The University of Alberta’s new law dean will be bringing a few things back from California with him when he returns to Canada to start his new job.
“One of the things that I’ve experienced in the United States since I moved down there in 2008 is a fundamental transformation in the way that legal services are being delivered and also a remarkable retraction of work opportunities for graduating students,” says Paul Paton, who will start at U of A July 1.
Currently a law professor at the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, Calif., Paton says more than 50 per cent of graduates from more than half of the state’s law schools could not get a job nine months after graduation.
“How people are thinking about accessing legal services, how lawyers are delivering legal services, and how we need to prepare students for that new world enterprise needs to be rethought,” he says.
“The traditional foundation of excellence in legal education — and in learning to think like a lawyer — hasn’t changed. . . . But what is changing is how you use technology in your practice. Why do you need to think about globalization? How do you actually prepare yourself to market your services differently? Those are fundamentally important questions for all law schools in Canada.”
Paton says he’s happy to have the opportunity to return to Canada to continue his work in the field he has dedicated his life to.
“I’m elated,” he says. “To have this opportunity to lead what I think is a fantastic faculty at a really interesting time is just tremendous validation of a lot of the work that I’ve done in the legal profession in Canada and in the United States for 20 years.”
But Paton isn’t looking to step on any toes.
“I have to be very careful and conscious that I am coming in from the outside,” says Paton, adding he’s aware of at least one U of A law faculty member who is already looking at alternative methods to delivering legal education. “I need to know what work has already been done, what thinking is in place, and how they’re planning on building on it.”
Paton is a law graduate from the University of Toronto and a former clerk with the Ontario Court of Appeal. He worked as a Bay Street lawyer for four years before taking a policy adviser position with then-Ontario premier Mike Harris. He also spent six years as in-house counsel at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, leading the firm’s Canadian multidisciplinary practice initiative.
Paton completed both an LLM, and an LLD at Stanford University in California. He joined the academy full time in 2004, working as an assistant professor in the Faculty of Law at Queen’s University before moving to his position at the University of the Pacific.
“I think there’s a tremendous amount that I have valued and appreciated from my experiences at Queen’s and from my experience in the United States,” says Paton. “I’m actually looking forward to bringing the best of both and to learning more about what U of A is already doing.”
Faculty at the University of Alberta are also looking forward to Paton’s leadership.
“Paton is known for planning and implementing change in diverse environments,” said U of A provost Carl Amrhein in a statement. “He has a strong reputation for an inclusive management style, operating with an effective combination of collegiality, discipline and deliberative action. He constructively demands excellence from himself and others, while helping students and colleagues ‘raise their game.’”
News of Paton’s appointment was made last week and is getting good reviews.
“Paul is a fantastic choice. He is thoughtful, personable and wholly committed to bettering legal education. He has been instrumental in the debate about professionalism and legal ethics in Canada and internationally. I am sure that the University of Alberta law school and its stakeholders will benefit from his thinking on these issues,” says Anita Anand, academic director at the University of Toronto’s Centre for the Legal Profession and Program on Ethics in Law and Business.
Paton’s long-time friend and colleague Gillian Hadfield says: “Paul was one of the first people to have been writing and thinking about the need for change in the legal profession — long before it became fashionable.
“He will bring energy, serious scholarly thinking and strong leadership to U of A — this is a great appointment for the law school and good fortune for Canadian legal education to have him back,” says Hadfield, now a law professor at the University of Southern California
Paton will succeed current dean Philip Bryden, who has been in the position since 2009.