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People in this province with law school aspirations have to study elsewhere, but that might change in a few years.
A proposal for a faculty of law at Memorial University has been endorsed by the university’s senate.
The proposal recommends acceptance of 100 students per year, with 18 faculty members.
It would be a three-year juris doctor program with a fourth year spent articling.
The senate endorsement comes six years after the idea was originally supported by various legal groups, and it will still be three or four years before the faculty potentially accepts its first students.
Noreen Golfman, Memorial’s provost and vice-president academic, said the next step is bringing the proposal to the board of regents.
“It was a huge deal for senate to approve it, and it’s going to be a really important discussion for the board of regents, ultimately who will have to give their stamp of approval on us going forward and planning both the physical space, but also of course finding the resources to be able to fund such a faculty.”
The faculty is projected to have an annual operating cost of about $9 million, a cost which is expected to be offset by an approximate annual differential tuition of $30,000, as well as fundraising and development initiatives.
Golfman said the idea for the faculty came out of a perception that the province isn’t creating a legal culture.
“When you consider the kind of issues that we have to deal with around marine law, around offshore resources, around the ‘Big Land,’ around mining, around coastal communities, around sustainability – we have routinely … sought expertise from away.”
She said the proposed faculty is a sign of the maturity of both the university and the province.
“I just hope people get what a hugely important initiative this is, and how good it will be – as good as the medical school was for the university and for the province.”
The proposal doesn’t come without criticism, with some arguing there are already too many lawyers in the province.
Golfman said it’s a criticism the university was anticipating.
“That’s kind of a knee-jerk response,” she said.
“I think that’s a really narrow place to come from if people are only thinking of, you know, 100 lawyers populating Duckworth Street.”
Golfman said a large percentage of the graduates will never actually practice law.
“Lawyers go off into all kinds of professional fields, they contribute to society and to business all over this country in ways that really speak to the leadership potential of that kind of legal education.”
The faculty proposal indicates students could specialize in social justice or sustainable northern resource development.
Golfman said there would also be a focus on Indigenous topics.
A sample of potential electives highlights issues particular to this province, such as courses in Aboriginal legal issues in Newfoundland and Labrador, fisheries law, coastal and oceans management, Arctic Ocean law and history, and culture and the law in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The proposal also explores potential joint law degree programs with social work or business.
The faculty would require a new building, which Golfman said would be modest in size – “It wouldn’t be a Taj Mahal” – but would be closely connected to the rest of campus and would house a law library.