There’s lots of talk about a law school at Memorial University, and lots of grumbling about how we don’t need more lawyers in this province.
While I disagree with that statement (I, for one, welcome increased competition in my profession) I don’t think adding lawyers is either a goal or a significant outcome.
Newfoundland and Labrador is already a mass exporter of legal talent. Perhaps it’s our long history of storytelling, or our combative nature, but we love a good argument.
We send many more Newfoundlanders and Labradorians away to law school every year than return to practice here.
If you compare those numbers of NLers who go away to a law program with to the annual quota of lawyers who join the N.L. Bar, it’s clear that a significant number don’t return.
I imagine the goal of a Memorial Law School is to stop shipping our young people to the mainland and overseas for their legal education. Whatever the local job prospects for lawyers, these Newfoundlanders are going to get a legal education somewhere.
Why send them to Toronto and Halifax and the U.K. to add to the prestige and legal culture of foreign lands when we’ve got a perfectly good use for them right here?
Citizens of the province (rightly, in my view) bemoan the state of our prison system, the inadequacy of our legislation to address emerging social problems, and the adverse impact of budget cuts on women, seniors, and minorities.
Imagine if we had a ready-made think-tank of policy wonks, legal nit-pickers, and social justice advocates ready to take government to task to these issues?
In my experience, law schools are filled with the kind of people who aren’t afraid to challenge authority, and know how to access the courts and bend the ears of government when they have an argument worth making.
Memorial University is not simply a career college. Its sole function is not to generate doctors, engineers or scientists to fill job placements in St. John’s.
Instead, it’s a centre of excellence. The med school provides insight into our unique heritage which makes us prone to certain diseases. The engineering program serves a local industry which builds oil rigs which are specialized to survive impact from an iceberg. Our science faculty gave birth to several biochemistry companies poised to crack open parts of the human genome which are unique to our island genetics.
Imagine if we could take some of that fighting spirit and our knack for storytelling and channel it into a productive academic institution that would hold government to account and champion social justice issues?
We may not need more lawyers, but we could certainly use some good local advocates, don’t you think?