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Canada’s newest law school aims to ‘improve access to justice’

|Written By Bryan Smith
Canada’s newest law school aims to ‘improve access to justice’

For 35 years, aspiring lawyers across Canada have had their choice of 16 law schools that focus on a common law curriculum. Now, they will have one more to choose from.

A landmark partnership between the University of Calgary’s law school and Thompson Rivers University (TRU) in Kamloops, B.C. has resulted in the creation of Canada’s first new law school since the 1970s. The agreement will see TRU adopt the existing U of C curriculum and open its doors to students in September 2011.

“Thompson Rivers contacted us and said they had made some preliminary contacts with other law schools in B.C., and weren’t offered that much encouragement,” says Alastair Lucas, dean of U of C’s law school. “After their initial inquiries, they were directed by members of their local bar to seek out contacts in Calgary.”

On May 31, a signing ceremony was held at U of C’s Murray Fraser Hall, with representatives from both schools on hand to sign the official licensing agreement. Among the attendees were Lucas; Alan Harrison, U of C provost and vice president; Uli Scheck, TRU provost and vice president; and Chris Axworthy, TRU’s founding dean of law.

TRU’s law school, the third in B.C. along with the University of Victoria and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, will carry over U of C’s curriculum, which falls under the broad heading of common law. Its focus on areas such as energy and environmental law are expected to be a good fit for TRU.

“TRU informed us that they were interested in our program and our specialization, and they thought that it would fit very well with their location and with other programs at their university,” says Lucas. “Additionally, there’s a huge problem in the country with access to justice, in that there are fewer lawyers practising in small communities and serving the legal needs of individuals. The idea of doing something to address access to justice issues is something that we had been discussing at the law school here when TRU first approached us.”

Now that the agreement has been signed, faculty members are being recruited, and the application process for the first crop of students is set to begin in the fall. The law school will officially begin teaching its first class, expected to be about 60 students, in the fall of 2011.

“We don’t have details yet, but we are looking at sharing courses and exchanging faculty members,” says Lucas. “This is an exciting venture that we are very pleased to be a part of.”

Axworthy did not respond to requests for an interview for this story.

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