By Annie Arnone
A new juris doctor (JD) law program could be coming to Ryerson in 2020, according to a letter of intent (LOI) released in October.
The LOI states that “in 2011, a full 91 per cent of the province’s law firms did not provide articling positions, and that 10 per cent of law graduates could not find articling positions.” Ryerson’s alternative is to bypass the articling process by creating a proposal to define a new transition from graduation to practicing.
Articling, similar to an internship or a co-op placement, is required for law students to complete prior to graduating because it provides them with practical training in the field. Students must finish this process to get called to the bar (a test to determine whether or not a graduate is ready to practice law).
Ryerson President Mohamed Lachemi believes that the JD program will be a good way of replacing the articling process. But the practicality of the program may not help aspiring lawyers get a job, despite its new approach.
Daniel Brown, Director of the Criminal Lawyers Association, said many practicing lawyers won’t hire anyone who has taken an alternative course in the place of articling—a key component of the unique program’s curriculum.
“A large percentage of [practitioners] have traditional articling experience, so those who participated in, let’s say the Law Practice Program (LPP), weren’t considered as qualified as those who had articles,” he said.
According to Brown, the addition of a new law program in Toronto is the last thing the city needs.
“I have had people volunteer to work for free for me, just so they could get some work experience,” he said. “[Students] are not able to secure employment and they’re just looking for some way to get ahead of the pack.”
Chris Evans, interim provost and vice president academic, acknowledges the low demand of lawyers in the Canadian legal market, but believes the JD program’s different approach will help solve the problem.
“Major shifts bring new opportunities, that’s why Ryerson is proposing a unique law school that trains lawyers to better meet the needs of communities, consumers and society,” he said in an email.
The senior program director of the LPP and member of the LOI committee, Gina Alexandris, said she wants students to start seeing the new law addition to Ryerson as positive, despite the current Canadian legal market.
“[We need to] stop thinking about this as bringing a new law school to Ryerson—let’s start thinking about it as creating opportunities for new solutions in societal problems,” she said. “You hear there are too many lawyers, but there are many people not getting access to legal services they need, so somewhere there’s a disconnect. Our training will allow people to think of things differently.”
According to the LOI, the program ”stresses professional formation, promotion of access to and diversity in the legal profession.” The end goal is to produce practice-ready lawyers.
Work on the JD program began in 2007, when a former provost created a group of administration members to explore the idea of a law school addition at Ryerson, according to the LOI.
“In the fall of 2011 the Law Society of Upper Canada created a task force to look into the shortage of articling positions for law school graduates and Ryerson decided to engage in this process. In the following year the Law Society announced it would pursue a pilot project as an alternative to traditional articling,” it read.
Ryerson has been aggressively trying to build on its current space with additions to campus, such as the Student Learning Centre in 2015, as well as the recent purchase of a building on 104 Bond St.
The addition of a potential law program is another step towards that.
Admissions to the program will be granted to students based on GPA, LSAT scores and a personal written statement describing the student’s reason for applying.
According to Evans, there are multiple steps that must be taken before the law school can be a permanent part of Ryerson’s campus.
“The release of the white paper, and the letter of intent are the first steps. Moving forward we will be working with the Federation of Law Societies as well as the Law Society of Upper Canada, and the Government of Ontario, to explore the feasibility of an innovative, new law school at Ryerson,” he explained.
The program is expected to be fully operational in September 2020, but the Academic Standards Committee as well as the Senate need to approve the process in 2017.