Are new law schools a good idea for Canada?
I am always wary when I hear of a new law school or rumblings of the creation of new law schools. While I am fiercely pro-competition, there is a wariness when looking at the American situation in comparison to what we have had here in Canada.
Once upon a time, or so the legend goes, becoming a lawyer was more or less a "guarantee" of a decent economic future. Who really knows whether that old legend was ever really true? It may well have been just as hard back in the "good old days" as it is today. It goes without saying that all eras come with their own "baggage." However, the one major problem confronting young lawyers and law students today is student debt and diminished job prospects in certain areas. Too many lawyers or law students may not be a good thing.
I have always liked how in Canada the law schools are all more or less equally great. This is in contrast to the American situation where there are four tiers of law schools and the T-14 schools. Further, while law school tuitions are much higher now in many parts of Canada then they once were they are nowhere near as high as in the United States. It can cost over $60,000 a year at schools such as Columbia. To come out of school with over $200,000 or $300,000 in debt would be catastrophic for many.
Back in the early 2010's I watched the American situation unfold with great interest. A Professor named Paul Campos at the University of Colorado began to expose the serious crisis of student debt and diminished legal jobs. Then a flurry of class actions cases were launched against law schools for allegedly misrepresenting job prospects data. One such case was Gomez-Jimenez v. New York Law School. The plaintiff was a graduate of the New York Law School (NYLS). She alleged that she had attended the law school based on representations that the vast majority of students secured jobs requiring a JD degree within nine months of graduation. However, after her 2007 graduation, this had not been the case for her or many other students. The students sued the school for negligent and/or fraudulent misrepresentation.
NYLS brought the New York State equivalent of a Rule 21 motion and the action was struck in the New York Supreme Court and affirmed by the Appellate Division. A petition for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals for New York was denied 4-1. So ended that case. But the takeaway from the case, and the particularly well written decision of the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division for the First Department, was that law students certainly did face an uphill battle securing work post-graduation and the debt load of most students was exceptionally high.
While finding that there had been no negligent or fraudulent misrepresentation, the Court said this:
"In the last analysis, the law is what lawyers are. And the law and the lawyers are what the law schools make them. Defendant and their peers owe prospective students more than just barebones compliance with their legal obligations. Defendant and its peers are educational not for profit institutions. They should be dedicated to advancing the public welfare. In that vein, Defendant and its peers have at least an ethical obligation of absolute candor to their prospective students." (Gomez-Jimenez v. New York Law School, 943 NY.S. 2d 834, Acosta J.)
I still find the above quote to be one of the best I have ever read on this issue. In my view, there is nothing inherently wrong with opening up new law schools in Canada. However, I do fear an American style law school tier system. It may be best now to decide where the filtering of the profession should take place? Will it be at law school admissions? At the Bar exam? Or in the market place? Historically, that question was likely answered by saying it was at the law school admission phase. But with each new law school being opened, we must remember that there will be more and more lawyers and more and more people carrying debt. I believe we have one or two new law schools opening. That's great. But after that, it may be best to just let the situation lie for a years (or decades...).