In Praise of the CCLD!

 

The CCLD is an organization that few know about but is having a meaningful and positive impact on legal education in Canada. The Canadian Council of Law Deans is a body comprised of all the Deans of all the Law Schools throughout Canada (currently there are 23). The organization rarely had much business to conduct in the past and served as a kind of roundtable for Deans to share anecdotes, catch up on developments and wring hands about common concerns. All this has now changed.

 

 

A key turning point in the history of the CCLD took place in 2009 when the Federation of Law Societies of Canada (FLSC) took the unprecedented step of establishing national competencies to which all law schools would need to comply if their graduates are to remain eligible to enter the licensing process with the provincial and territorial law societies to practice as lawyers. The CCLD expressed serious concern with the FLSC process, and in some cases with the substance (for example, the Federation requires students to demonstrate an understanding of fiduciary relationships in a commercial context, but not in family or other contexts dealing with vulnerable individuals). In the Legal Ethics setting, the Federation took the unprecedented step of prescribing for law schools the precise content of the course they were required to offer in order to secure approval.  These concerns notwithstanding, the CCLD has worked as a group to engage in a constructive dialogue with the Federation on how the new requirements will be implemented (law schools and/or their students must be in compliance with the new standards in 2015) and three representatives of the CCLD now sit on the Committee responsible to determining each law school’s compliance with the FLSC standard, and for approving proposed new law programs.

On the heels of the FLSC national competency debate (and related to it), Canada has witnessed the first new law schools in a generation as Thompson Rivers opened its doors in 2011 and Lakehead welcomed its first class in 2013. Trinity Western University’s application for a new law program is pending, and has become mired in controversy due to the University’s Covenant which prohibits students from engaging in “sexual intimacy” outside of the context of a heterosexual marriage. This led the Federation to strike an Ad Hoc Task Force to report on this issue (the report is due any day). The Approval Committee will also consider TWU’s compliance with the national competencies but the CCLD representatives are not taking part in those deliberations.

The CCLD issued a statement on TWU raising questions about the legality of the Covenant in the Fall of 2012.  CCLD’s intrepid Chair, Bill Flanagan (Dean of Queen’s Law School) spoke frequently in the media about the letter and the CCLD’s concerns.  At its Toronto meeting last week, the CCLD amended its Constitution to include the following provision:

2.3       Membership is limited to Deans of Law schools which are committed to principles of equality and non-discrimination in access to, and in the provision of, legal education.

With less profile, the CCLD is also exploring other shared concerns, ranging from how law schools can respond to the national crisis of access to justice, to how law schools can manage budget cutbacks without sacrificing on the quality of our programs. More than all this, the CCLD represents a place of genuine collegiality. In October, I was honoured to speak on behalf of Canadian Law Deans at the first pan-Canadian Alumni Reception in New York, which brought together graduates of all Canadian law schools who are living and practicing in the New York area. Over 150 alumni packed in the Penn Club in mid-town Manhattan, in addition to six law deans. I look forward to more collaborative events in the future. While there have been fractious moments in the past, and understandably not all Deans see issues affecting legal education through the same lens, the CCLD is coming to be defined more by what brings us together than what can sometimes divide us.

The CCLD provides an invaluable comparative window on legal education. With the leadership of Brigitte Pilon, who serves as the dedicated Executive Director of the CCLD, the organization collects data on everything from admissions to library expenditures, making possible both greater accountability and the opportunity for law schools to learn from one another. The CCLD website features job ads for academics, conference postings and profile for other shared initiatives. I believe the CCLD can do even more to advance kindred concerns in legal education, ranging from the exploration of digital transformation in pedagogy to the impact of articling reform on legal education.

While the CCLD rarely is in the spotlight, and while its members often compete with each other for profile and recognition, I think an occasional shout-out for the important work  in which the CCLD is engaged, and the values which it expresses, is in order! I would say “hats off” to my colleagues, but as you can see below, the hats sort of work…