Bruce Feldthusen, the embattled soon to be former Dean of the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Law, wrote a letter to the Canadian Lawyer Magazine attempting to absolve himself of any responsibility in creating the articling crisis. This is yet another attempt at creating a revisionist history devoid of any basis in reality and a troubling sign of how far some legal academics will go in perpetuating the law school scam in Ontario.
Let us recap the evidence. The University of Ottawa's Faculty of Law boosted enrolment by 126% from 1997 to 2011, which translated going from 165 to 376 students, an increase of 221, over a period of fifteen years. In one notable year the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Law boosted enrolment by approximately 50 students due to an administrative error by Bart Cormier, the former Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs and External Relations; furthermore, no steps were taken the following year to correct the error, rather enrolment was boosted by a further 39 students.
From 1997 to 2011 there was a system-wide increase of 285 additional law students with the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Law accounting for 78% of the total increase with their 221 more students. These are the facts, based on external data collected Ontario Universities' Application Centre, and while the impact of this increase is up for debate it is ridiculous for Bruce Feldthusen to infer that enrolment at his law school isn't a major contributing factor to the articling crisis (this isn't the first time he has done this either, see: here).
As an aside, Bruce Feldthusen also amazingly invokes the Competition Act as reason why it would be impossible to reduce enrolment. It's a stupid argument to make as competition law and the funding of post-secondary education are two completely separate areas. It's well within the power of the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and University ("MTCU"), the Cabinet, and the legislature to intervene to address enrolment levels in specific academic programs. In fact, a couple years ago Ontario's Teachers Colleges were read the riot act by the MTCU and subsequently reduced enrolment system wide.
Over the same period of time, 1997 to 2011, the University of Windsor's Faculty of Law also saw a 50% increase in the number of students enrolled. Two points should be noted with regard to Windsor's increase: it was mainly due to the dual American/Canadian Juris Doctor option which allows students the ability to practice in the United States; and, the 50% increase reflectes the height of enrolment at 226 which was an increase of 75 students over 1997, while most years the increase was much lower at 30 to 50 additional students. Western also has had increases during the same period, but the class sizes there can vary year to year; however, there is a consistent trend of boosting enrolment by 10% to 12% over 1997 levels, which translates into about 15 additional students per year. The other law schools (Queen's, Osgoode, U of T) have kept enrolment numbers at 1997 levels.
Now, I've never attributed the articling crisis solely to the actions taken at the University of Ottawa, far from it. While the increases at Ontario's law schools, particularly the University of Ottawa, have flooded the labour market with law graduates the story is far deeper. Other contributing factors include: the globalization of legal education which has seen many Ontario students go to the U.K. and Australia to obtain sub-standard legal education at what are essentially diploma mills; the trends of cost-cutting in firms and an increased willingness to outsource intensive legal work to subcontractors in Canada, the U.S., and overseas; and, the decline in the demand for legal services in the wake of the financial crisis.
The fact that law schools produce far too many graduates cannot be ignored anymore. Let us take a look at some trends in the legal services labour market in Ontario. Firms are hiring less students than they have in the past. Tuition levels are excessive and students regularly incur $100,000.00 plus in debt before they've begun to article (if they're lucky). Unpaid articling postions are on the rise and largely remain unacknowledged by law schools or the Law Society of Upper Canada (unpaid labour was also institutionalized last week by LSUC with the addition of the LPP option).
So what's to be done. Well, for starters the law schools at University of Ottawa, the University of Windsor, and Western need to reduce their enrolment back to 1997 levels. I realize that this will mean significant cuts and job losses at the University of Ottawa and the University of Windsor, but it's a necessary first step in achieving some semblance of labour market stability for law graduates. Second, industry groups, such as the CBA, OBA, Advocates Society, need to be vocal that students going to the U.K. and Australia have low chances in succeeding at a legal career given that most firms refuse to interview graduates from those schools. Third, law schools and LSUC would be well advised to tell prospective students that law school is expensive, a long process, and successful completion does not guarantee a job or career.
I've written about the articling crisis extensively, see: here, here, and here. Jordan Furlong posted a great analysis of Feldthusen's comments on Slaw. Finally, Bruce Feldthusen in closing his letter asks that LSUC Treasurer Tom Conway to "please help us call off the dogs". I've never been called a dog before and I'm left pondering what breed I might be: clearly not a Pug, nor a Labradoodle, but perhaps a Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Anyways, here's a video that asks the tough deep questions: