Ryerson unfazed despite criticism of law school proposal

Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons

The deans of Canada’s law schools shared some concerns about Ryerson’s letter of intent (LOI) to become an accredited law school. Their response letter that said the program elements Ryerson considers innovative are already being taught at other universities.

Ryerson released its LOI in Oct. 2016, proposing a Juris Doctor (JD) law degree founded in legal and technological innovation. It suggested that change needs to occur in the law profession to fulfill the evolving needs of modern legal consumers, and that Ryerson planned to represent that change.

But Camille Cameron, the Dean of Dalhousie University’s Schulich School of Law and president of the Council of Canadian Law Deans (CCLD)—a committee made up of the deans of every Canadian law school—says Ryerson’s ideals aren’t unique.

“The purpose of the letter was to identify some of the many innovative and interesting programs and initiatives that already exist in Canadian law schools and that receive little or no attention in the Ryerson proposal,” Cameron said.

For instance, she wrote in the Dec. 2016 response letter on behalf of the CCLD, “…we seek to correct the misapprehension that Ryerson’s aspiration to these goals differentiates it from existing Canadian Law Schools. The LOI’s failure to appropriately acknowledge the range of innovations in Canadian legal education suggests that Ryerson is either unaware of these dynamics, or is choosing to present a one-sided and out of date portrayal of the status quo of Canadian legal education…”

The letter also said one of the CCLD’s concerns with Ryerson’s proposal was that Ryerson’s law school originating committee hadn’t contacted the deans of Canadian law schools prior to submitting the letter of intent. “This was a missed opportunity,” Cameron wrote.

However, Gina Alexandris, the director of Ryerson’s Law Practice Program and key member of the law school originating committee, denies this assertion.

“There has been outreach. We had spoken with a couple of law deans beforehand. I respect and have worked with a number of them, but ultimately we don’t need the permission necessarily of the CCLD. But we would like them to know what we’re doing, and by all means we will take that input.”

Despite the CCLD’s response, Alexandris is eager to continue the proposal process, as is Ryerson University’s president, Mohamed Lachemi.

“Ryerson is coming up with something very new and very innovative and you know that when you do there is a lot of push back, but that is human nature… That is our way to do business and if they have comments about it than we are always open to have such a discussion, but that doesn’t mean that they have to like what we do,” Lachemi said.

In addition to the CCLD contesting the uniqueness of several of Ryerson’s JD program elements, Cameron’s letter said another law school could be superfluous in Canada.

“Looking at the question from the standpoint of the market for legal services, the demand for law graduates shows no indication of growth,” Cameron wrote.

The Canadian Bar Association released a document in 2013 stating that since the economic downturn of 2008-2009, the Canadian legal profession has been facing challenges like decreased salaries, increased competition, and—as Cameron says—a surplus of legal graduates.

However, Toronto-based criminal attorney Sean Robichaud says Ryerson’s new program may be just what Canadian lawyers need. He suggests another traditional JD program isn’t necessary, but Ryerson’s law degree proposal is different.

“There seems to be a lot more emphasis on the practice of law using technology and a lot of the methodologies that are going to bring law into a modernized type of practice. And if anything, we’re lacking in supply of that and we desperately need someone to come in to change essentially what it is that we’re doing at law school,” Robichaud said.

Alexandris says she aims to have the formal law program proposal submitted to Ryerson’s senate in the spring for a vote. The JD outline will also need to be approved by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada (FLSC), the governing body of the law professional associations, and the Ontario government before Ryerson can implement the program.

Cameron says the CCLD is not one of the bodies responsible to approve new JD programs, but the relevant authorities should implement Ryerson’s proposed law degree “with the full picture of what’s already happening across the country.”

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