Are law schools training tomorrow’s or yesterday’s
lawyers? It is an urgent question, yet there is no simple answer.
As our cover story outlines, there
are critics who say unequivocally that law schools are falling behind the times
to the detriment of graduates. Darrel Pink, former head of the Nova Scotia
Barristers’ Society, put it bluntly when he said the Canadian academy is
“continuing to do a very good job of training yesterday’s lawyers.”
Pink, who was one of Canadian Lawyer’s Top 25 Most Influential Lawyers in
2017 due to his work on regulatory innovation, is no
traditionalist. He, along with other critics such as Jason Moyse and Mitch
Kowalski, think Canada’s law schools are nowhere close to where they need to
But Pink, Moyse and Kowalski are
innovators who want to push boundaries. Are the law schools intentionally not
innovating simply because they are resistant to change?
To find out, our writer spoke with law
deans across Canada. What he heard was not resistance so much as exasperation.
Law deans know law schools need to change and innovate, but they aren’t able to
do so at the pace they want.
They face a number of barriers. For Ian
Holloway, dean at the University of Calgary’s law school, it is data. Law
schools don’t know what is working and what isn’t because they aren’t tracking
it. “We’re working on it,” he told us.
Lorne Sossin, outgoing dean at Osgoode
Hall, says innovation is often discomforting. He also cites “limited time,
resources and knowledge” as hurdles. Paul Paton at the University of Alberta
mentions “entrenched interests” as a barrier. For Erika Chamberlain, dean of
law at Western University, it is a “sense of inertia.”
But it was comments from my alma mater,
the University of Toronto, that really struck me as highlighting the nub of the
problem. Dean Ed Iacobucci asked, “Who knows if the software you use today will
be the software you use tomorrow?” Teaching lawyers to use technology, a key
skill for tomorrow’s lawyers, is just teaching them something that will soon be
out of date. Iacobucci seemed exasperated by the rate of change, suggesting
that trying to keep up with every new tool was a fool’s errand.
In other words, law schools should teach
you to “think like a lawyer.” The rest you can figure out on the job.
But will lawyers in the new economy even
need to think the same way as they have in the past? As Moyse points out,
lawyers are increasingly going to be needed to “build information products
comprised of a mix of tech, design [and] project management.” They won’t so
much be using technology as building it. Will this still require them to “think
like a lawyer”? Or will their legal training be for yesterday’s jobs, leaving
them ill equipped to build the new products, as Moyse predicts?
For tomorrow’s lawyers, the answer is
vital. And law schools need to figure out the answer today.