The Innovative Advocate: Canada’s Legal Future

By: Ivan Merrow · September 29, 2012 · Filed Under Law Career, Law School, Legal Reform, Pro Bono · 1 Comment 

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The way legal services are delivered in Canada is changing.  Increased competition and a demand for lower prices has pressured law firms to slow hiring and deliver their services more efficiently.  After finishing my first year at Queen’s Law I started thinking about how law students can help firms meet the demand.  It starts with an open-eyes look at where our industry is moving.

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The reality is that corporate in-house clients are demanding routine process work be done for less, putting pressure on law firms to deliver their services faster with less overhead.  2012 also marked the first year that non-lawyers are allowed to own law firms in the UK, dramatically expanding the capital available for those firms’ investment and growth.

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Here at home, lawyer-only firm ownership still reigns in Canada, but mergers with international players push our largest firms into ever-greater levels of competition.  Lawyers-turned-entrepreneurs in Canada are in turn growing their shares in the consumer market by launching online legal services.

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New entrants to the market still haven’t quenched the demand for lower legal costs. Canadians face serious access to justice issues, and even middle-class litigants find themselves increasingly forced to represent themselves in court.

How are law students responding to these challenges?  Traditional not-for-profit work in legal clinics like Queen’s Legal Aid and Pro-Bono Students Canada is popular while in law school, but how many students continue their pro-bono efforts post graduation?  How does this solve the problem for clients who aren’t poor but still can’t afford legal advice?

I believe the change starts with how legal services are delivered.  I believe it starts by getting students thinking about innovative ways to bring the law to Canadians.

Law-students for Technology and Innovation (LFTI) is a student-run organization Nikolas Sopow and I created this year at Queen’s Law.  We’re passionate about finding better ways to deliver legal services.  We’re law students, but we’re not afraid of the changes coming to the Canadian legal scene.  Within three weeks we recruited four more executives to our team, and we’re still growing.  By 2015 we plan to have LFTI clubs at every law school in Canada.

Our projects this year are as diverse as our leadership team.  We’re hosting a speakers’ panel in Winter 2013 titled Technology on the Legal Frontier: Current and Future Ways to Practice Law.  We’re fundraising for computer literacy skills in Kingston by hosting a LAN party for video-game enthusiasts.  We’re blogging on the latest legal tech to hit app store shelves.  And we’re letting everyone know how the delivery of legal services is changing, so our classmates are prepared when they graduate.

If you’re a law student, consider starting a group like LFTI for your class.  Being prepared for the changing legal environment in Canada is about more than making a living as a lawyer.  It’s about making legal counsel affordable, providing greater access to justice, and ensuring Canadian firms remain competitive in the global market for legal services.

What areas of legal service delivery do you think could be improved?  How does legal education need to change in order to keep up?  Be creative, and ask tough questions. The innovative advocate is Canada’s legal future.


A proposal to resolve the articling crisis

By: Pulat Yunusov · October 3, 2011 · Filed Under Law School · 4 Comments 

There is an articling crisis in Ontario. Many students enticed to law schools by the prospect of being a lawyer, can’t overcome the final hurdle because they can’t find an articling job. Ten months of working for an experienced lawyer is a prerequisite to joining the legal profession, in addition to a law degree, the bar exams, and a “good character.” But most lawyers don’t want to hire articling students despite cajoling from the Law Society. They probably have a good reason. Supervising an articling student is expensive: it costs a lot in salary (though often still meager), liability, time, and office space. I propose that students pay for their own articling instead of paying for the third year of law school.

First, articling is training, often far more useful than law school. We are used to paying for training, and teachers generally expect compensation. Articling students usually don’t compensate lawyers who supervise them, but lawyers make up for it by working articling students to death. This is not true for all articling principals, but articling has a reputation for long hours. Reverse the flow of money between articling students and principals, and the relationship between them will become healthier.

Second, the third year of law school is nothing special, and many law students don’t need it. Second and third year students take courses from the same pool. Some of these courses are purely academic, and students who want to be lawyers don’t need them. After all, a general undergraduate liberal arts education should be a pre-requisite for law school admission so valuable lawyer training time is not wasted on academic subjects. Students who do not wish to be lawyers (for example, students who want to be law professors) should be able to take a third year of law school.

Third, replacing the third year of law school with an articling year will shorten the path to becoming a lawyer by exactly one year. The cost of training a lawyer to the public will be less because the less time it takes to train a lawyer, the less subsidies, grants, tax breaks, and other forms of government assistance will be required.

Fourth, it will not cost anything extra to law students because they would have paid for that year to law schools anyway. Now they will pay to the Law Society that will compensate selected lawyers. Lawyers will no doubt compete for articling principal gigs since they will make money instead of losing it. The quality of articling principals will also probably increase because their pool will widen and the Law Society will have the money to select better ones.

Fifth, the law firms who wish to snatch the “best” (whatever that means) articling students will have another form of incentive to offer in addition to higher salaries—reimbursement of articling tuition charged by the Law Society.

Sixth, the profession will get more control over lawyer training and more actual lawyers will teach future lawyers how to practice law.

Seventh, articling students will be less vulnerable as they will be paying for articling principals’ services instead of serving articling principals in exchange for wages. The Law Society will also have a greater control of working conditions and the nature of training.

