So you want to be a criminal lawyer...

Why I Support the Creation of Ryerson University Law School

I talk to a lot of law students that oppose the existence of another law school in Ontario and are not happy that Ryerson University Law School has been approved by the Law Society of Ontario and is set to begin classes in September of 2020. I know how they feel. Many of them are in six figure debt and are facing down the prospect of a competitive job market in their late twenties. A small but significant percentage of law students will not get good law jobs and some will get good law jobs that do not pay as much as they may have hoped or expected to start their careers. The law students that are facing down these difficult circumstances understand, if they did not already understand before they entered law school, how competitive the process they are involved in is and they feel a sense bewilderment and frustration when forces beyond their control add to the competitiveness of this process. I understand the feeling and of course sympathize with the law students, but I believe their feelings are misplaced. Ryerson University Law School will not add to the competitiveness of the process and therefore the only reasonable position is to support its creation.

I have noticed in my career as a criminal lawyer that people make comparisons between alternatives that in reality are logically flawed or do not exist at all. I wrote about this in my article “How Much Does a Criminal Lawyer Make?” as an example when people that ask me that question are imagining alternatives that almost certainly do not exist, like the career alternatives between being a criminal lawyer and a corporate lawyer. No matter how much more a corporate lawyer makes over a career than a criminal lawyer on average, it does not really matter because a person that has the inclination and ability to be successful in criminal law is very unlikely to have the inclination and ability to be successful in corporate law. In the same vein, I very often come face to face with clients that refuse to accept that the only options in a criminal case are to plead guilty or to exercise their right to trial. I have had a number of conversations with clients that seem to be trying to convince themselves (it can’t be that they are trying to convince me, can it?) that there must be some way to eliminate the two bad alternatives that are in front of them. But that is life sometimes – a choice between two bad alternatives.

What the students that oppose Ryerson University Law School’s creation are missing is that there is no scenario where the process that they are involved in becomes less competitive and less fraught with the risk that they will fall short of their expectations.

I understand how painful this is to hear (or read), but it is necessarily to internalize this truth to give you the best chance for success in the field of law where the competition never ends. This can be easily deduced by looking at the circumstances as they truly are and not imagining them as one might want them to be.

The Law Society of Ontario could have, had they wanted to, restricted class sizes at the Ontario law schools, but they have gone up significantly since I graduated law school in 2008. It is obvious that in enlarging the class sizes significantly that they have devalued the degree in economic terms in the sense that when there is more of something it is less valuable. Similarly, the Law Society could have also restricted foreign trained law students that become certified in Canada to a very limited number. They made the decision not to - anyone can train at any foreign law school and become certified to practice law in Canada. I am not going to name names of law schools that I think are of dubious quality, but it is obvious that many law schools outside of Canada are not discerning about the students they accept. In the United States, for example, there are so many law schools that the most famous ranking, the U.S. News Law School Ranking, separates the schools into four tiers – FOUR TIERS! There are also comparably undiscerning law schools in other common law jurisdictions that teach Canadian law because of the demand from Canadian law students. The students from these dubious law schools are returning to Canada, getting certified and practicing and competing for jobs and clients.

Being that class sizes at the existing law schools are expanding and that Canadian students are studying abroad and returning to practice, what is the possible objection to the creation of a new, good law school in Toronto at a university that is known for creativity, use of technology, teaching entrepreneurship and that wants to ensure it selects a class that actually represents the ethnically and racially diverse population of Toronto? There will be thousands of prospective law students that will apply to Ryerson University, it will be forced to be discerning. The calibre of the law students at Ryerson is almost certain to be much higher than a fourth-tier American law school or a comparably undiscerning law school in another common law jurisdiction where the only real prerequisite to attendance is if you can afford the $30,000.00 per year tuition. And what is the difference, in practical terms, between creating a new law school and increasing the number of spots for law students at existing Canadian law schools? There are hundreds of more spots at the existing law schools than there were when I graduated from law school, maybe even thousands. For all intents and purposes the existing law schools created one or two new law schools in Ontario since I went to law school just without telling anyone about it.

The reality is that there is no alternative for law students that does not involve intense competition. The two real alternatives are intense competition with Ryerson University and their tech-savvy, entrepreneurial-minded, diverse graduates or intense competition without them. If you accept that there is no evading the intense competition, no negative feelings are justified towards a new law school at Ryerson University. It is my hope that a law school with a focus on technology, entrepreneurship and diversity has a chance to produce better and more successful lawyers than the law schools that are already in existence that are less able, or less willing because of their reliance on their reputation, to adapt to modern realities of legal practice. And it is very difficult to oppose that.

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