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Newfoundland university eyes new law school

|Written By Heather Gardiner
Newfoundland university eyes new law school
Memorial University is exploring whether to open a new law school in Newfoundland.

Yet another Canadian university is exploring the possibility of opening a new law school.

Memorial University of Newfoundland has established a committee to look at the feasibility of a law school, something president and vice chancellor Gary Kachanoski is keen on.

MUN has considered the possibility of a law school on two previous occasions; a report in 1976 determined there was no demonstrated need for one and another report in 1987 endorsed a law school but Kachanoski says the university didn’t have the resources to formally recommend it.

He says the report “did indicate that they thought if resources improved in the future that it would likely be an obvious and important thing for the university to do.”

Now — 26 years later — Kachanoski says the local legal community has shown its support for a law school and it’s time to give it another review.

“The province continues to evolve and develop — the whole world has changed,” he says.

However, some East Coast law students are wary of the idea of a new law school.

Cynthia Jenkins, a third-year student at the University of New Brunswick Faculty of Law, says many students are concerned about MUN’s review.

“We have a lot of students from Newfoundland at UNB and a lot of them feel like we don’t really need another law school on the East Coast,” she says.

Jenkins worries adding another law school would increase competition and therefore make it more difficult to secure articling positions. There are already law schools in Halifax, Moncton, and Fredericton.

“To add a fourth [law school] would oversaturate an already pretty saturated market where students are starting to have difficulty finding articles and summer placements. Especially Newfoundland, where there aren’t that many big firms across the province, and smaller firms really limit the job opportunities,” she tells 4Students.

But Kachanoski says the university has an obligation to the citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador to consider the possibility of a law school.

“There is a sense that as the province’s university we do have an obligation to the people of the province to provide education for a range of programs, and [law] is one,” he says.

The review comes on the heels of the establishment in British Columbia of Thompson Rivers University Faculty of Law in September 2011 — Canada’s first new law school in 33 years — and Lakehead University’s law school, which is set to open in Thunder Bay, Ont., this fall. Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C., is also vying for a law faculty.

Jenkins argues every province doesn’t need a law school. She points to Prince Edward Island, which doesn’t have a medical school or a law school. She also says Newfoundland students at UNB seem to accept the fact they have to go outside the province to attend law school. Some students suggest the funds would be better spent on subsidies for Newfoundland students who travel to another province for law school, rather than developing a new law school, she adds.

Isobel O’Shea, president of the Canadian Bar Association’s Newfoundland and Labrador branch, says she’s looking forward to seeing the committee’s report when it’s released later this year.

“Last year the Canadian Bar Association Newfoundland and Labrador branch examined and debated the concept of a faculty of law at Memorial University. We supported, in principle, a review that would include an assessment of how such an academic institution would impact advocacy and improve access to justice in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador,” she says.

The Law Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador as well as the province’s chief justice also support the review.

The MUN review committee will consist of Lynne Phillips, dean of MUN’s faculty of arts; Morgan Cooper, MUN’s director of faculty relations and current president of the Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador; Bert Riggs, an archivist at the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives; Heather Clarke, a business PhD student at MUN; Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador Justice Alphonsus E. Faour; and Peter MacKinnon, president emeritus and former law dean at the University of Saskatchewan.