Eighth, articling students will be exposed to a far broader rager of lawyers. Many fascinating lawyers doing amazing work for their clients and for the public never hire students because of the cost. If these lawyers get paid for hiring a student, more of them will probably do.

Ninth, law students who want nothing to do with law practice will have a chance to identify themselves and get better attention from law schools. Law students who do want to be lawyers will work in real lawyers’ offices instead of competing for scarce legal clinic spots in law school.

Tenth, Ontario will finally have more articling jobs, which is at the heart of the articling crisis in this province.

Pulat Yunusov is a Toronto litigation lawyer.


(Post sponsored by AdviceScene)


“Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior”

By: Simone Samuels · January 11, 2011 · Filed Under Ethics, Uncategorized · 9 Comments 

Although slightly unrelated to law qua law, this article published by the Wall Street Journal on January 11, 2011 has created much buzz in the legal world (and perhaps even typifies the upbringing of  many students currently in professional schools).  Written by author and Yale Law professor Amy Chua (who is married to fellow Yale Law professor Jed Rubenfeld), the article defends the “Asian” way of raising children.  If you haven’t read it already, the article is posted here for your perusal (and you may want to read Above The Law‘s take on the article as well):

Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior

Can a regimen of no playdates, no TV, no computer games and hours of music practice create happy kids? And what happens when they fight back?


A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it’s like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I’ve done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

• attend a sleepover

• have a playdate

• be in a school play

• complain about not being in a school play

• watch TV or play computer games

• choose their own extracurricular activities

• get any grade less than an A

• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama

• play any instrument other than the piano or violin

• not play the piano or violin.

I’m using the term “Chinese mother” loosely. I know some Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents who qualify too. Conversely, I know some mothers of Chinese heritage, almost always born in the West, who are not Chinese mothers, by choice or otherwise. I’m also using the term “Western parents” loosely. Western parents come in all varieties.

When it comes to parenting, the Chinese seem to produce children who display academic excellence, musical mastery and professional success – or so the stereotype goes. WSJ’s Christina Tsuei speaks to two moms raised by Chinese immigrants who share what it was like growing up and how they hope to raise their children.

All the same, even when Western parents think they’re being strict, they usually don’t come close to being Chinese mothers. For example, my Western friends who consider themselves strict make their children practice their instruments 30 minutes every day. An hour at most. For a Chinese mother, the first hour is the easy part. It’s hours two and three that get tough.

Despite our squeamishness about cultural stereotypes, there are tons of studies out there showing marked and quantifiable differences between Chinese and Westerners when it comes to parenting. In one study of 50 Western American mothers and 48 Chinese immigrant mothers, almost 70% of the Western mothers said either that “stressing academic success is not good for children” or that “parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun.” By contrast, roughly 0% of the Chinese mothers felt the same way. Instead, the vast majority of the Chinese mothers said that they believe their children can be “the best” students, that “academic achievement reflects successful parenting,” and that if children did not excel at school then there was “a problem” and parents “were not doing their job.” Other studies indicate that compared to Western parents, Chinese parents spend approximately 10 times as long every day drilling academic activities with their children. By contrast, Western kids are more likely to participate in sports teams.

What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it’s math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.

Chinese parents can get away with things that Western parents can’t. Once when I was young—maybe more than once—when I was extremely disrespectful to my mother, my father angrily called me “garbage” in our native Hokkien dialect. It worked really well. I felt terrible and deeply ashamed of what I had done. But it didn’t damage my self-esteem or anything like that. I knew exactly how highly he thought of me. I didn’t actually think I was worthless or feel like a piece of garbage.

As an adult, I once did the same thing to Sophia, calling her garbage in English when she acted extremely disrespectfully toward me. When I mentioned that I had done this at a dinner party, I was immediately ostracized. One guest named Marcy got so upset she broke down in tears and had to leave early. My friend Susan, the host, tried to rehabilitate me with the remaining guests.

The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable—even legally actionable—to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, “Hey fatty—lose some weight.” By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue, talking in terms of “health” and never ever mentioning the f-word, and their kids still end up in therapy for eating disorders and negative self-image. (I also once heard a Western father toast his adult daughter by calling her “beautiful and incredibly competent.” She later told me that made her feel like garbage.)

Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best. Chinese parents can say, “You’re lazy. All your classmates are getting ahead of you.” By contrast, Western parents have to struggle with their own conflicted feelings about achievement, and try to persuade themselves that they’re not disappointed about how their kids turned out.

I’ve thought long and hard about how Chinese parents can get away with what they do. I think there are three big differences between the Chinese and Western parental mind-sets.

First, I’ve noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children’s self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children’s psyches. Chinese parents aren’t. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.

For example, if a child comes home with an A-minus on a test, a Western parent will most likely praise the child. The Chinese mother will gasp in horror and ask what went wrong. If the child comes home with a B on the test, some Western parents will still praise the child. Other Western parents will sit their child down and express disapproval, but they will be careful not to make their child feel inadequate or insecure, and they will not call their child “stupid,” “worthless” or “a disgrace.” Privately, the Western parents may worry that their child does not test well or have aptitude in the subject or that there is something wrong with the curriculum and possibly the whole school. If the child’s grades do not improve, they may eventually schedule a meeting with the school principal to challenge the way the subject is being taught or to call into question the teacher’s credentials.

