Canada’s First Fourth-Tier Law School?

As most of Canada’s larger universities now have affiliated faculties of law, it falls to younger and smaller universities to adopt legal education. Recently, Lakehead University was unsuccessful in convincing Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty that it would be prudent to establish a law school there, although this rebuff will not likely dash its long-term hopes.

Along these lines, yesterday’s Speech from the Throne by BC Premier Gordon Campbell, a Liberal, contained an interesting tidbit: “A new law school will be opened at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops in collaboration with the University of Calgary.”

Thompson Rivers University Library

Thompson Rivers University?

Thompson Rivers is a small institution (less than 10,000 students) which until 1995 was known as “Caribou College” and did not even become a full university until 2004. In response to the BC Throne Speech, one journalist questioned why the government would mandate a law program at Thompson Rivers, in association with “a kooky, right-wing Alberta university,” when Simon Fraser University would have been a much more appropriate choice.

That raises a good point. Canada’s club of law-degree-granting universities is fairly small, with only 20 schools featuring full-fledged legal programs. All of these institutions are historically established or far larger than Thompson Rivers, or both. It is arguable that these institutions are thus able to provide strong facilities and cross-disciplinary education, as well as the less tangible advantage of proximity with a large knowledge-based social milieu. The minuscule Thompson Rivers, on the other hand, “in the longer term… will seek to develop dedicated space for the TRU Law School.”

The title of this post may come across as institutional snobbery, but this is not true. Rather, it seeks to draw attention to the question of whether Canadian legal education should move toward the situation in the US, where an abundance of no-name backwoods law schools saturate the market with marginally-educated lawyers. It would have made far more sense to create a law school at Simon Fraser University, which would be sizable (and reputable) enough to sustain a unique legal program without having to rest on the intellectual capital of another institution.

16 Comments on "Canada’s First Fourth-Tier Law School?"

  1. Ryan I agree, except I don’t think we need another law school in BC. There are enough unemployed or underemployed law grads as it is. Also there are enough weak schools as it is, i.e. Sask and Windsor.

  2. Other than some prominent conservatives in its political science department what exactly qualifies UofC as a “a kooky, right-wing Alberta university”? Just the other week it was in the news for taking trespassing proceedings against its anti-abortion club.

    Why Thomson Rivers over SFU? Well for one there is already a law school in Vancouver at UBC, and rural areas in most of western Canada are underserviced by lawyers.

    Its also important that it is being started in collaboration with UofC which already has a law school; thus (presumably) allowing it to provide a reasonable quality education for less cost.

  3. Ben – There is little or no unemployment for those willing to leave Vancouver or Victoria.

    “Tiered” law schools only really exist in Ontario anyway. In western Canada grads from any of the law schools can get biglaw jobs in any of the western provinces. I know many grads of one of your “weak” schools working in large firms in Vancouver and Calgary. “Tiers” are just something people who need an ego boost talk about.

  4. We don’t need any “no-name backwoods law schools saturat[ing] the market with marginally-educated lawyers.”

    That’s because our “top-tier” law schools do plenty of that already.

    One of my pet peeves is that it’s practically impossible to fail in law school. Thus, once you’re in the doors, you can get away with doing practically no work and still graduate with a LLB/JD.

    My friends in medical school tell me that it’s the same for them. Can you imagine having a doctor or surgeon that barely scraped by in his/her courses? The notion should be just as appalling for lawyers.

    The community is not well-served by having an abundance of crappy lawyers.

  5. It makes me happy that people are finally commenting on my posts!

    To respond to KC, although the quoted journalist’s characterization of UofC was probably a little tongue-in-cheek, the university is, of course, the central institution of the “Calgary School” of political and economic thought, directly derived from ideologically right-wing American thinkers such as Kissinger. A very interesting Walrus article from 2004, discussing the evolution of the group, notes that:

    “One of the ties that binds the members of the Calgary School is their macho derring-do in the wilds.”

    That’s “kooky” enough for me, in addition to UofC’s right-wing tendencies.

    Secondly, will locating a law school in a rural area mute the allure of big-city law jobs? And even if this is true, it still does not affect the argument that Thompson Rivers is not the most ideal institution to provide a strong legal education.

  6. I have to admit that TRU getting a law school is pretty much stunning. I’d have figured that if any new schools would be added in BC, it would have been UNBC, which is located in Prince George. UNBC has those features like a real campus, a medical school program and people will actually hire you with their degrees.

    SFU deserves one, but my gut says that if we gave a law school to SFU, UBC would want one too! No, seriously, it’s sort of silly to have two law schools that close to each other. Truth be told however, moving the UBC law school to SFU would make more sense due to ease of commute, housing and a host of other factors.

