Futures report offers some food for thought for law students, teachers

Futures report offers some food for thought for law students, teachers
Schulich law school dean Kim Brooks says she’d like to see more academic work following up on what happens to those with a legal education.
The Canadian Bar Association’s 2014 Legal Futures report explores some interesting possibilities for law students and their education.

Among them, another call for the further innovation of legal education models, parallel programs — think a course on law office management — that offers law students some practical skills on top of their traditional learning, and the possibility of law schools tracking and sharing entry and exit data.

Fred Headon, in a press briefing on the release of “Futures: Transforming the Delivery of Legal Services in Canada” on Aug. 14, spoke about the focus on bringing more innovation to the training of future members of the profession.

“Law schools’ teaching is good grounding, but we need to think about how we take this into the real world,” said Headon of the many of the report’s 22 recommendations related to legal education and training.

Under the “New Models for Legal Education” recommendation, it states in part that legal education providers should be “empowered to innovate so that students can have a choice in the way they receive legal education,” whether it be a traditional model or a more innovative, specialized program.

Kim Brooks, dean of Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University, thinks justice is a “tricky business” but ultimately, with ideas like parallel legal programs being floated, “the more informed people we have participating in the project, the better,” she says.

Headon talked about a “T”-shaped model for training lawyers: The vertical line of the “T” — “deep legal thinking” — could be supplemented by the broader horizontal crossbar, the more innovative, less theory-based skills lawyers in today’s legal landscape need to have.

As for the report’s data collection recommendation, which suggests law schools should “gather and publish qualitative and quantitative data on the composition of students entering and exiting law school,” Brooks says her law school collects “some” data, and also works collaboratively with the barristers’ society to track the students and their path as they enter the profession.

“No one, to my knowledge, keeps great data on what happens to the full complement of students,” Brooks says, referencing students who leave the practice altogether as an example.

“I’d love to see more academic work, by sociologists for example, on what happens to students who receive legal educations in the long run,” she adds.

At the release of the report, Headon was asked how the CBA would make data collection mandatory. He said they can’t require it, but hopes to work with other players — such as the council of law deans — to collect the recommended data. The report also talks about creating a centre for expertise and information on the Canadian legal profession, which would be developed in part to collect and present the law school data — as well as more general data — to the profession and the public.

While her school may not collect all the data it could, Brooks says law schools generally make “all kinds of data” available on their web sites.

“Canadian law deans are generally committed to transparency, especially given the nature of legal education as a public good.”

As to whether or not collecting extensive data is a valuable initiative, Brooks says “it can often be useful to have robust, reliable data.”

However, she cautions “it’s important to remember that all data has limits, and that there are myriad possible interpretations of it.”

Brooks calls the legal-education related parts of the CBA’s report “careful” and “creative,” specifically giving the nod to Futures Initiative education team members Daniel Jutras, dean of law at McGill University, and Ian Holloway, dean of law at the University of Calgary and chairman of the education and training team for the CBA, for their service on the committee.

“Their work will give us lots to work with in the next couple of years,” says Brooks.

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