If a Chinese child gets a B—which would never happen—there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion. The devastated Chinese mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A.

Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn’t get them, the Chinese parent assumes it’s because the child didn’t work hard enough. That’s why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it. (And when Chinese kids do excel, there is plenty of ego-inflating parental praise lavished in the privacy of the home.)

Second, Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything. The reason for this is a little unclear, but it’s probably a combination of Confucian filial piety and the fact that the parents have sacrificed and done so much for their children. (And it’s true that Chinese mothers get in the trenches, putting in long grueling hours personally tutoring, training, interrogating and spying on their kids.) Anyway, the understanding is that Chinese children must spend their lives repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud.

By contrast, I don’t think most Westerners have the same view of children being permanently indebted to their parents. My husband, Jed, actually has the opposite view. “Children don’t choose their parents,” he once said to me. “They don’t even choose to be born. It’s parents who foist life on their kids, so it’s the parents’ responsibility to provide for them. Kids don’t owe their parents anything. Their duty will be to their own kids.” This strikes me as a terrible deal for the Western parent.

Third, Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children’s own desires and preferences. That’s why Chinese daughters can’t have boyfriends in high school and why Chinese kids can’t go to sleepaway camp. It’s also why no Chinese kid would ever dare say to their mother, “I got a part in the school play! I’m Villager Number Six. I’ll have to stay after school for rehearsal every day from 3:00 to 7:00, and I’ll also need a ride on weekends.” God help any Chinese kid who tried that one.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s not that Chinese parents don’t care about their children. Just the opposite. They would give up anything for their children. It’s just an entirely different parenting model.

Here’s a story in favor of coercion, Chinese-style. Lulu was about 7, still playing two instruments, and working on a piano piece called “The Little White Donkey” by the French composer Jacques Ibert. The piece is really cute—you can just imagine a little donkey ambling along a country road with its master—but it’s also incredibly difficult for young players because the two hands have to keep schizophrenically different rhythms.

Lulu couldn’t do it. We worked on it nonstop for a week, drilling each of her hands separately, over and over. But whenever we tried putting the hands together, one always morphed into the other, and everything fell apart. Finally, the day before her lesson, Lulu announced in exasperation that she was giving up and stomped off.

“Get back to the piano now,” I ordered.

“You can’t make me.”

“Oh yes, I can.”

Back at the piano, Lulu made me pay. She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu’s dollhouse to the car and told her I’d donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn’t have “The Little White Donkey” perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, “I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?” I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.

Jed took me aside. He told me to stop insulting Lulu—which I wasn’t even doing, I was just motivating her—and that he didn’t think threatening Lulu was helpful. Also, he said, maybe Lulu really just couldn’t do the technique—perhaps she didn’t have the coordination yet—had I considered that possibility?

“You just don’t believe in her,” I accused.

“That’s ridiculous,” Jed said scornfully. “Of course I do.”

“Sophia could play the piece when she was this age.”

“But Lulu and Sophia are different people,” Jed pointed out.

“Oh no, not this,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Everyone is special in their special own way,” I mimicked sarcastically. “Even losers are special in their own special way. Well don’t worry, you don’t have to lift a finger. I’m willing to put in as long as it takes, and I’m happy to be the one hated. And you can be the one they adore because you make them pancakes and take them to Yankees games.”

I rolled up my sleeves and went back to Lulu. I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn’t let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress, and even I began to have doubts.

Then, out of the blue, Lulu did it. Her hands suddenly came together—her right and left hands each doing their own imperturbable thing—just like that.

Lulu realized it the same time I did. I held my breath. She tried it tentatively again. Then she played it more confidently and faster, and still the rhythm held. A moment later, she was beaming.

“Mommy, look—it’s easy!” After that, she wanted to play the piece over and over and wouldn’t leave the piano. That night, she came to sleep in my bed, and we snuggled and hugged, cracking each other up. When she performed “The Little White Donkey” at a recital a few weeks later, parents came up to me and said, “What a perfect piece for Lulu—it’s so spunky and so her.”

Even Jed gave me credit for that one. Western parents worry a lot about their children’s self-esteem. But as a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child’s self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there’s nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn’t.

There are all these new books out there portraying Asian mothers as scheming, callous, overdriven people indifferent to their kids’ true interests. For their part, many Chinese secretly believe that they care more about their children and are willing to sacrifice much more for them than Westerners, who seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly. I think it’s a misunderstanding on both sides. All decent parents want to do what’s best for their children. The Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that.

Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.

—Amy Chua is a professor at Yale Law School and author of “Day of Empire” and “World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability.” This essay is excerpted from “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” by Amy Chua, to be published Tuesday by the Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © 2011 by Amy Chua.

So We’re Still Undergrads?

By: Ryan Venables · October 20, 2010 · Filed Under Law School, Public Interest · 7 Comments 

Undergrad degree, check.  LSAT, check.  Fourteen thousand three hundred and twenty-six dollar tuition, check.  Still considered an undergraduate, check.  WHAT??!!  Still considered an undergrad?