  7. Should have been at UBCO or UNBC. Will TRU resist the $$$ temptation to admit a class of 100-200 a year with a consequent flooding of the articling jobs market? Will articling be eliminated? Will a flood of TRU LLBs lead to cutthroat competition in small law, driving down compensation in rural areas and forcing skilled practitioners into more lucrative endeavors?

  8. I know its kind of off topic but I think the idea of eliminating articling would be just ridiculous. I’ve learned more during my 10 months of articling than all three years of law school. You probably learn more about how law works in the real world in 2 or 3 months of articling than second and third year combined.

    If we’re going to eliminate anything it should be third year.

  9. KC: I think everyone recognizes that and agrees with you.

    The problem with articling is that the Law Societies recognize that there just aren’t enough positions to go around. I heard that firms might be cutting back as many as 400 positions this year because of the tough economy, and Ontario is still graduating 1000+ lawyers per year!

    The solution is to let fewer people into law school in the first place, and to be willing to weed others out once they’re in the program.

  10. Instead of a law school they need to put in place incentives to practice in small communities. If I was given debt relief to go and practice in a small town I would do exactly that.

    The only way TRU law will be helpful is if they admit people based on their willingness to service a small community. Otherwise if they just base their admission decisions on lsat and gpa then nothing will change. People will get the degree and then leave for the city.

  11. Two points:

    Access to justice is probably a greater goal, and in the public good rather than subscribe to the elitism native to most lawyers (or those aspiring to be a lawyer). Having a law school in a smaller urban setting might result in more lawyers choosing to practice law outside the big cities.

    Diversity – Legal education should be made available outside the major urban centres so that we actually have a representative body of lawyers (and eventually judges).

  12. TRU actually has 21,000 students (13,000 on campus & 8,000 DE) accroding to the great source Wikipedia. The best part of the Law School will be no admission restrictions (TRU takes anyone with a pulse – and probably without) and that the law degree will probably soon be sold internationally via the OL division (TRU likes selling its degree abroad). The first diploma mill in Canada in Law – only in BC!

  13. First, it was “Cariboo College”; it had nothing to do with the mammal and everything to do with the First Nations group. I am a proud grad of that college as well as its offspring, the University College of the Cariboo (BA (Anthropology) and a BEd). TRU doesn’t necessarily take anyone with a pulse, and is aa good university for the first two years of a degree if you really feel you have to move to a more expensive, older university.
    My understanding, as TRU alumni and resident of Kamloops, is that the Interior needs more representation in the field of Law. Since surveys show that most Law grads stay in the area in which they studied, the hope is that having the school in central BC will increase the number of people staying to work here. I agree with Jim in that I hope grads will stay in the area and that there is some carrot to make them stay. However, I’m surprised by your venom towards TRU simply because you don’t seem to have heard of it. It’s not “small” and is well-known in BC. And considering how close SFU is to UBC, why would you double up on a Law school right next to each other?
    I was excited to see that the Law school was agreed upon and am considering applying. However, I won’t miss fraternizing with others who hold such elitist and negative attitudes to new Law schools for reasons that are, as yet, unfounded and ignorant.

  14. your article is very tru

    sfu not tru, but ppl who study at sfu dont wanna go to rural…actually never mind that

    it actually makes no sense wtf.
    Cuz then these ppl who think they are tru lawyers will suck at life and will prob still leave the farm for the city…and they arent even than smart

    and who cares abt interior that much when potential =surrey

    i.e. i think that SFU surrey should have a law school cuz I read a publication which said i think 7/10 or 9/10 of all immigrants to BC will settle there

    AND they will all need immigration,etc, plus HK business ppl need lawyers protecting their assets

    makes no sense lol…so far interior

  15. Jeff Ferguson | February 2, 2011 at 11:44 am |

    The reality is this:

    Canadian schools simply can’t satisfy the demand for new layers in Canada. The schools can’t teach enough of them, and the firms can’t train enough of them.

    In fact, many students are pushed to law schools in the UK.

    The fact of the matter is this:

    It is ridiculous to assume that Thomson Rivers will supply a legal education that is inferior to other school in Canada. People forget the benefits of going to a smaller school. In many cases, grads from so-called “no-names schools” are more competent than those who are forced to sit through 600 person lectures. At a small school, there is nowhere to hide.

  16. I disagree that TRU is well known.
    I live in Vancouver and have never heard of TRU until now. Honestly, nobody here knows or cares about TRU, or even would think about applying there.

    It’s probably well known in the interior though. And I think its good to establish a law school there, but UNBC would have been the far better choice. People in Vancouver have actually heard of UNBC and some people actually apply there.

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