Legal Education as a Broadway Musical

While the RFP process for the LSUC’s Licensing Pilot Project proceeds in Ontario, Memorial University of Newfoundland is contemplating their own bid for a new law school in St. John’s. Students interviewed by Heather Gardiner in Canadian Lawyer 4Students express concerns about an articling crisis developing in the Atlantic provinces.

Although I don’t believe in blaming the law schools, it’s worth considering this graphic by Andrew Langille, depicting Ontario law school admissions for the past 5 years:

(Courtesy of Andrew Langille)

(Courtesy of Andrew Langille)

A new law school in the Atlantic will inevitably add to the pressures of creating adequate numbers of articling positions. We also know that some portion of law school students outside of Ontario, including  presumably any new law school in Newfoundland, comprise of students originally from Ontario who intend to return. 

Some law schools outside of Canada are now finding that the majority of their students are from Ontario. The effect of these out of jurisdiction graduates will only accentuate the pressures on the legal job market in Ontario, an issue that goes beyond just articling or licensing.

The situation looks dismal for prospective law students. Unless – the law schools hold out enough positions themselves.

Although articling doesn’t exist in the U.S., there is considerable discussion between academics there about practical legal education. Ethan Bronner of the New York Times recently wrote about one initiative at Arizona State University:

When Douglas J. Sylvester, dean of the law school at Arizona State University, was visiting the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota a couple of years ago he mentioned the shifting job market for his students — far fewer offers and a new demand for graduates already able to draft documents and interact with clients.

Jason Clark, 24, left, and Arman Nafisi, 27, both students at the Arizona State University law school, working on an unemployment benefits case.

The Mayo dean responded that his medical students and graduates gained clinical experience in hospital rounds closely supervised by attending physicians.

“I realized that was what we needed,” Mr. Sylvester recalled. “A teaching hospital for law school graduates.”

This concept is not foreign to our discussions in Ontario, and the Carnegie Model featured prominently in the LSUC debates. But law societies have little control or mandate over how law schools deliver legal education, and Bronner emphasizes that the success of teaching hospitals is largely due to adequate state funding, which is notably absent for many proposed legal clinics.

Other initiatives detailed in the Times article include:

  • Lawyers for America pilot program out of University of California Hastings College of the Law, placing some students in public defenders offices
  • Solo practitioner incubators at a dozen law schools, including City University of New York and Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego
  • Clinical Training for Defense of Religious Liberty
  • A University of Virginia program providing credit for a semester while working full-time for a nonprofit or government employer, anywhere in the world
  • A new University of Pennsylvania program providing a management certificate from the Wharton School to improve financial literacy and management skills

The decision to go solo is not only made during law school, and when it is, it’s increasingly a choice of preference. There are resources out there for practicing lawyers in firms transitioning to solo, but they are rather scarce in Canada. Susan Cartier Liebel’s Solo Practice University remains an excellent resource, and one which provides CLE for lawyers. I’d like to see that go a step further, and offer transfer credit for law students across North America who want to take a course while in law school on how to set up their practice.

The Arizona Alumni Law Group program is considered in the Times as the most ambitious because it plans to hire 30 full-time lawyers and projected cost comparable to a $5 million a year law firm. Each senior salaried lawyer will supervise 4-5 lawyers who will provide discounted legal services and targeting marginalized communities.

Other changes at Arizona include writing the bar exam in the third year of law, and a new North American Law Degree. Despite the state’s proximity to Mexico, the definition of North America, and the curriculum focus here, is clearly on Canada:

In an increasingly interdependent world, the need for lawyers with expertise in Canadian and U.S. Law is a business and legal necessity for the 21st Century. We at ASU are addressing this need by offering a North American Law Degree – granted within three years – that prepares graduates to seek admission to the bar in both the U.S. and Canada. The North American Law Degree not only provides solutions for tomorrow’s lawyers, it solves current needs for law students in both countries.

Education for the Canadian legal market has already been outsourced, and not to some off-shore developing nation. Canadian law schools have unwittingly and unwillingly been placed in a competitive a globalized market for Canadian legal education, and will simply have to adapt. American law schools are innovating and offering creative approaches, and are increasingly leveraging social media and communication technologies to raise their profiles in light of dwindling applications.

I discussed this dilemma recently with Prof. Michael Scharf of Case Western University when he was in Toronto for the Niagara Moot. The school is actively using professionally produced YouTube videos and employs a number of different blogs. It doesn’t hurt that Scharf’s focus is on international law, which by its very nature is inter-jurisdictional. What’s really revolutionary is the free online course Scharf is teaching in Introduction to International Criminal Law starting May 1, 2013, which will have literally hundreds of students participating:

You don’t have to be a lawyer and there are no prerequisites for this course. However, the course will be conducted at the level expected of advanced undergraduate students. Therefore, for all participants, reading and writing comfortably in English at the undergraduate college level is desirable.

“Selling for free” online is not a new paradigm outside of legal services or legal education, but it’s one which is quickly catching up with both. This means an increasing budget allocation is inevitable for rich media production and online outreach strategies.

Just like the Canadian movie industry constantly struggles to compete with the resources behind Hollywood productions, Canadian universities are now sharing a much larger stage with the rest of the world. Law societies may not be able to force Canadian law schools to change. But the law schools abroad, especially those in the U.S., certainly can. These students will look for clearly identifiable skills obtained through legal education, promising prospects after graduation, and the best return on their education investment. More importantly, they will be looking for all of these before they even apply.

It’s not just a teaching hospital model which is calling. It’s now a Broadway production. Whether it’s St. John’s, Newfoundland, or downtown Toronto – the lights and camera are on, and you’re up next.


  1. and to add to the demand for articling or local experience, eight UK universities advertised in the Globe and Mail this weekend to recruit law students from Canada, and the U of Leicester had a separate, larger ad that mentioned the 226 Canadians already studying law there. Australian law schools have in the past, and may still, recruit Canadians collectively, sending someone here to give alluring speeches.

    Are the people recruited those who could not get into Canadian law schools, or those who don’t want to wait to have a first degree, or perfectly competent folks for whom the Canadian schools just did not have room? Is there a reason for those of us here to be concerned about their employability here, or their prospects?

    It seems to me that there is an even greater shortage of transition programs for internationally-trained lawyers than there is for articling positions.