Welcome to The University of Western Ontario, where law, dental, medical, and business students in professional programs are all lumped in with undergraduate students.  Knowing where we stand is easy part, finding out why and how to change it becomes much like a Tom & Jerry (wow did I just date myself?) cartoon of pointing fingers.

This article has been brewing (or perhaps festering) in my brain since the first week of my 1L year.  Never before had I needed a parking pass during my undergrad days of the 90’s, however, entering school as a “mature” student, I now have a car.  I went and purchased my parking pass only to find out that my tuition, nearly three times the undergrad rate, got me exactly nothing.

I attempted to fill out my parking pass, but stopped when it asked if I was an undergrad or graduate student.  Hmm, no professional student designation?  Figuring that I am in law school, I checked “graduate.”  When I handed my form in I was met with a lovely lady who politely handed my application back and told me that law students are considered undergrads.  As such I would have to fight to obtain a parking position in Springett.

“Don’t worry we’re adding a bunch of spots” I was told.  So I carried on my merry way, drove to classes the next day, circled the parking lot like a buzzard, only to realize that ALL of the added spots were taken as well.  I was late for class that day as I had a choice of parking behind Althouse (Teacher’s College) or at TD Waterhouse Stadium.  I choice Althouse.

I asked around and never really received a satisfactory answer last year, and I resolved my parking situation like many law student’s do.  But I’ll leave that out of print.

Fast forward to this year.  I gave it another try, went and purchased my parking pass and asked again why we are considered undergraduates.  The same lovely lady said “that’s the way it’s always been.”  Hmm, quite unacceptable.

I said that most of my classes start at 2 o’clock, and she looked at me with a sorry face and said the undergrad lot is usually full by noon.

Now as I write this, we just finished our third week of class, and while the undergrad lot at Springett is full by noon, I would estimate there are AT LEAST 100 vacant spots in the Graduate/Faculty lot on ANY given day.

So again, why are we considered undergraduates?  I decided to put my old detective hat on and hit the pavement to find out.

However, I’ve come up with another question in the meantime.  Not only do we have a parking disadvantage, but also we have a health plan disadvantage.

If anybody has compared our undergraduate health plan to the graduate health plan, you will note that they have benefits for dental and vision.  Two benefits that the undergraduate plan does not accommodate for.

While this may not be an issue to some, it is an issue for me.  A quick insurance lesson:  Many plans that your parents have provide coverage to you if you are in school fulltime and under 25.  For student’s like me, that leaves no dental or vision coverage, both of which I would take advantage of.

For now, I will just role this secondary issue into with the first

As I set out to answer these questions my first stop USC office.  I was met with “I don’t know, go and talk to the people at Info Source.”

Down the stairs I went, waited in line, and spoke with an employee who said they do not make the decisions go to the Registrar’s office, “they’re the ones who classify the students.”

Down the hall and into the nice shiny new Student Services building I proceeded.

Here, there was a compilation of three employees, who provided equally weak answers:

  1. “You are not considered a graduate because your program is an undergraduate degree.”  Perhaps with law (but is that not why we just changed to J.D.?  Again another article for another day), but not to so with medicine and dental.
  2. “The University Senate made that decision, go talk to them.”  Which was probably the best answer out of the four.
  3. “Go and speak with the Society of Graduate Student’s to see if they will make an exception to let you in.”  Riiiight, like that will happen.
  4. And the best, “because that’s what other universities classify law students as.”  Oh, so we’re just followers now.  Is that what higher education has amounted to?  Herd mentality?

In the end, I still do not know why professional schools within The University of Western Ontario are considered undergraduates, and equally it does not sit well with me.

I raise this question, not because I think law students (or any professional school) are better than undergraduates.  But if the answers above are any indication, how can you justify charging almost 15 000 per year in tuition when university officials see this program as an undergraduate program?

As a strike vote looms between faculty and the university, I can surely guarantee the UWO Faculty Association (UWOFA) will not accept such arguments as “the Provincial government said no raises this year, so no raises,” as a bargaining position in the upcoming contract negotiations, so why should we?

Three things to know if you are applying to law school

By: Simone Samuels · October 19, 2010 · Filed Under Humour, Law School, Law School Tips, Uncategorized · Comments Off on Three things to know if you are applying to law school 

It’s mid-October.  I’m halfway through the semester, and a quarter of the way through first-year hell.

One of my classmates has taken the liberty of describing what these first six weeks at McGill law have been like.  I would have written something similar, but I lack the time management skills and energy that my classmate possesses.  And so, with her permission, I have recopied her note from Facebook  and pasted it below.

N.B.: To my friends and family — if you find that when you phone me I sometimes sound tired, busy and unenthusiastic, this is why:

Three things to know if you are applying to law school

I’ve noticed that there have been quite a few people I know whose statuses recently read something about law school applications and/or LSATs. Some of you may have perhaps contacted me asking about law school. Some of you may have simply attempted to contact me to keep in touch and I haven’t yet responded.

There’s probably a couple things you should be aware of. I’ll be brief. My opinions now may perhaps change soon enough and probably differ from experienced upper years. But this is what I see so far:

1)    It’s hard.

People who got into law school told me it was hard. Yeah, I didn’t believe them. So I’m telling you it’s hard. I suppose it’s out of sheer idiocy that by writing that, I’d hope you’d believe me.

