Focus On
Peter Wardle sm

Law Society of Ontario approves integrated practice curriculum for Ryerson University

Friday, April 26, 2019 @ 9:22 AM | By Amanda Jerome

The Law Society of Ontario’s (LSO) Convocation erupted with applause after benchers unanimously voted to approve Ryerson University’s application to have its juris doctor (JD) program designated as an integrated practice curriculum (IPC).

“This is a very exciting development and I want to say first, on behalf of our committee, how enthusiastic we are about the opportunity,” said Peter Wardle, chair of the Professional Development and Competence Committee, before introducing the motion to approve the application on April 25.

Peter Wardle image

Peter Wardle, chair of the Professional Development and Competence Committee

Wardle explained that an IPC integrates the “teaching of substantive law with the acquisition of skills and competencies.” He noted that following the completion of an IPC, candidates are required to successfully complete licensing examinations and to fulfil the LSO’s good character requirement in order to be licensed as lawyers.

“They are not required to article or complete the Law Practice Program, or PPD [Programme de Pratique du droit]. The law society’s criteria for approval of an IPC consists primarily of a competencies achievement list outlining required skills and tasks that develop the necessary competencies,” he added.

In February 2018, Convocation endorsed the decision of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada to grant preliminary approval of a proposed law school at Ryerson, Wardle noted, adding that the school subsequently approached the LSO to request approval of a proposed IPC to satisfy the law society’s experiential training requirement for lawyer licensing.

“The committee has reviewed the Ryerson proposal against the law society criteria and is satisfied that the proposal meets the requirements. The committee has been discussing the role of experiential training in the lawyer licensing process for some time — that’s an understatement,” he said, noting that the Articling Taskforce’s report from 2011-2012 provided that law schools that wished to propose “a Carnegie-like model law degree” should seek approval from legal regulators.

Wardle explained that the Carnegie report, published in 2007, looked at 16 law schools in Canada and the United States and recommended an integrated three-part curriculum that would include both “doctrinal teaching, practice opportunities and the exploration of the identity and values of the legal profession.”

Convocation approved the establishment of the first IPC at Lakehead University in November 2013, he added, noting that prior to Ryerson’s proposal, Lakehead was the only Canadian law school to integrate a Carnegie-type approach into the law school curriculum.

Wardle also stressed that the LSO’s Lawyer Licensing report, released in December 2018, “recommended that the law society explore areas of collaboration with the legal academy to integrate more experiential training into the law school experience and the Ryerson proposal is consistent with this recommendation.”

Anne Vespry, the vice-chair of the Professional Development and Competence Committee, seconded the motion before treasurer Malcolm Mercer opened the discussion to Convocation.

Bencher John Callaghan commended Ryerson, calling the IPC a “fantastic initiative.”

“The cost of legal education is frightful. The length of time it takes to become a lawyer is considerable and this is a first step to streamlining some of that,” he said, adding that he challenges Ryerson to “do more.”

“I challenge Ryerson to see to it that at least half of their class graduates five years post-secondary, so that they’re not burdened with more excessive debt. A legal education should not take seven to eight years as a matter of rote. It is an access to justice point. Ryerson sits at the pinnacle of innovation now. They are in a position to be able to challenge the orthodoxy of legal education,” he stressed.

Gisèle Chrétien, an appointed bencher, also applauded the approach and said, “the students will benefit greatly.” She wanted to know if Convocation was exploring the prospect of an IPC at the University of Ottawa as well. Wardle could confirm that there are “ongoing discussions” with the University of Ottawa on this matter but wasn’t prepared to say in which direction it was going.

“I too am thrilled that Ryerson is going down this route. I hope a lot of the other law schools are listening to this and see what Ryerson is doing,” said bencher Jonathan Rosenthal, noting “this is the way of the future.”

“I’m glad that Ryerson is finally recognizing a very novel concept that people who go to law school one day might want to be lawyers,” he added.

Avvy Go image

Avvy Go, LSO bencher

Bencher Avvy Go thanked Ryerson for its efforts to make law school “more accessible and more meaningful.”

“I work in a community legal clinic which is now under serious threat as a result of the cuts by the provincial government,” she explained before asking if Ryerson had given any thought to supporting community legal clinics as part of its experiential training.

Wardle confirmed that the school plans to include community legal clinics within its curriculum and work placements once the “school is up and going.”

According to Ryerson’s website, its law school will begin accepting applications in fall 2019 for fall 2020 enrolment.

“The aim is to graduate students who have a solid grounding in law and are immediately ready for practice," said Anver Saloojee, dean of record for the Ryerson Faculty of Law, in a statement on the faculty’s website.

In 2018, the Ontario government declined funding for Ryerson’s law school, citing a high probability of unemployment in the legal field and an excess of students looking for articling positions as reasons for its rejection.