Opinion

Serious Appetite for Change- Clinical Intensives at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Law

05 Serious Appetite for Change

Scott Meyer (2L)

Since the Future of Law school conference two months ago, student representatives have started to engage in conversations with our Faculty about the prospect of bringing 15-credit clinical intensives to the University of Alberta.  These discussions are the direct result of students submitting a 10-page proposal that calls on our Faculty to offer business and family law clinics.

This proposal, if implemented, will expand the opportunities available to our student body to gain vital practical experience.  The idea is that these clinics would be offered in addition to the already existing for-credit clinics including the Low-Income and Courthouse projects, and the volunteer positions at Student Legal Services.

The three main goals of this project are to:

  1. Help students better achieve their career goals on completion of law school
  2. Attract top-quality applicants to the U of A’s Faculty of Law
  3. Improve the substantive education at the U of A by adapting to the changing legal market and technological realities.

Although the exact curriculum for the intensive still has to be precisely discussed, we imagine that it would require a 2-3 week intensive seminar course, and then 3 months of working with a practitioner, in addition to writing and presenting a major research project.

Since the submission of this initiative, our Dean has indicated an interest in the project, agreeing to send the proposal to our school’s curriculum committee for further expansion and review.  As this report was being authored however, students also sent out a survey to consult with our student body to better ascertain their thoughts on the idea of bringing a clinical intensive program to the U of A.  The numeric results of this survey are as follows:

What year are you in? (# Of students)

1L- 69

2L- 59

3L- 54

Would you support an intensive clinical program if it were offered at the U of A Faculty of Law?

Yes- 174

No- 8

Would you be interested in participating in an intensive clinical program?

Yes- 164

No- 17

Would you be interested in a family law clinic?

Yes- 111

No- 69

Would you be interested in a business law clinic?

Yes- 126

No- 55

 

Perhaps some of the most interesting results came from the last two questions when students were asked what types of clinical initiatives they might be interested in, and if they had any additional comments about reforming our curriculum.  Interestingly enough, 36 out of the 122 commenters wanted the Faculty to consider implementing clinical intensives with Criminal firms.

While the reception to this idea was overwhelmingly supportive, as the foregoing numbers have shown, some students did voice valid concerns about what the program may look like, and what might be some unintended consequences of the program.  Starting off, a number of students expressed concern that participation in clinical intensives would be based too heavily on a student’s GPA.  The largest concern for students however was determining whether or not a whole semester away from law school would diminish the value of their degree.  Several students expressed concern that this project would diminish students understanding of doctrinal theory, even going as far to say that this type of initiative would effectively make us into a trade school.  Students were also worried that firms may scale back the number of summer studentships they offer as a result of a new pool of ‘unpaid interns, while other students felt that experiential learning is better left for CPLED and their articling year.

When all of these concerns are taken into account, and our Faculty’s tough fiscal situation is kept in mind, it could very easily be argued that this is simply not the time to advocate for a proposal as comprehensive as the one we are asking for.  But on this note, I would like to draw the attention of the Canon’s faithful to Professor Adams’ closing remarks at the Future of Law School conference when he remarked that often the greatest advancements in our legal education system have come from times of calamity.

This is true for our Faculty now more then ever.  It is undeniable; our law school is in the midst of an identity crisis, as a result of a whole host of external and internal factors.  On the international side of things, the ground under the legal profession is rapidly shifting, with no one being able to definitively predict what the landscape of our profession will look like when the dust finally settles.  On the national side of things, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada’s new set of competency requirements for Canadian law schools has taken away what used to be a unique staple of our law school’s degree; that students graduating from our institution would graduate with a firm understanding of basics in a number of important areas of the law.  On the institutional side of things, our Faculty has been forced to deal with massive cuts to our provincial operating grant, in addition to the fact that our Faculty is in the midst of a decanal search.

But as far as I see it, all of these underlying problems provides us with a golden opportunity to reinvent ourselves.  We have the option available to us to rebuild our school with a new vision.  We have the opportunity to be entrepreneurs with our legal curriculum; where other schools simply throw money at a problem, we will be undoubtedly forced to be a little more creative, but to my mind, that’s the exciting part.  Just because we don’t have the answers about what tomorrow’s legal education system will look like today, does not mean we should stand idly by.  Rather we should be taking this opportunity to experiment with all types of projects, because without experimentation, you cannot have innovation; and what our Faculty needs more then anything, is a healthy dose of innovation, and it is students’ belief that business and family clinical initiatives is a great place to start.