One of the issues that has caught my attention over the past couple of years is the labour market problems within the legal profession; particularly, the difficulties that recent law graduates have securing articling positions and the problems young lawyers face securing stable employment. I've covered this subject a number of times previously (see: here, here, here, and here) and have been quite critical of the overall situation given the prolonged collective lack of action on the part of stakeholders (the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities; the law schools in Ontario; and, the Law Society of Upper Canada).
On this vein I recently discovered a student operated Twitter account devoted to criticizing the administration of the University of Ottawa's law school. I was intrigued by the content contained on it and the damning indictments which reflected some of the criticisms that have arose in the context of American legal education. I contacted the student and asked to interview them. The resulting discussion is quite interesting as it provides a direct window into the current state of Canadian legal education. Read the interview below and then see the video I've attached discussing some of the current problems in legal education (be forewarned it's American-centric).
Q: The content of your Twitter account is quite radical by Canadian law school standards and follows in the tradition of the American scambloggers. What prompted you to set up a Twitter account to criticize the administration of the University of Ottawa's law school?
A: Well, I’m not sure if taking to Twitter to point out flaws with our school’s administration and governance is radical considering in Quebec they’ve been in the streets for weeks over the issue of tuition increases, but I essentially I set it up because the Dean and admin disregards the concerns of students whenever they are raised. The most common answer you’ll get from any administrator or the Dean is that every issue is over their heads. If we treated our school work as they treat their responsibilities to students, we’d all fail. Their disregard for students’ complaints is nonsense and I have taken to Twitter to point it out and I did so anonymously to avoid being reprimanded.
Q: You're quite critical of the administration at your law school. Can you give my readers a few examples of the problems you've seen?
A: Where to begin. (1) We’ve had construction at our school that was supposed to be complete in September 2011. It is now May 2012 and they still aren’t done. (2) The online registration system (Rabaska) fails every time they schedule a time for a cohort of students to register (the only time we really need it to work). (3) They used to allow 4-credit courses, so you could schedule your semester to have four 4-credit courses or five 3-credit courses (and you’d have to schedule your other semester to end up with at least 30 credits). They then changed to a system where we only have 3-credit courses, forcing every student to take five courses per semester, but not reducing the work load of those old 4-credit courses. The result is that we have to take five 3-credit courses with potentially the workload of five old 4-credit courses. (4) Others are spelled out in many of my tweets.
Q: The University of Ottawa's law school appears to have been a major factor in the development of a weak labour market for articling students and young lawyers given the massive increase in the number of law students admitted over the past decade. Why did the law school admit more students than the market could handle? In your experience, what has been the impact on the job market for graduates from the University of Ottawa?
A: Well I can’t tell you why the University of Ottawa decided to add more students, but I have my $uspicions. In 2009 there was an error in the admissions process that resulted in an extra 60 students being admitted (as an aside, someone lost their job over that error, and the Dean took no responsibility). That was, to my knowledge, the largest increase the University of Ottawa has had in recent years (from about 200 to 260). The following year, instead of bringing it back down to pre-error levels of 200, they decided to raise it some more. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this year, somewhere around 250 students won’t have articling positions. I should also note that other law schools, from the University of Toronto to the University of Windsor have also increased enrollment, (though nowhere near as much as the University of Ottawa). Some alumni of the University of Ottawa call our school uZero, perhaps Fauteux is trying to live up to that name by ensuring zero of their students get jobs.
It has also been reflected in our school’s rating the yearly Maclean’s ranking of Canadian Law Schools. The University of Ottawa has fallen from 4th to 11th in a matter of three years. The Dean and administration will argue this isn’t an ‘official ranking’ but the truth is, it’s the only ranking of Canadian law schools that anyone cares enough to look at, which makes it as official as it can be.
Q: Do you feel the administration of the law school has taken the concerns of students seriously? What has their response been like?
A: HA. The admin doesn’t care what students say. Recently we had an ‘Ask the Dean’ event where questions were submitted anonymously to the Dean in writing, then he addressed them in writing a few weeks later. In a good number of his responses, the Dean simply attacked the premise of the question or the questioner. This condescending nature said everything about the arrogance of this Dean and admin and about their total disregard for students concerns. Here is the link: http://www.aeeclss.org/en/news/123-unnamed
Q: Any advice for prospective law students who might be contemplating attending the University of Ottawa for their Juris Doctor degree?
A: Well, that’s a tough question to answer. I don’t think these problems are exclusive to the University of Ottawa, but I do think that the administration and Dean make the problems that do exist worse by ignoring the views of students. I would suggest that anyone who is thinking of going to law school, not just the University of Ottawa, but law school in general, thinks long and hard, because there is no guarantee that there will be a spot for you to article. I would say that with the caveat that if you do well enough on your LSAT to get into the University of Toronto, your chances of getting an articling position, and ultimately a job, are much higher (the On-Campus-Interview stats speak for themselves).