Ultra Vires


My, how things have changed!

By Colleen McKeown (3L)

Hey, 3L pals – you remember the Class of 2013, right? They were the fearless leaders of the law school when we were confused 1Ls. They had a reputation for fun and for christening Bora’s Friendship Cove. And you know a few 1Ls, the Class of 2017, too, right? Maybe you met them at DLS, mentor them through the Peer Mentorship Program, or marvelled at their comedic talents on display in Follies.

2013-2017: these years bookend the long list of fine folks the Class of 2015 can say we went to law school with.

All this is to say that these are our peers. And yet, the experiences of the Classes of 2013 and 2017 will be wildly different. And here is the Class of 2015, right in the middle, and the guinea pig for at least some of these changes. So what has changed?

Let’s start with the curriculum. In their 1L year, the Class of 2013 took mostly year-long courses, with half-year courses in Legal Process, Professionalism and Ethics and Administrative Law. A short, pass-fail, Legal Research and Writing component was added the next year. Today, the 1L year begins with a two-week intensive in August that is designed to provide students with foundational skills. The rest of the year is now mostly semesterized, with a for-credit Legal Research and Writing class, and no Administrative Law. In their upper years, the Class of 2013 had to satisfy the ‘Critical Perspectives’, ‘International, Comparative, Transnational Law’, and mooting requirements. Now, and in addition to these older requirements, students must take Administrative Law, and fulfill the ‘Fiduciary Concepts’ and ‘Ethics and Professionalism’ course requirements. The addition of the latter two was in fulfillment of Federation of Law Societies of Canada curriculum changes first introduced for the Class of 2015. It is worth noting that learning about ethics in law school is, thankfully, not new; however, the ethics week that satisfied the old rules now exists only in the collective memory of law students past.

Next, grading. The Class of 2013 could receive grades between A and F, as long as the grades met the required average. Certain classes, like clinics, intensive courses, and competitive moots, were graded based on an Honours/Pass/Fail scale. For students entering law school in September 2012 and later, the options are High Honours, Honours, Pass with Merit, Low Pass, or Fail for each of their courses. Rather than requiring a certain average, the Faculty has provided flexible ‘guidelines’ for professors that help determine the percentage of students receiving each grade. For the 2013-2014 academic year, this scale was applied to all courses – including clinics, intensives, and competitive moots. Starting this academic year, a credit/no credit system was used for competitive moots, and students had the option to write a paper to be graded on the usual scale.

Third, admissions. The Class of 2013 was chosen according to the old, more numbers-based, system. The new system, first used to create the Class of 2016, is ‘holistic’: an applicant’s personal essay is on equal footing with his or her LSAT score and post-secondary transcripts, respectively. Every personal essay is now read by three people, including one current student. Determining how this change in admissions will affect the law school experience for the chosen students would likely require a larger sample size than is currently available.

Finally, the building. While not a permanent change, any description of this time in the law school’s history would be incomplete without a mention of the transition space at Victoria College. The Class of 2013 spent all three years in Flavelle and Falconer. I hope that the Class of 2017, after toiling away in the Reading Room and making friends at Ned’s, will graduate having spent their 3L year basking in the glory of the new Jackman Law Building.

I do not know how these many changes will be disentangled when it comes time to evaluate their success or failure in meeting their aims. For example, if students self-report being less stressed is it because they no longer have five exams in April? Or is it because they are ‘passing with merit’ rather than getting a B? Maybe it is because they were selected for the resilience and tenacity they demonstrated in their personal essays. I simply hope that the right people have a plan to link effects to one or more of the many possible causes.

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