Faculty Affairs: Fundraising, licensing, and experiential education

Maud Rozee (1L) and Matt Howe (3L)

Faculty Council’s January 20 meeting dealt with updates on fundraising, lawyer licensing, and experiential education at the law school.

Our new building’s namesake, Hal Jackman, past donor of $10 million to the Faculty, has gifted another $1 million. Part will be used to establish the JR Kimber Chair in Investor Protection and Corporate Governance—Professor Anita Anand will be its first holder. The Faculty will also use the gift to hire a new experiential learning coordinator. The balance will establish a fellowship for international LLM students to study at U of T and a bursary fund for JD students—the bursary fund is comprised of an initial $450,000 endowment, with the income paid out each year (which is doubled through U of T matching funds). Both will be named after Newton Rowell, a prominent early-20th century lawyer and politician—and Jackman’s grandfather.

In addition to Jackman’s gift, Dean Iacobucci introduced the “Deans’ Fund” for financial aid, made up of contributions from Iacobucci himself as well as all living former Deans of the Faculty. The fund currently sits as $300,000, half of which was given by Dean Iacobucci’s father, Justice Frank Iacobucci.

After the fundraising discussion, Dean Iacobucci raised concerns about a recent Federation of Law Societies of Canada (FLSC) proposal to establish national standards for accrediting law schools. Under the proposal, graduates from unapproved law schools would undergo the same complicated accreditation process as lawyers from outside Canada. Iacobucci called the approval process “potentially worrying,” noting it could impose requirements on law school that emphasize a vocational approach to teaching law over an academic one. However, Iacobucci sits on the FLSC’s approval committee and was reassured that the FLSC is live to these concerns.

A separate branch of the FLSC has proposed that there should be a National Licensing Program for lawyers, so that mobility agreements allowing accreditations to be accepted in any province will be matched by some sort of national standard. The proposed national licensing program would be heavily skills and rules-focussed, which Iacobucci called “exactly the wrong direction to head in.” In Iacobucci’s opinion, law schools should focus on concepts and ways of thinking instead of rules which could be changed overnight.

Iacobucci also questioned who would foot the bill for this new Program. SLS President Andrew Wang added that the Law Students Society of Ontario sent a letter to the FLSC raising concerns about students bearing the cost but received only a vague response. The FLSC did say they would have a student consultation period if the proposal was accepted by the provincial law societies.

Faculty Council then heard from Professor Brenda Cossman who, along with Assistant Dean Sara Faherty, is preparing a report on experiential education at law school. Cossman noted that in the past, the Faculty concentrated on providing experiential education through clinics and externships. Their focus now is on the value of bringing it into the classroom. The push for more experiential opportunities, Cossman explained, comes partially from the thought that today’s students may prefer “learning by doing” or “learning by reflecting on doing” over a traditional lecture, and also criticism that law schools do not adequately prepare students for practice.

Cossman took a fairly broad view of the concept of experiential education, describing it as nearly anything which requires students to engage in problem solving in the classroom. Using this definition, Cossman described putting a fact pattern to students as a positive example. Simulated oral arguments, drafting exercises, and field trips were also floated as potential experiential opportunities.

Iacobucci noted that under Cossman’s definition, the traditional “case method”—which “flips the classroom” and relies on student participation—is already a successful example of experiential education.

Professor Denise Reaume cautioned against “slapping a label on current practices” to satisfy calls from the Bar for a more “skills-based” education. Instead, she stressed the need to think carefully about the potential value of experiential education, and in what ways it can be meaningfully incorporated into the Faculty’s curriculum. Both Iacobucci and Cossman agreed that any forays into experiential education should fit clearly within the Faculty’s current academic mission, and that calls for the Faculty to move towards a vocational model should be resisted. The ultimate focus, according to Cossman, should be on improving the educational experience of students at the law school.

For now, Cossman and Faherty are continuing discussions with stakeholders and thinking about ways in which experiential education might provide value to students in the classroom.