Now why is it hard? There’s a lot of readings. Generally, in undergrad, I made it through generally not reading stuff timely. I’ve only recently just fallen behind in readings in law – but the consequences are much higher than in business school. Following along in class really does not work well. You’re not talking about what was the content of the readings but you’re applying it and creating new hypotheticals. You’re comparing legal scholars’ points of view. You’re comparing cases that have opposing judgments with seemingly similar facts. Not reading timely makes this nearly impossible.

2)    You’re on your own

This won’t make sense to you if you didn’t do a group-based undergrad like business. There’s no group work. Currently, it seems like it’s you versus the above-mentioned hundreds of pages of readings (note: I’ve probably read two semesters worth of reading in the past month, I’m not exaggerating). Some people form study groups; others don’t. Studying individually has benefits in that your mark doesn’t depend on someone else, but there’s the disadvantage of having only your point of view on a difficult subject.

Students generally seem to now disappear at lunch to bunker down in the library. In some cases, it seems to me that this takes away from a sense of community. You’ll probably pass people in the halls that you somehow have half your classes with but have not said a word to in a week.

3)    Stress is in the air

There seems to be a lot of similarities to the LSAT and law school. If you’ve done the LSAT, you’ll remember the amount of anxiety in washroom lines at the break. Nervous people chattering, attempting to compare answers or find out which section was experimental.

From what I’ve heard of upper years, this stress anxiety atmosphere is characteristic of first year law school. Apparently it gets better in upper years. But you can really see it in people’s faces that we’re all getting a little nervous somehow, sometimes. Part of it is a common fear that all our efforts currently are useless and we’re spinning our wheels into the mud.

Notably, we haven’t gotten to the point of Scott Turow’s fragility in the opening pages of One L:

“By Friday my nerves will be so brittle from sleeplessness and pressure and intellectual fatigue that I will not be certain I can make it through the day […] I am distracted at most times and have difficulty keeping up a conversation, even with my wife. At random instants, I am likely to be stricken with acute feelings of panic, depression, indefinite need, and the pep talks and irony I practice on myself only seem to make it worse.

“I am a law student in my first year […] and there are many moments when I am simply a mess.”

It certainly does not seem too far off from the possible truth. Let’s see how we’ll be in late November.

My two cents (since that’s all I can afford right now):  Add to this post to the new words I’ve learnt (“scintillated,” “interstitially,” “res judicata,” “res nullius,” “stare decisis,” et al) and constantly comparing common law and civil law (two legal systems + two languages = twice the mental work and a headache), and there you have it — my first few weeks at McGill law.  It’s unlike anything I have ever experienced academically.  You will begin to question your intelligence and everything you know to be true (like justice, the state, and other airy-fairy notions).  I still don’t know what I am doing, or how I should be reading this stuff…

Strangely enough, I love it!

What Does Law School Tuition Cost?

By: Contributor · September 18, 2010 · Filed Under Law School · 1 Comment 

What does law school cost in Canada?

Maclean’s magazine has the stats:

Common Law Schools
Tuition Canadian Students Tuition International
McGill $2,068 /$5,668* $21,600
Moncton $4,920 $8,343
Dalhousie $7,883/$8,905* $16,426
Saskatchewan $8,070 $20,982
Victoria $8,341 $22,182
Manitoba $8,619 $19,667
New Brunswick $9,032 $15,782
Alberta $9,943 $28,037
UBC $10,135 $20,510
Calgary $11,977 $39,806
Windsor $12,891 $21,888
Queen’s $13,170 $24,895
Ottawa $13,391 $29,829
Western $14,326 $19,930
Osgoode $17,631 $17,631
Toronto $23,508 $32,635
Civil Law Schools
Laval $2,068/$5,668* $12,394
McGill $2,068/$5,668* $21,600
Montréal $2,068/$5,668* $17,453
UQAM $2,068/$5,668* $14,462
Sherbrooke $2,068/$5,668* $12,394
Ottawa $7,000 $18,042

Now if only they can explain why anyone would pay this just to become a rat?

The Donkey and the Carrot: Why Law May Not Be So “Cool” After All

By: Simone Samuels · August 27, 2010 · Filed Under Ethics, Humour, Labour & Employment Law, Law Career, Law School, Legal Reform, Pop Culture, Uncategorized · 2 Comments 

For the class of 2013 (or 2014 in my case), the end of summer signals the beginning of law school.  Buoyed by hopes of success and spurred by the prospect of good paying jobs at the end of it all (or the metaphorical carrot on a stick), many of us are getting ready to settle in and start what will no doubt be a challenging but personally fulfilling year.  In the same spirit, I eagerly packed my bags and headed to Montreal propelled by the well wishes of friends and family members.  “You’ll do great,” they said.  “There’s a B curve at McGill.”  I replied.  “Don’t worry about it,” they said.  For months I had been complaining about paying tuition (side note: I know McGill’s Faculty of Law has one of the lowest tuitions in Canada.  Don’t stone me…), and I was saddled with my own fears and apprehensions.  But my friends and family reassured me: “It’ll all be worth it in the end.”  “Go out and make those big bucks,” they said.  So I pranced off to law school.

