Lakehead University is set to open the first law school in northern Ontario.
On July 5, the provincial government announced it will be giving Lakehead $1.5 million to revamp an old high school the university acquired for the new law faculty as well as $800,000 a year in operating funds. It will be Ontario’s first new law school since 1969.
Having a law school in Thunder Bay, Ont., means students will no longer need to travel south to get their legal education and hopefully they will decide to practise in the north, says John Milloy, minister of training, colleges and universities.
“Students who leave the north and head south are not coming back . . . so we’re addressing some of the geographic challenges,” he says.
Kevin Cleghorn, who is a lawyer in Thunder Bay and an adjunct professor at Lakehead, agrees. “There is a lack of lawyers in northern Ontario in particular. Law school graduates tend to flock to major urban centres for the most part and there are a lot of small communities that are under-serviced in terms of the provision of legal services,” he says.
The new law school will try to address the legal profession’s concern that there aren’t enough articling students in northern Ontario.
“It’s anticipated and hoped that Lakehead will basically train lawyers who are interested in remaining in the smaller communities throughout northern Ontario and will service the needs of those people who have been under-serviced in the past,” says Cleghorn.
The law school’s emphasis on aboriginal education, in terms of attracting aboriginal law students and dealing with issues around aboriginal law, was another factor in gaining the government’s approval, says Milloy, adding that the number of aboriginal lawyers is “horrifically low.”
Cleghorn believes Lakehead is “well-positioned” for the new law school as the north has “unique needs” because of its small communities and significant aboriginal population.
“With the focus on natural resources, aboriginal perspectives on law, and the desire to assist lawyers with . . . maintaining small-town practices, we have a different perspective on how we’re going to teach law and how we’re going to assist our students with understanding a different approach and a different perspective on law,” he says.
Lakehead put in its proposal for a new law school several years ago, but the Ontario government enacted a moratorium on new law schools in 2008 in order to create a new policy framework for the way schools develop. The moratorium has since been lifted and although the province doesn’t have any specific plans to open any more law schools, Milloy says they are open to proposals from other institutions.
“[I]f people want to come forward with proposals for law schools, we will certainly take a look at that within the context of what is best for Ontario students.”
Cleghorn is confident that Lakehead’s law school will “add an element to law school education that’s been lacking up to now.”
The JD program is expected to have an enrolment of 55 students in its first year. The law school is scheduled to open in September 2013.