Osgoode beefs up hands-on learning options

Osgoode beefs up hands-on learning options
Osgoode dean Lorne Sossin is a huge proponent of experiential learning.

It’s time to get your hands dirty, Osgoode students!

Keeping in line with its five-year strategic plan to boost hands-on learning, Osgoode Hall Law School has several new experiential offerings this fall.

The latest is the new McMurtry Visiting Clinical Fellowship, which will bring more legal professionals to the law school to teach and mentor students in the experiential education programs.

The fellowship was named after former Ontario attorney general and chief justice R. Roy McMurtry, a champion of experiential learning. For instance, he was a driving force behind the creation of Ontario’s legal aid system and the expansion of the community legal clinic model in the 1970s.

Osgoode dean Lorne Sossin has been advocating for additional experiential education programs since he took his post in July 2010, and it is now coming to fruition.

Along with the McMurtry fellowship, Osgoode is the first law school in Canada to make experiential learning a mandatory component of its curriculum. It already offers more than 15 experiential learning options for students, with more on the way.

For example, last year, 4Students wrote about Osgoode’s new Intellectual Property Law and Technology Intensive Program, and the Anti-Discrimination Intensive Program was also added to the list.

Sossin tells 4Students that other clinical programs are in the works, including one for disability law following the fellowship of Marian MacGregor, clinic director for Osgoode’s Community and Legal Aid Services Program. The law school is also considering an environmental law clinic and a Supreme Court of Canada test case clinic where students would assist lawyers working on appeals to the top court.

With this new experiential learning requirement, students will need to complete a clinical or intensive program in their upper years. Sossin says it can range from one course to a whole term at Parkdale Community Legal Services, Osgoode’s legal aid clinic.

“Students can choose if they want to simply have an experiential element to their curriculum or if they want it to be a significant component of their legal education,” says the dean.

“The idea is also that students should be able to find an experiential offering in whatever area they’re passionate about, and if they don’t see one, then we also have these mechanisms where they can suggest and help create one,” he adds.

According to Sossin, making it mandatory shouldn’t be seen as negative.

“I think when we make something a requirement . . . what you’re saying about it is that a legal education is just incomplete without this,” he says.

“For us, being exposed to law in action; being able to see problem solving from a first-hand point of view in law, also is something that we simply don’t see legal education as being complete if you haven’t had a chance to experience.”

Ultimately, incorporating more hands-on learning into the curriculum is for the betterment of the students, argues Sossin.

“What we’re hoping is it sets our graduates up to have a real advantage that not every graduate of every law school will have,” he told 4Students in “Learning by doing."

Also new to Osgoode is its experiential education office, which will dedicate more resources towards the development of new courses, programs, and clinics. The law school also welcomes Melanie Goela, the new student success and wellness counsellor, who will provide individual counselling and support to students, and ensure the school is implementing an inclusive environment.

Update: Oct. 2: Osgoode has selected the three inaugural recipients of the McMurtry Visiting Clinical Fellowship. They include: WeirFoulds LLP partner Raj Anand, Joseph Arvay of Arvay Finlay Barristers in Vancouver, and Toronto sole practitioner Fay Faraday. They will each spend a term or part of a term at Osgoode where they will assist with the law school's experiential learning initiatives.

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