Canadian Clinical Legal Education Conference

We all have our grievances about law school, as remote as it may or may not have been for us personally. Maybe what’s needed is greater academic discourse about the pedagogue of legal education.

The University of Western Ontario Law School is hosting Canadian Clinical Legal Education Conference on October 22-23, 2010. The program features a sitting Supreme Court Justice, legal academics, and legal administrators. Law societies should also be interested because John Campion, President of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada (FLSC) will also be speaking.

Speaker bios can be found here, and a draft agenda can be seen here. The conference is sponsored by the Law Foundations of Ontario and BC, as well as several law schools across Canada.

What will probably feature prominently during the conference is the 2007 the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching report called Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law [pdf summary]. The report notes that legal education is fundamental to a flourishing democracy, and provides 5 key observations:

  1. Law School Provides Rapid Socialization into the Standards of Legal Thinking
  2. Law Schools Rely Heavily on One Way of Teaching to Accomplish the Socialization Process
  3. The Case-Dialogue Method of Teaching Has Valuable Strengths but Also Unintended Consequences
  4. Assessment of Student Learning Remains Underdeveloped
  5. Legal Education Approaches Improvement Incrementally, Not Comprehensively

The two major limitations identified under 3) above is that legal education rarely prepares students for professional practice, and fail to develop legal ethics and social skills.

Canada may have an advantage over our American counterparts through our articling process, which is not part of the typical classroom education but still considered a necessary component for preparation for the practice of law.

However, some educators are attempting to introduce more practical skills in the law school itself. The conference is hosted by Douglas Ferguson, who is the Director of UWO Law’s Community Legal Services clinic. Participating students get exposure to a wide variety of legal subjects and gain experience in handling client files.

“The legal profession is undergoing huge changes, while legal education has changed very little in decades,” said Ferguson. “The Carnegie Report has sparked major changes in law school curriculums in the US, and I think it’s time we launched a debate on legal education reform here in Canada.”

In preparation for the conference the school has set up a Google Groups discussion page. All the talks during the conference will be uploaded onto YouTube, available through a media page.

A foreshadowing of what’s to come in legal education? Perhaps, if educators want to keep students engaged and use tools they’re most familiar with outside of the classroom.


  1. Omar, I would like to thank you again for posting this. I’m hoping that this generates some buzz about the conference. I will be moderating the Google Groups discussion page over the next few weeks leading up to the conference and after it has concluded. Specific topics have not been uploaded yet but I hope to have some posts up by Monday. I encourage everyone to join the discussion page within the coming weeks as we are looking to foster some interesting dialogue on clinical legal education in Canada.

    After the Carnegie Report was released, Dean Larry Kramer of Stanford Law School had this to say:

    “You can’t imagine someone graduating from medical school without spending time in a hospital, and you can’t be a rabbi without some serious clinical experience. Law is about the only profession that doesn’t require it. That’s wrong, and it needs to be corrected.”

    Dean Kramer’s words leave us with something to think about.

    I hope to see everyone at the conference and look forward to discussing this further on our Google Groups page.

    Michael Shakra

  2. I’m glad to see that Dean Sossin from Osgoode is probably going to present. I’d have been even happier if someone from one of Osgoode’s clin ed programs could have presented as well; no Canadian law school has longer and broader experience with this method of teaching, and few anywhere can match it. There’s not quite as much need to “go American” for insight as the program would suggest.

  3. I hope there will be some discussion about the TASK FORCE ON THE CANADIAN COMMON LAW DEGREE that was released last October by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada. That report discusses legal education in the Canadian context and makes recommendations on what law schools should be doing in the future.

  4. I think Dean Kramer’s words should be taken with a grain of salt in Canada: our articling process (which is a great strength of our system) provides almost a solid year of “clinical” experience with a more experienced lawyer or lawyers. The push towards turning law schools into practical, techincal schools that train for a “trade/profession” should be tempered with acknowledgement of the articling process. If we have concerns about the skills of lawyers being turned out of the system, we should lengthen the articling process or otherwise modify it.
    Certainly there is room for some practical training in law school, but it should be limited. Law schools need to continue to provide (indeed, do a better job providing) a theoretical perspective on law and society that includes discussions of ethics (real ethics, not “professional responsibility”), and normative evaluation of the law. If that is not going to be their primary purpose, they should be abolished, and we should go back to a pure apprenticeship system.

  5. The FLSC report mentioned by Sue is available online via Slaw here, with Simon Fodden’s comments on the report here.

    Those interested in the development of the report may want to look at the consultation paper from a year prior here, and a draft discussion paper from 2007 here.

    The Carnegie study is referenced several times in all of them.