Access to Justice: An Opportunity for Law Schools – Part 1

The CBA’s Equal Justice Report
The Canadian Bar Association’s Access to Justice Committee issued its final report in December, entitled Equal Justice: Balancing the Scales (disclaimer – I am a member of the committee). The committee proposed 31 targets to achieve access to justice in Canada. The report can be found here:

What isn’t well known is that some of these access to justice targets involved Canadian law schools. They provide an opportunity for law faculties to modernize their curriculum while playing a significant role in the biggest legal issue of our generation.

Last fall at the University of Alberta’s Future of Law School conference I presented a paper on what I called “The Great Disconnect” between the academy and the profession. Implementing the CBA’s ideas will help us reconnect, to allow law schools and law students to develop closer bonds with lawyers and with justice system stakeholders.
Targets and Actions
These are the targets for law schools proposed by the CBA:

  • By 2030, three Canadian law schools will establish centres of excellence for access to justice research.
  • By 2030, substantial experiential learning experience is a requirement for all law students.
  • By 2020, all graduating law students:
    • have a basic understanding of the issues relating to access to justice in Canada
    • know that fostering access to justice is an integral part of their professional responsibility
    • have taken at least one course or volunteer activity that involves experiential learning providing access to justice.
  • By 2020, all law schools in Canada have at least one student legal clinic that provides representation to low income persons.

To reach these targets, here are the actions that the CBA believes should be taken by law schools:

  • The CBA encourages law schools to offer substantial opportunities for experiential

learning in the access to justice context. This ties into the Legal Futures Initiative, which is considering legal education and training of the next generation of lawyers.

  • The Federation of Law Societies includes an access to justice component in its competency requirements.
  • Law schools expand the access to justice content of their curricula.
  • Law schools expand the availability of experiential learning to their law students.
  • The Council of Canadian Law Deans supports development of access to justice curricula.
  • Each law school appoints a staff member to serve as champion/leader for engaging discussion between the school and justice system stakeholders, including the public, about the role of law schools in supporting equal access to justice.
  • Law students have opportunities to become involved in CBA access to justice initiatives, including discussions of this report.

Student Legal Clinics

In the common law provinces, every law school has a student clinic representing low income persons with the exception of the two New Brunswick schools. In that province, funding is the biggest barrier to creating a clinic. Law foundations, student fees, and grants from provincial legal aid programs fund clinics in other law schools. I hope New Brunswick will step up and get this done.

In the civil law province of Quebec, there are clinics but they do not represent clients. McGill’s clinic for example only provides legal information.

The reason for the dearth of clinics in Quebec is because law students are not allowed to appear in the courts. Surely now is the time for Quebec bar to change this rule to both help low income persons and to improve the legal education of their students.

Are Quebec law students and faculties prepared to approach the Barreau du Québec about this reform? Is the Barreau prepared to take this simple but significant step to improve access to justice?

In my next column I will focus on more of the CBA’s recommendations: centres of excellence for access to justice research, experiential learning, and adding access to justice to the curriculum.


  1. One area that would help in access to justice in the academic realm would be to support students’ access in trying to stand up to university processes and duties under human rights like the duty to accommodate. This is often a David and Goliath story with the power balance residing with the university. There should be two components to this: one an open advising processing to ensure best practices and compliance within the spirit of human rights and the law, and the second when students need support to challenge universities to comply with human rights and the laws. That support should not be withheld just because a student is challenging the university. Such is not a conflict of interest and is in the public good.

  2. I wonder what the average law school tuition will be in 2020?