Why I support Ryerson's Law School

A law school at Ryerson will not add to the competitiveness of the process and, therefore, the only reasonable position is to support its creation.

Ryan Handlarski

I talk to a lot of law students who oppose the creation of another law school in Ontario and are not happy that Ryerson University’s law school has been approved by the Law Society of Ontario. I know how they feel. Many of them are in six-figure debt and are facing down the prospect of a competitive job market in their late twenties. 

A small but significant percentage of law students will not get good law jobs and some will get good law jobs that do not pay as much as they may have hoped or expected to start their careers. The law students who are facing down these difficult circumstances understand how competitive the process they are involved in is and they feel a sense bewilderment and frustration when forces beyond their control add to the competitiveness of this process.

I understand the feeling and, of course, sympathize with the students, but I believe their feelings are misplaced. A law school at Ryerson will not add to the competitiveness of the process and, therefore, the only reasonable position is to support its creation.

I have noticed in my career as a criminal lawyer that people make comparisons between alternatives that are logically flawed or do not exist at all. I encounter this situation when law students ask me the question, “How much does a criminal lawyer make?”

In most circumstances, they are picturing a scenario that is logically flawed in considering whether they should become a criminal lawyer or another type of lawyer, such as a corporate lawyer. But this scenario is logically flawed because a person that has the skills and inclination to be successful in criminal law is unlikely to have the skills and inclination to be successful in corporate law. In a similar vein of thinking about real world alternatives, I very often come face to face with clients that refuse to accept that the only options in a criminal case are to plead guilty or to exercise their right to trial. I have had a number of conversations with clients that seem to be trying to convince themselves (it can’t be that they are trying to convince me, can it?) that there must be some way to choose a third option and not have to make a choice between the two bad alternatives that are in front of them. But that is life sometimes — a choice between two bad alternatives.

What the students that oppose the creation of Ryerson University’s law school’s are missing is that there is no scenario where the process in which they are involved becomes less competitive and less fraught with the risk that they will fall short of their expectations. I understand how painful this is to hear (or read), but it is necessary to internalize this truth to give students the best chance for success in the field of law where the competition never ends. 

This can be easily deduced by looking at the circumstances as they truly are and not imagining them as one might want them to be.

The Law Society of Ontario could restrict class sizes at the Ontario law schools, but class sizes have gone up significantly since I graduated law school in 2008. It is obvious that in enlarging the class sizes significantly that the law schools have devalued the degree in economic terms. When there is more of something, it is less valuable. 

Similarly, the LSO could have also restricted foreign-trained law students that become certified in Canada to a limited number. The law society made the decision not to — anyone can train at any foreign law school and become certified to practise law in Canada. In the case of the foreign-trained lawyers, this is a notable and revealing case of inaction by the LSO because of the disparity in quality among many foreign law schools. 

Being that class sizes at the existing law schools are expanding and that Canadian students are studying abroad and returning to practice, what is the possible objection to the creation of a new, good law school in Toronto at a university that is known for creativity, use of technology, teaching entrepreneurship and that wants to ensure it selects a class that actually represents the ethnically and racially diverse population of Toronto?

There will be thousands of prospective law students who will apply to Ryerson University. It will be forced to be discerning and the students are likely to be much better than many law students that are currently becoming Canadian lawyers. And what is the difference, in practical terms, between creating a new law school and increasing the number of spots for law students at existing Canadian law schools? 

There are hundreds of more spots at the existing law schools than there were when I graduated. For all intents and purposes, the existing law schools created one or two new schools in Ontario since I went to law school, but they simply did not tell anyone about it. 

The reality is that there is no alternative for law students that does not involve intense competition. The two real alternatives are intense competition with Ryerson University and its tech-savvy, entrepreneurial-minded, diverse graduates or intense competition without them. If you accept that there is no evading the intense competition, no negative feelings are justified toward a new law school at Ryerson University.

It is my hope that a law school with a focus on technology, entrepreneurship and diversity has a chance to produce better and more successful lawyers than the law schools that are already in existence that are less able — or less willing because of their reliance on their reputation — to adapt to modern realities of legal practice. And it is very difficult to oppose that.

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