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.