Shortly upon my arrival, I was in the McGill bookstore looking for my law textbooks when I randomly ran into and finally met fellow Law is Cool contributor Siena Anstis.  We lamented over the dollars that we would inevitably have to shell out in the next few weeks, but Sienna reminded me that, “It will all pay off in the end.  That’s what I keep telling myself anyway…”

A few days later, I went back to the bookstore to purchase my first set of law textbooks (yes, they are so heavy that I will have to buy them in instalments).  There, I bumped into another fellow 1L.  Although we exchanged no words, our countenances did the talking as we exchanged depressed glances, and I made my way to the cashier to pay for my textbooks.  At the cash, I let out a heavy sigh, still decrying the amount of money that these textbooks were going to cost me.  The cashier replied, “Don’t worry.  You’ll make it all back by the end of [law school].”

If I had a dollar for the number of times I was told that…

Most of us are going to law school with the ulterior motive of making some “good money” (admit it…) at the end of it all.   No one pays upwards of $60 000 for the heck of it.  After all, many of us go to law school desperately hoping that the stereotype rings true: “lawyers are stinking rich, or at least can live comfortably” and “job prospects abound for those with a law degree.”  However, as if to add insult to injury, the following excerpt from a blog post puts the stereotype into question:

The Real Value of a Legal Education

By John Farmer Jr.

America’s law schools begin the 2010-2011 academic year facing one of the greatest challenges to legal education since the rise of the modern law school at the end of the 19th century.

On one hand, the job market for law school graduates has rarely been worse than the past two years, and the class of 2011 is facing an equally daunting paucity of opportunities. As The Star-Ledger reported last week, some recent law school alumni who have had a difficult time navigating the job market have become embittered, claiming that the legal academy induced them to borrow large amounts of money by dangling a career prospect that has proven illusory.

On the other hand, interest in legal education has never been higher. Record numbers of qualified college graduates are applying to law schools, which are not hesitating to enroll them. This, in turn, led some members of the bar, meeting recently at the American Bar Association convention in San Francisco, to question the motivation of the law schools. How, they wonder, can they continue to admit thousands of students when their career prospects are so uncertain?

The struggles of recent law school alumni, coupled with the apprehensions of the bar, should give pause to those of us who are involved in educating the next generation of lawyers. …

In the short term, students should embark upon a legal education with their eyes open; the job market is difficult, and likely to remain so. Legal education is not, as the comments of some would suggest, an entitlement program.

…In retrospect, we were spoiled by the prosperity of the large law firms, and the easy career pipeline and high salaries they offered. Tuitions could be raised without fear of compromising the students’ futures; the debt students were forced to incur would be easy to manage with the high salaries recent graduates were commanding. As a consequence, many law schools became “cash cows” supporting programs in their larger university communities. The focus shifted to revenue; economic issues came to dominate.

But the real value of legal education is not, and never has been, primarily economic. It’s not about money; it’s about freedom.

Legal education gives students what 99.9 percent of humanity yearns for but is denied: control over one’s own life….”

I can’t help but wonder, however, how much control one can exert over one’s life when one is broke and thus at the mercy of loans, the leviathan that is the state and the monster that is capitalism.  We all know that job prospects for new law grads are not as great as they used to be (to say the least) – after all, there’ve been numerous posts and articles about this subject on numerous law blogs and sites.  But what am I to expect as a law graduate in 2014?  This year alone was one of the worst for articling students…  Can we – should we – expect better in a few years?  If so, there are no worries.  If not, however, it would behove the class of 2013 to start law school with, not only the end, but reality in mind.

Society?  It lied to me. My friends and family?  Maybe they were wrong.  It is quite possible that law school will not pay off in the end, or at least not without some elbow grease and elapsed time.  The reality is that, in some ways, many of us law students will be like donkeys with that illusive (or, depending on how you think of it, elusive) carrot dangling in front of us – motivated to work because of and for the carrot but forever running after something we may never realistically obtain.

Is Law School Worth It?

By: Lawrence Gridin · May 19, 2010 · Filed Under Law Career, Law School · 6 Comments 

Following up on a New York Times article about the rapidly depreciating value of a law degree, Concurring Opinions has some advice on whether going to law school is a good career choice.

The gist of Sarah Waldek’s opinion is:

I’ve been thinking hard about what advice I would give prospective students and this is where I’ve landed:  Only go to law school next year if (1) you have always dreamed of being a lawyer; or (2) you are accepted by a very prestigious institution; or (3) you are offered a full scholarship.

Of course, this year law school applications will be partly driven by the lack of opportunity costs. Graduating college students face generally dismal employment prospects regardless of what field they want to enter.   But I suspect that optimism bias plays just as large a role in student decision-making.   No matter what the economy, some lawyers will be wildly successful.  Many prospective students are inclined to think that they will be part of this group, no matter how daunting the odds against it.  On the more rational side of the analysis, it’s also true that law school historically has proven itself a relatively good place to weather out bad economic times.

What is different this time around, however, is that no one is yet sure whether the changes in legal markets and in law firms are permanent, or whether things will eventually return to what we had come to think of as normal.  If you haven’t always wanted to practice law, or if you’re considering a law school that is not one of the best in the nation, or if the law school isn’t offering to pay for you to attend, my advice is to wait to see how this plays out.

