Monday, 25 February 2019


Guest Post by Ron Penney
On March 14th the Board of Regents of Memorial University will have it’s regularly scheduled meeting and it is anticipated that the issue of creating a new Law School at Memorial will be discussed.

The academic governing body of the University, the Senate, has approved the creation of the Law School but the final decision will be made by the Board of Regents, who will hopefully demonstrate more sense than Senate.

It is amazing that the most highly educated body in the Province, the Senate, is totally oblivious to our fiscal situation, which the Parliamentary Budget Officer describes as the most dire in the country.
I was asked to make a submission to the University committee studying the issue, as I was a member of an earlier committee which recommended against it.

The points I made in the submission are still valid today.  

1. I have not been able to get current information on the number of local students who are in law school at this time but I think the number is significant. Because I have
taught as a sessional lecturer in Political Science for many years, I have observed
that many of the better students I have taught have gained admission to Law

Schools and have become successful lawyers. I suggest that the committee get
information on this because one of the key questions is whether there are good
applicants who are not successful in obtaining admission.

2. When I was admitted in 1972 I was one of 3 admitted that year. At the time I was
Executive Director of the Law Society between 1990-93, the number of admissions
had gone up to 30-40 a year and I understand that there are significant numbers of
lawyers still being admitted each year. I checked the Law Society website and there
are 717 practicing lawyers and 36 articling students at present. I don't have the exact
figures of practicing lawyers when I was admitted but I suspect they were less than
100. (I was number 311 on the roll, which was the total number of lawyers admitted
since the formation of the Law Society. I understand that the number of admissions
are over 2500 at present.)

3. Is there any evidence that there is an unmet demand for lawyers in the province? I
am told by practicing members that there isn't and there are a significant numbers of
lawyers practicing in smaller communities throughout the province, which certainly
wasn't the case when I was admitted.

4. I out of 7 law students in Ontario cannot get articling positions and the Law Society
of Upper Canada is considering alternatives to articling. This is indicative of an
oversupply of lawyers in the largest jurisdiction in Canada. The local bar could not
absorb an increased supply of lawyers produced by our own Law School. I
recognize that not all graduates would want to article or practice here but a
significant number would.

5. This initiative comes at a time of severe budgetary restraint and considerable
uncertainty about resource based revenues in the future. Because I have close
connections with the University I am aware of the severe constraints being
experienced by various faculties. When we can't afford what we already have how
can the University seriously entertain such a costly new venture?

6. I fear that we already have an institution which is already much larger than we can
afford as a small jurisdiction with uncertain and volatile resource revenues.

7. I suspect one of the motivations for the University comes from the feeling that the
University is not "complete" without a Law School and that we could attract students
who go to the UK to do their law degree. There is no doubt that our low tuition fees
would attract such students but what would their future be, in an already saturated
Canadian lawyers market, and a graduate in a very small jurisdiction with little ability
to provide articling positions. (As an aside how can it make any sense to make our
tuition fees so low that is is cheaper for students from other provinces like Nova
Scotia to attend here and pay for their accommodation rather than attend University
in their home province. This is part of a larger debate about artificially low tuition fees
which have been frozen for many years, and which will be politically difficult to
change when the time comes when they must increase.) 

8. The argument was made during the deliberations of the Bruce Committee that we
would have been in a stronger position on the major public policy issues which had a
legal component such as the offshore or the Upper Churchill contract. As those were
matters which took place when I was involved I know that we obtained the best
advice from both within and outside Canada. Whether or not faculty members of a
Law School located here would have had the interest or expertise on a particular
public policy issue would have been pure chance.

9. Flowing from the above, it is argued that the quality of our public policy debates,
particularly those that have a legal component, would improve. If that were true, it
would make a strong argument, but I fear that the very limited contribution made by
present faculty, with rare exceptions, would carry over to law professors. There is a
low tolerance for dissent in this province and little incentive for faculty to engage in
matters of public importance. Notwithstanding the public engagement initiative
undertaken by the university, by and large public engagement by faculty is restricted
to non-controversial subjects. As I have learned from my own foray into a
controversial public policy issue, very few individuals, either within or outside the
University have the courage to take a stand, even those with tenure. I, along with
others, have encouraged the Harris Centre, to facilitate informed public discussion
on public policy issues, with limited success. As an example, there has been a big
debate on changes to our access to information legislation, largely led by the media,
which is to be expected, but there has been no contribution to the debate by a
member of our Political Science Department. My own efforts to have the Harris
Centre host a session on access to information and aspects of the democratic deficit
in this province, such as a lack of a committee system in our House of Assembly,
have been unsuccessful thus far. The University is very sensitive to its relationship
with government and doesn't encourage faculty to contribute to the public debate on
sensitive issues. If anything the opposite is true.

10. While issues of other competing demands in the administration of justice may not
be the concern of the Committee or the University, I share the concerns expressed 
by John Crosbie that there are other more pressing concerns, such as court facilities
in the City. I can add to that the disgraceful conditions in the penitentiary, which
needed to be replaced years ago.

11. I note the remarks of Chief Justice Green made to the Committee and reported in the
Telegram about the fact that there is no academic comment on their decisions. To
the extent that their decisions merit academic consideration I suggest that those are
already being addressed in the myriad law journals published in Canada. The
important decisions are appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada and the recent
decisions of our Court of Appeal have often not been well received by that court.

12. I accept the argument that not all law school graduates end up practicing law and
that legal training is useful for other activities. I am a good example of that, as most
my career was in the public service, where my profession was very useful. But the
vast majority of law students wish to article and be admitted at the minimum before
they decide what they may want to do. And a significant number will want to attempt
to practice either here or in the rest of Canada. I fear that many will be disappointed,
particularly those who graduate from a new law school which will likely take many
years to achieve a good reputation.

13. I understand that one of the arguments is to provide access to students who study
abroad and pay the very large tuition charged at those institutions. I suspect those
are students who cannot gain admission to Canadian law schools. If Memorial was
to be permitted to establish a law school with full-cost recovery tuition, similar to
those schools or my old alma mater, the Faculty of Law of the University of Toronto, I
can see that it might make sense, but I doubt the government would agree. A law
school created here is likely to be have the lowest tuition in Canada, no doubt
making it attractive to out of province applicants.

14. There is merit in having our students go out of province to get their professional
degrees. Many will have done their undergraduate degree at Memorial and they
need to have their academic horizons broadened with the added opportunity to
possibly article and then practice in other jurisdictions. That was certainly my

Ron Penney
Related Post
Does Memorial Need a Law School?