law School’s Criminal Intensive Program (CIP). This week, for the first time in the history of our involvement with the program, we were informed that “due to low enrolment in the course this year” a student would not be assigned to us.

While I am only hypothesizing, I fear that this storied program’s current enrolment woes are tied directly to the continuing erosion of our legal aid system. Barely a decade ago when I was a student in the CIP, the program was the hottest ticket in law school. Everyone with even a passing interest in criminal law desperately wanted a shot to be a part of its innovative syllabus and unique placement opportunities. Even students who did not foresee a future practicing criminal law would frequently put their names forward for consideration as it was considered the best opportunity for law students generally, and potential litigators in particular, to rub shoulders with superb practitioners and learn the nitty gritty of the “real” practice of law. The alumni of Osgoode’s CIP reads like a who’s-who of this Province’s greatest lawyers. Those of us who had the privilege of participating count ourselves very lucky to be rooted in such auspicious company.

Now, it appears that students have watched their seniors struggle with the increasing hardships of economic survival in a field where legal aid has collapsed to a shadow of its former self. Couple the bleak prospects afforded by legal aid retainers with law school tuition fees that have skyrocketed and one cannot blame any reasonable student for abandoning a future in criminal law.

Osgoode’s CIP is the proverbial canary in the coal mine. As more and more students shun the practice of criminal law the real loss will be felt in short order by our justice system, and indeed the entire general public, as an atrophied defence bar steps in to fill the big shoes of those lawyers now hanging up their robes. Without a steady influx of bright legal minds into programs like the CIP, the future of our criminal bar is in danger. As negotiations over effective funding for legal aid appear to be stalling, will the government heed this warning?

Hold Firm.


  1. I, for one, was lucky enough to participate in the criminal intensive program and very much appreciated being placed in your office. While the placement was a great opportunity to engage with the inner workings of the criminal law system, the program itself offered students with valuable insight into a broad spectrum of issues facing criminal lawyers, including the legal aid dilemma.
    That said, your hypothesis regarding low enrollment is probably correct. This is evidenced by many students expressing some hesitation in choosing criminal law as a career path after considering the financial benefits of other legal fields. This is not to suggest that the only reason to focus on criminal law is for the remuneration, but certainly a substandard legal aid regime creates an unequal playing field which negatively influence practical career choices. So in effect, not only is the current state of criminal practice suffering, but also the future of the profession is in jeopardy barring any fundamental change to the legal aid scheme.

  2. I cannot speak for all law schools but my experience at Western in respect to criminal law has been problematic. As president of the criminal law student association, I do not want to become too political outside of the organization but I can share some facts which puts things in perceptive.

    – total number of full time criminal law profs – 1 (down from 4 three years ago)
    – plans to hire more – none but the administration may consider it in future fiscal years
    – April 2009 just before exams – the Criminal Concentration program is suspended for 1st years and incoming students (as well as the tax concentration).
    – total openings for the January Term Clerkship in London and Toronto at the Ont. Ct. of Justice – 6 (4 students are enrolled currently including me)
    – total number of students enrolled in the Clinic in Criminal Law Practice – 2 (including me). There are 5 placements.
    – total number of 1st year students upset and who attended an organizing meeting in November 2010 – 15. The first year class at Western has increased in number from previous years to approximately 180.
    – current tuition at Western for 1st Years – $15,000 per school year.

    Moreover, the only full time academic criminal law prof is going on a 6 month leave next year. Half the current 1st years are being taught criminal law by a professor with no criminal law practical experience (and for the record who I consider a friend & a real smart guy) and who has only taught actus reus in the fall term without mens rea component. I know there is much for me to learn about this criminal law craft but I just spent an evening last night tutoring a 1st year who at no fault of her own, is very confused.

    The only saving grace is the practical experience gained if a student volunteers (there are courses but really, the time involved means you are volunteering) at the Community Legal Services (“CLS”) clinic under the direction of Jason Voss and Doug Ferguson.

    The Legal Aid boycott will hurt many people but things must change. The economics, especially from people just starting out, is faulty and unsustainable.

    And thank God I have my articling position unlike many of my classmates.

  3. I can’t believe! The Intensive program was so sought after, you could only be accepted by lottery. Besides being involved in CLASP, the Intensive was the best training for a criminal lawyer. They need to bring back Alan Grant, who ran an excellent and innovative program.