Longing for a law school

Randy Simms
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It looks like Memorial University might get a law school, and it’s about time.

MUN has long been a significant centre of learning in several disciplines, particularly medicine, and students from all over the world come here to pursue higher education. Why would we turn away from teaching law?

Call it a coming-of-age thing, but sending students out of province to study law and then bringing them back later to practice seems like an antiquated idea. This doesn’t mean that every graduate from a law school at MUN would stay here, any more than every new medical grad hangs out a shingle here when they graduate, but it does improve the odds.

The idea of a law school at MUN has been floating around for a number of years. A report recommending one was done over 25 years ago but was put on the back burner until the time was right to move ahead. Is this the time?

Former Chief Justice Clyde Wells spoke on the topic at a public meeting Tuesday evening and was quick to endorse the idea.

“Fundamentally, it provides an opportunity for students in Newfoundland to have access to a legal education at a reasonable cost,” he says.

He argues that students from this province have not had “fair access” compared to students from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Chief Justice Derek Green is also a fan of the idea. He says we shouldn’t be too focused on filling the provincial bar, but rather observes that “a law school has a much broader purpose. It is to give a broad legal education to people who want it, who may then use that education in a variety of ways.”

Green suggests people with legal training could be useful in many areas, even outside of the legal profession, such as senior managers, captains of industry and those who might pursue political careers.

Proceeding with the law school will not be easy. The feasibility study currently underway is going to look at a lot of issues before a final decision is made, and some of them deserve a lot of scrutiny.

Do we need more lawyers? Old jokes aside, the question is valid.  Where are the holes in our current legal structure that more lawyers would fill?  

My immediate thought goes to the criminal justice system. Legal Aid lawyers, those who practise criminal law and family law — do we have enough of them?

Do we need more corporate lawyers in our province? The business community is growing by leaps and bounds and my gut says we do, but the feasibility study should give us proper answers.

How much will it cost to establish a law school and how do we pay for it? This may be the biggest hurdle facing those who want to see it move ahead. With the province running deficits in both financing and infrastructure, it may not be possible.

Lynne Phillips, dean of arts, is chairing the committee overseeing  this undertaking, including the public meetings held across the province this summer to gauge reaction. The results of those meetings will be considered in the final report expected late this fall.

Despite the obvious obstacles, I’d like to see it go ahead. My support of a law school boils down to the belief that we are maturing as a province. Providing for ourselves in all aspects of life is one of the measures of a fully functioning society. I accept that we don’t need a law school to achieve such a goal — fair enough — but let me dream a little.

A new law school, building on Memorial University’s stellar reputation in medicine, engineering, cold ocean sciences, etc.?

I just love the idea.

Randy Simms is a political commentator and broadcaster. He can be reached at rsimms@nf.sympatico.ca Twitter: @RandyRsimms

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick

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