Some of the comments on the article are also deeply troubling. Here’s a sampling:

Native JD: Don’t bother. There are no jobs for you. It’s a racist profession dominated by white men (I’m Native and Biglaw wouldn’t even interview me (Top 50 school, 3.0+, 5 years of Capitol Hill experience and heavily involved in ABA diversity efforts).

This profession is doomed.

Unemployed OVER A YEAR NOW: MEMO TO PROSPECTIVE LAW STUDENTS: THERE ARE NO JOBS! I have been out of law school three years now. I spent 2 years at Big Law (Cravath) and the past 14 months looking for work and doing lousy temp jobs. I had a 4.0 in college and law school (that is how I landed the Big Law job) and all the volunteer, pro bono, language skills, etc you could dream of. None of that matters. THERE ARE NO JOBS FOR LAWYERS. Go to Med School if your brain works.

LAC: I have been giving people who wanted to go to law school this advice since my 1L year. Except I say that you shouldn’t go to law school unless you are already rich (meaning you have about $200k just lying around), you can go to a Top 10 school, AND you can go for free or for less than $30k.

I was one of those poor kids who decided to be a lawyer when I was young so that I could grow up and support myself and my family. I went to law school with no debt—my college education was paid for with federal grants. I am now-$100k, and that only accounts for 70% of my tuition, which means NONE of my living expenses. The last $40k is one year of tuition in my LL.M program. One year. Frankly, I was in a better financial position when I was on Welfare. And at this rate, I will be again soon enough.

There are no entry-level jobs anymore for anyone. Not for finished fed clerks, not for LL.Ms (like me), and not even for Harvard grads. I have a degree in tax from one of the best programs in the country and about 10 people in my graduating class of more than 100 are employed 6 months later—more than half of those people are foreign nationals who have jobs in their native lands. Now, my friends who were lucky enough to get government jobs to take advantage of the public service loan repayment program are being told they make too much money to qualify (less than $70k/yr) and are left with $100k+ of student debt and a low-paying job. Frankly, many of us are taking paralegal jobs (and some firms now only hire JDs for such positions), thus effectively nullifying our credentials and Bar status just to put food on the table. At this point, my education is a curse. It automatically disqualifies me for lesser work elsewhere, and the loan load is oppressive to say the least.

There is no upside any longer. There needs to be a moratorium on law school admissions for at least 5 years to stop the excess flood of lawyers into an economy that cannot remotely support the supply it currently has.

I’m not sure how applicable Waldek’s concerns (or those of the commentators) are to the Canadian context.

First, Canadians pay far less for a quality legal education than Americans do. Tuition at the most expensive law school in Canada (U of T) is roughly $22,000. It’s considerably less at other law schools. You can get a top notch education at McGill, for example, for under $7000/yr (it’s even cheaper for Quebeckers). Out west, you can hit up UBC for under $10,000. Or try Dalhousie out east for under $13,000. American tuitions are 3-5x higher!

Second, the job market here appears to be better. To be sure, Bay Street recruitment has definitely dropped, salaries have dropped, and hire-back is no longer guaranteed for summer and articling students. But even so, the impression I get from my colleagues on the Street is that we are far from the nightmare scenario being described above.

Most importantly, it appears that although this past year was one of the worst in recent history, the storm is passing. The economy is now improving. Legal recruitment and salaries should begin to rise. Of course, it will be a long while before firms are throwing around money and perks like candy, as they were before.

I’d say the Canadian situation calls for cautious optimism.

Breaking into the Field of Criminal Law

By: Lawrence Gridin · May 17, 2010 · Filed Under Criminal Law, Law Career, Law School · 4 Comments 

While I really should be studying for the bar exam right now, I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to share a great article appearing in the current issue of Canadian Lawyer 4Students Magazine.

The article, entitled “So You Wanna Be a Criminal Lawyer, Eh?” is about the challenges facing current law students who plan to practice in criminal law. There is a particular focus on the lack of articling opportunities in the field, and the ever-decreasing emphasis on criminal law education at law schools. I can tell you first hand that these issues are very real and very troubling.

The author quotes my former Career Services Director, Robyn Martilla, on the difficulties in finding employment opportunities in criminal law:

It is also possible students are not so much turned off the practice area’s dark side, but instead diverted from it by large firms’ powerful recruitment strategies. Robyn Martilla, director of Western Faculty of Law’s career and professional development office, says it’s difficult for students to find information on criminal law articling positions. “The schools tend to get a lot of information from private firms, like the large Bay Street group,” says Martilla. “So that information is easily available to students. But it’s much more difficult to find information about positions in either family or criminal law.”

There is a choice quotation from Montreal criminal lawyer Isabel Schurman on what we stand to lose as our criminal defence bar shrinks and ages:

She suggests this much-maligned area of practice has been given a bad rap over the years, and more students should open their eyes to a career in criminal defence. “It’s a shame that the field is so misunderstood,” says Schurman. “I think it’s a shame that people never realize the important role that defence counsel play until they, or someone in their family, needs representation, and then realize that it’s not simply this television or movie image of defence counsel. We are in fact the watchdogs for the fairness in our system of criminal justice, and without a strong defence bar, the whole system suffers, and so does the citizen’s right to be left alone by the state.”

