This past semester, I had the privilege to be a part of an innovative research course at Osgoode Hall Law School – entitled “JAG Perspectives on Administrative Law, Military Justice and International Operational Law”. The premise was a simple one. We asked the Judge Advocates General (JAG) office of the Canadian Department of National Defense to share the legal questions on which they would most want to see greater reflection and depth, and we put these questions to a group of upper year Osgoode students to explore and research. The students were supervised by an Osgoode faculty member but each also was assigned a JAG lawyer as a research liason/resource. Several times during the semester the students and I met with the JAG lawyers at the Downsview base, just a short drive away from the Law School.
Student papers ranged from the appropriate response of international law to cyberwar, how the law of war crimes should respond to coalition forces where the soldiers of one country may be under the command of another, to the evolving labour relationship between the Crown and the armed forces in Canada. The JAG lawyers’ input in the research was thought-provoking and insightful – posing examples from their experience that the students would never have uncovered in a library.
The JAG course represents a new kind of law school curriculum, one based on real time opportunities for law students to learn and to contribute to addressing emerging legal and policy issues. I recall a few years ago when Osgoode and the University of Toronto came together to mount a course based on the Ontario Citizens Assembly, then examining electoral reform and the shift to a proportional representation system. The Osgoode and U of T students canvassed research questions proposed by the Assembly and presented the findings before the Assembly’s Chair, George Thomson. As with the JAG course, the students not only gained valuable research and writing skills, but also gained a vivid sense of the relevance and importance of legal research.
Beyond a stimulating semester for all involved, the JAG course represents two other important trends worthy of note.
First, this course highlights the importance of collaboration. As Osgoode moves toward more experiential courses (clinics, intensive programs, internships, in-class simulations, etc), the impact on the Law School’s resources is clear. These courses tend to involve smaller groups of students with more intense supervision and faculty involvement than a conventional lecture seminar course. Developing partners with individuals, groups and organizations with subject-matter expertise and the willingness to support Osgoode’s academic program is vital to the success of our curriculum.
Second, the importance of seeing experiential education and research intensification as mutually complementary and reinforcing rather than as an either/or proposition (that is, there is a discourse that Universities are either focused on research or teaching). The JAG course demonstrates how research is a form of experiential education, and can reflect a problem-solving approach to the study of law.
The JAG Office, in my view, is to be congratulated for its leap of faith in this collaboration. Such collaborations, it is worth adding, do not materialize out of thin air. It is trite but true to observe that initiatives always come about, and only come about, because someone takes initiative. The JAG initiative owes a great deal to Art Linton, a graduating Osgoode student who had a successful military career prior to embarking on his legal studies – he was a catalyst for exploring the collaboration, and to the lawyers in the JAG office willing to devote the time and effort to the students.
I hope experiences such as this course lead to more collaboration, more experiential learning tied to research, and to more law students seeing the impact of legal research on a diverse range of people and institutions.