The Advisory: Volume 8, Issue 2, April 2010

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An Interview with the University of Calgary’s Dean of Law:

How New Law School will Increase Access to Justice

By Derek Sankey

Alastair Lucas, Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Calgary

Alastair Lucas sees great potential for lawyers to practise in smaller communities across Canada. The Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Calgary has been working with Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C., for the past two years to establish a brand new law faculty working closely with the U of C. It will be the first new law school to be set up in Canada since the U of C started over 30 years ago.

The first class will begin with an intake of about 75 students in 2011, funded by the B.C. government and student tuition. When they graduate, their degrees will read: ‘Thompson Rivers University in collaboration with the University of Calgary.’ It’s a unique model pioneered by Lucas and his colleagues at both institutions to address the need for more lawyers to practise in smaller communities.

Here, Lucas provides some insight about why he thinks this new initiative will help increase access to justice in small communities:

Q: What are the main goals of working with Thompson Rivers University (TRU) to establish a new law faculty there?

A: Our experience is that if students coming into your program actually come from small communities, there’s a higher chance that a practice in smaller communities might appeal to them. In reality, TRU is intended to serve Alberta, too, because it’s located in the interior of B.C. and the idea is to serve the interior as well as the Peace Country in both Alberta and B.C.

We’re licensing our curriculum to them and they will adapt it to B.C. law as needed, but we will provide advice and assistance to TRU on the administrative side. It makes a lot of sense for the law school, in various ways, to focus on training lawyers for small community practice.

Q: How will it specifically address access to justice issues?

A: It has always been a challenge to recruit young lawyers into smaller communities. This will help achieve that goal by training people living in those communities to hopefully continue to work there. Another focus – something that other universities have done – is to recruit aboriginal students to the program.

At the U of C, we are also looking at new and emerging business models for lawyers. Students are more flexible than they were 20 years ago and more attuned to looking for new opportunities. I have seen a lot more interest in public interest roles in the last three or four years.

Q: What else is being done at the post-secondary level to improve access to justice?

A: About 80 per cent of first-year law students at the U of C join Student Legal Assistance and the Canadian Bar Association. While that drops off in later years, there is still a strong cadre of people dedicated to helping people in need to obtain legal services. We are continually exploring new business models and opportunities for students to find innovative approaches to addressing access to justice, including taking on different kinds of work that can help offset some of the costs of providing these services to low-income people or those who cannot afford costly litigation.

There are also several initiatives underway through the Canadian Bar Association, such as the B.C. branch, which has a summer internship in small communities. Ontario’s law society has a program that subsidizes articles related to community service organization involvement, while B.C. has a program that provides student loan relief for graduates that work in small communities for several years.

Q: Where does the profession go from here to address the need for improved access to justice?

A: The Federation of Law Societies has struck a special ad hoc committee to deal with proposals for new law schools, but it requires an industry-wide effort to use a combination of approaches at all levels. We put an emphasis on that kind of activity right from the beginning of the law school in 1976.

Derek Sankey is the editor of Business in Calgary magazine and a freelance writer for the National Post, Calgary Herald, Canwest News Services and a communications consultant for the University of Calgary.

Biography of Dean Alastair Lucas

Professor Alastair Lucas has been a member of the Alberta Bar since 1968. He joined the Faculty of Law at the University of Calgary in 1976 as a founding member of faculty.

He was a member of the Faculty of Law at the University of British Columbia from 1968-76. During his term with the U of C, he has served as executive director of the Canadian Institute of Resources Law and as Associate Dean (Research and Graduate Studies).

His academic interests are concentrated on regulatory issues related to energy and environmental law, oil and gas law, constitutional law and judicial review. Dean Lucas has been consultant and policy advisor to several government departments and has held numerous professional appointments.

He is also an adjunct professor in the Environmental Science program at the U of C’s Faculty of Environmental Design and has received the Law Society of Alberta’s Distinguished Service Award for Legal Scholarship.

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