The article concludes with some practical tips on breaking into the field, many of which I can endorse from personal experience. If you’re considering criminal law, I recommend checking the article out here.

The criminal lawyers I know tell me that although the challenges are many, they are more than offset by the rewards of practicing in this exciting field. This was summarized in one of my favorite admonitions from a criminal defence lawyer: “trust me, you don’t want to practice criminal law. That being said, I absolutely love my job, and can’t imagine myself doing anything else.”

Law School: A Fate Worse than Jail?

By: Will McNair · April 15, 2010 · Filed Under Uncategorized · 2 Comments 

Last week a 28-year-old man stole two computer batteries from a Florida Staples, then returned to the store, reported his crime to the store manager and demanded that police be called. He told employees that he wanted a third-degree felony on his record, so that he wouldn’t be allowed to attend law school.

Unfortunately, the stolen items were valued at $276.88, a misdemeanor amount, $23.12 short of a felony. (Had he gone to law school, the would-be felon might have known that.)

The news outlet that reported the incident failed to answer the first question that comes to mind when reading the story: who is holding a gun to this guy’s head to go to law school?

Advice for Incoming Mature Law Students

By: Joel Welch · August 23, 2009 · Filed Under Law School · 12 Comments 

Stop! Runaway! Hide!

Alas, students who enter law school later in life tend to be an intrepid lot. They need to be.

Law school is tough on everyone but more so on mature students who often have non-academic obligations such as family, work, and debt. And then there are surprises.

Many of your classmates will come from privileged backgrounds. Some will try to downplay it; others will flaunt it. Work during the school year is not a necessity for them. Their parents are generally lawyers, judges, bankers or business leaders.

An interesting observation made by a friend of mine is that the vast majority of law students’ parents have never been divorced or separated. An informal survey we completed supports this finding.

Whereas mature students are likely not from wealth or they would have attended law school earlier. This inequity is especially apparent in courses where the only way to find the correct answer is to call a lawyer, like your mother or father, which I experienced in Civil Procedure last spring.

However, the greatest problem for mature students is age discrimination. It is rampant in the legal profession which traditionally was and remains in many ways a tight oligarchy. The reality is that many Bay Street firms prefer to hire eager young impressionable students who are willing to work exceeding long hours without job security for their first real paycheque rather than hiring older more experienced students with established work records but who value their quality of life.

And age discrimination is not just found on Bay Street. For nearly all international internships, there are age restrictions. Canadian anti-discrimination laws do not apply abroad. The International Criminal Court, for instance, caps the maximum age at 34 despite the fact that Canada is a signatory to the Rome Statute.

But hold fast Mature Students! The fight is not lost. There are ways to compete. The first priority is to make friends. If you have a car, this will help. Most young law students are only too willing to be of assistance when asked and will be very respectful. Secondly, embrace technology and take full advantage of the social media world of web 2.0. Facebook and Twitter are your friends when used appropriately and effectively. Thirdly, try to adapt your previous work experience with a niche legal market. For example, if you are a science or engineer type, consider pursing intellectual property as an area of practice.

Lastly, keep your patience. Academia is a bubble environment not to be confused with the real world. There will be times when you will have to control your inner voice. On the other hand, academia is a nice comfortable environment. The buildings are warm, the roof does not leak, and you can have a beer at lunch.

Will law school be worth it? Absolutely. Soon you will be able to answer in the affirmative the all-too-common question “What are you, a lawyer?” Take solace in the fact that most students survive law school, even mature ones.

Joel Welch is the incoming President of the Mature Students Club at UWO Law.

“Some Words for Law Students’ Parents”

By: Will McNair · March 23, 2009 · Filed Under Humour · 3 Comments 

Thy son or daughter wouldst a lawyer be,
And so thou worriest for thy progeny.
The road is fraught, and hardy folk have failed,
And o’er the grading curve too few prevail.
Thou fearest the expense may prove too great.
Thou hopest for thy child a different fate:
Thy son couldst yet a doctor be,
And spend his hours at golf (or poetry)!
Thy daughter might take up a useful trade —
And truth be told, she might be better paid.

Nay, few are called to burn the midnight oil
And yea, the cost is great, and long the toil;
And not all youths prove equal to the task —
But think what bounty thou wilst reap at last
With ‘Esq.’ appended to thy daughter’s name.
Consider-ye how she might then repay
Thy long investment in her stock: a car?
A cottage where her parents might retire?
Thy son’s J.D.? Think-ye your funds well spent,
His future wealth an ample dividend.

(But woe betide thee should thy daughter prove
Idealist, should she her ambitions lose.
Despair-thou of a son in Legal Aid —
Your long investment ne’er will be repaid.)

Yet, if at night thy mind remains astir,
Take heart, good Madam; worry not, good Sir;
From this take comfort in the seasons hence:
At least thou hast not spawned a grad student!

Look not upon the lowly MFA.
Revilèd Master of the Arts, away!
Tempt not our children with thy life of ease;
Their sober minds want naught of your disease.
Cur, shave thy filthy beard, and cut your hair!
Proselytise on Derrida elsewhere!
Abhorrent hipster sloth, at once begone!
A legal education starts anon!


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