The current articling crisis in Canada is encouraging many people to rethink the very nature of law school.
Some law schools have even changed their policies in light of this recent development. For instance, the University of Toronto Faculty of Law is in the process of trading in letter grades for a graduated honours/pass/fail system. Other schools are talking about adding litigation classes and clinic work to the curriculum to help students acquire more practical experience. Some have even proposed replacing third year altogether with a guaranteed co-op placement.
These are all interesting suggestions that could transform law school for the better. While I do not want to assume that these ideas would alleviate the articling crisis, I believe that these changes would improve law school.
Change in general would benefit the institution. At the moment, my primary concern is the state of our legal education. And it just so happens that the so-called articling crisis has created an opportune time to address this matter.
Before I continue, allow me to share two important details: 1) I have really enjoyed my time at law school so far and 2) I have the utmost respect and adoration for the institution that I attend. That being said, it would be misleading to suggest that the system is perfect. Without a doubt, numerous measures could enhance law school and give students a better return on their hard-earned (or borrowed) dollars.
Rather than list all of these potential improvements, I will focus on the learning process that the current evaluation model reinforces. To receive grades, we students take exams, write papers, and give presentations. Our work is then reviewed and marked by professors who inform us of our strengths and shortcomings, give excellent advice, and — if we’re lucky — show an example of top-quality work.
While these evaluations are worthwhile exercises, they do not allow students to develop to our full potential. The difficulty is that once we receive our evaluations, we do not get the chance to redo our work. Instead, we plow through one task after another, with the hope that we are able to apply any insight we have acquired along the way to our next project.
It would be incredibly useful if we could stop for a moment to revise an essay, repeat an exam, or deliver a presentation again. Law school is a learning experience and the best way to learn is through practice. After all, piano players tickle their keys for hours and football stars perform daily drills. The mantra “practice makes perfect” is well known for a reason. The chance to repeat our assignments would allow us to overcome any criticisms and demonstrate improvement.
I understand that we all have a lot of work to do, and writing an essay or exam twice seems like a less-than-desirable addition to the workload (let alone grading them). However, I think the opportunity to complete these assignments again would be a very educational experience. The purpose of the evaluation process should not be to test our skills at one moment, but rather to demonstrate how we have improved and learned over a period of time. To me, that is the true goal of an education.
I recognize that this proposal is unconventional, and perhaps not suitable for all of law school, but it would be great if the practice of re-evaluating students’ work was adopted in at least one class. I would gladly enrol in that class. It remains to be seen whether I would be the only person to do so.
Terrah Smith is a second-year law student at the University of Western Ontario.