Memorial University needs a law school, feasibility study finds

James McLeod
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The verdict is in: Memorial University should have a law school, according to an expansive feasibility study released Thursday afternoon.

A portion of Memorial University’s campus is seen from above. A newly released report says the campus should include a law school. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

he feasibility study concluded setting up a law school in the province will likely cost around $26 million, and it could be run for around $3 million annually.

A committee from the university has been holding consultations and studying the possibility of setting up a law school in the province since February of this year.

The final report speaks in glowing language about the possibilities a law school could facilitate.

“The extensive feedback we have received for this study permits us to see the extraordinary potential of a law school to spark intellectual growth and development within the university and to deepen the university’s public engagement with communities throughout the province,” the final report says.

The committee is recommending a school with around 20 professors and 240 students — for an annual graduating class of around 80 students.

All of this wouldn’t come cheap.

“Some would say that the costs of such a law school present an insurmountable challenge to its feasibility,” the report says.

“While we have been asked not to make costs a deciding factor in our evaluation, it is appropriate that we make clear the approximate costs of the kind of law school we have in mind.”

To set up the school would likely cost around $26 million, although that could be cheaper if MUN could find existing office and classroom space.

The ongoing cost to run it would be about $5 million; that would likely require a subsidy from the government, since tuition fees would only be able to raise around $3.6 million.

Lynne Phillips, MUN’s dean of arts, and the person who headed up the feasibility study committee, said that she’s looking to hear from members of the community now about the report and whether people are ready to get the ball rolling on a law school.

“Yes, we should have a law school,” she said. “I think that it would be really good for the province and the university, but it will be very important to hear from people — whether they agree with what the report has found.”

But one person who’s already pretty skeptical is John Samms, a Newfoundlander in New Brunswick studying law at the University of New Brunswick.

Samms called a law school akin to “leading lambs to the slaughter” for potential students, and said there are better ways to spend public money.

“It’s not as bad in Newfoundland as it is in the rest of the country, but there is a national articling crisis right now, and it’s tough for students to get jobs,” he said. “A new law school isn’t going to create more jobs.”

All along, supporters of the idea of a new law school have said it’s not really about training lawyers. The main benefits are more focused on the idea that a law school would promote legal criticism, community engagement and could provide interdisciplinary benefits with other parts of the university.

As an example, the report talks about a legal-aid clinic to help people who can’t afford to hire a lawyer.

“This would provide first-hand experience to students of law, enabling them to work with and offer advice to clients who need legal-aid services, confident that they have the support and knowledge base of faculty members and other senior practitioners to guide them in this facet of their experiential learning.”

Samms didn’t think much of that.

“A law school doesn’t really help that, because you need actual lawyers on the ground helping people in that circumstance, so I think an expanded legal-aid system helps much more than just simply a law school,’ he said.

Samms also had some questions about how the report was put together.

“Reading this report, they come back glowingly positive, but what sort of methodology did they do to get that? I mean, it seems to be that they’re hinging their analysis on mostly anecdotal evidence on a select few people,” he said. “If you look at Appendix 3, for example, they’re relying on (an online) VOCM poll, they’re relying on a Telegram poll, which are totally unscientific and not reliable in any sort of way whatsoever it’s terrible methodology.”

The Telegram requested a comment from Advanced Education and Skills Minister Kevin O’Brien, but no response was received as of deadline.



Organizations: University of New Brunswick.Samms, Appendix 3

Geographic location: New Brunswick, Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Mark
    December 13, 2013 - 09:44

    There are enough articling positions across Canada to meet the needs of law school graduates. The issue is not all of those articling positions are in major centers like Toronto or St. John's. If grads are prepared to move to smaller towns there are plenty of positions to be filled. I hope Mr. Samms finds one of those positions.

  • Pam Frampton
    December 13, 2013 - 08:01

    This article — and the feasibility study itself — does take into account the costs required to run a law school. The report says, “Some would say that the costs of such a law school present an insurmountable challenge to its feasibility.”

    • Jay
      December 13, 2013 - 11:11

      Pam, Fair enough, but then the article states " we have been asked not to make costs a deciding factor in our evaluation." How does this show consideration to costing. The main goal of a feasibility study is to assess the economic viability of a proposed venture. It should contain an independent, critical analysis of, among other issues, the market for the venture and a financial analysis. The university's report contains neither. How do the benefits outweigh the costs? Are any of the benefits even quantified? However, taxpayers will be expected to make up any difference. If a Business student passed this wish list in as a project, it would be crucified by a professor. Mr. Samms, as an interested observer, seems to have put more critical thought into this issue than the collective genius at the university. Maybe they should have just written a letter to Santa.

  • Jay
    December 13, 2013 - 07:58

    How can you call this a feasibility study? It was a propaganda document developed by the university and the legal community which was written to fool the public into thinking a law school was necessary in this province. It's a self-serving document written by a "university committee" which does not take into account the costs which would be required to run this proposed law school. If a law school is so feasible then taxpayers shouldn't be on the hook to pay for it. It seems that, more and more, the university is more concerned with building empires than it is with staying relevant to the province's needs. Maybe the Telegram should do some investigative journalism, as opposed to re-printing this marketing ploy from a self-interest group.

    • Too Funny
      December 13, 2013 - 12:26

      "If a law school is so feasible then taxpayers shouldn't be on the hook to pay for it". Gee, lets that reasoning to the University and CONA and shut them down.

    • Happily Retired
      December 13, 2013 - 15:35

      Too Funny, Funding for CONA and the university weren't based on feasibility studies. They were considered core services for the province which funds them based upon that rationale. However, the university is using the feasibility rationale for the law school. It's a different argument. Of course, you probably want the taxpayers to pay for an unnecessary law school, so you wouldn't pick up on that point.

  • Cheaper Or Existing Space
    December 13, 2013 - 07:25

    They could put the new law school into the newly purchased Battery Hotel instead of turning that space into University Executive offices. Then the law students would be close the Courts and law oofices while the university President and Vice-Presidents would remain on campus where they belong. To move MUN's executive branch a mile away from the campus they are supposed to administer was rediculous they day they proposed it.

    • Rootsy
      December 16, 2013 - 17:36

      It has never been proposed that the President or Vice Presidents will move to the Battery- at this point the tenants who have been mentioned are several university centres (Gardiner, Genesis and the Harris Centre, I think) and grad students.