A Fix of Flanagan
Enrolment Expansion and the Legal Industry
Michael Scott: There is concern about competition for articling spaces. Won’t enrollment expansion increase this competition?
Dean Flanagan: Our students do very well in articling placement. Last year, 85 per cent of our students had already secured an articling spot going into third year, which is outstanding, and, indeed, as high as we’ve ever had.
The pressure on articling placements is overwhelmingly driven by the numbers of Canadians who go abroad to study law and are coming back. The numbers of unplaced students are primarily student who’ve been studying in the UK and Australia who couldn’t get into Canadian law schools – something like seven or eight hundred of them a year. Those are the students that are primarily enrolling in the LPP probably because they were unsuccessful in finding articles.
For us, the number of students who would still be looking for articles upon graduating would be very small. We’re a very small part of the general issue of pressure on articling spots; 35 students when you’ve got seven hundred returning from abroad.
One might say that we should slash enrolments in Canadian law schools by half to solve the problem. Naturally, I would oppose that because I think a legal education is a very valuable thing and it’s great training for a variety of careers. The extent to which there are constraints on articling spots is not really a function on the demand for legal services. It’s much more a function of which firms are willing to fund an articling student. Not all firms want to bear this cost. Firms are under a lot of pressure, so the number of articling spots is flat, at best. So, I think the challenge is what do we do with this artificial constraint on entry to the profession and the Law Society is trying to deal with that.
MS: Are you concerned that Queen’s is part of a trend in law schools expanding enrollment?
DF: The numbers of law students that graduate every year in Canada are still half per capita the number of law students who graduate from the United States every year. The United States vastly over-expanded their legal education apparatus and it is now contracting because the students are responding to market pressures. They’re seeing that a law degree costs a stupid amount of money at a third tier law school in the United States and the placement rates are low. Maybe if they’re lucky half the class is getting a job that requires a law degree. Students can do the math and the enrollment data is declining at all of these schools.
In Canada are we anywhere near that? No. There remains huge demand for spots in Canadian law schools. I think the education remains highly valued. The quality of schools in Canada remains consistently very high, unlike the United States.
I suppose most students might think, well this is a cartel and we should just control numbers so that we can all get a job. I do not view legal education in that way. Our primary goal is not to maintain a cartel so it’s easy for our students to get jobs. And, in any event, we can’t maintain the cartel because all of our students can go abroad and study law. We’ve got Australian and UK schools that will take as many as will come: no LSATs, no meaningful admissions requirements whatsoever. And they will come back and seek to qualify.
We’ve long since lost control over entry to the profession in terms of entry to law school. Under the Fair Access to the Professions Act, we have an obligation to treat foreign-trained professionals in a manner that is equal to domestic-trained professionals. If you’ve got your engineering degree in India and have to work as a taxi driver in Canada because we discriminate against foreign-trained professionals, that’s unfair. So, if you’ve got a Canadian who went to Bond and wants to come back, we have to treat them the same. If you want to make a cartel, you’ve got to talk to the schools in Australia and the UK. Good luck to you.
Legal Education Policy in Ontario
MS: Should tuition be the primary way we finance legal education? Do you think there should be more government investment in legal education?
DF: Naturally, we’d all like the government to dump a pot of gold on us. The reality is that’s not going to happen. The province is broke; running annual deficits of in excess of $10 billion. We have an aging population. The healthcare costs are going to continue to eat the province alive. So, we have no realistic prospect of any significant enhancement in provincial support for post-secondary education.
The tuition framework in Ontario is widely divergent. UofT is now over thirty [thousand] and we’re around sixteen. I think what we’re able to offer at Queen’s is extremely good value. I think it’s fair given our commitment to financial aid for students with financial need. We’ve got a range of students who have full-support to students who are paying the full freight. That’s all geared to their income and their ability to pay. It would be nice if the government paid the whole thing, but it’s not going to happen.
MS: Do you think the government should relax or even remove the restrictions on the rate at which tuition can be increased?
DF: I’ve always been concerned about this differential tuition framework. Our competitors are Toronto and Osgoode. They have resources that are anywhere from forty to sixty percent larger than ours. Resources lead to programs. We want to remain a competitive law school, attract the very best students and provide the very best opportunities to our students. I’m not saying I would go to thirty if I could; I am saying that sixteen is remarkably good value for what you get at Queen’s. Would I prefer some additional tuition flexibility? Yes. Are we going to get it? Probably not.
That’s why we had to look so closely at enrollment. With our tuition capped and being the smallest law school in the province — until Lakehead came along — we were cutting ourselves off at the knees, twice. We missed our opportunity to raise tuition during deregulation. We’re doubly disadvantaging ourselves by maintaining such a small enrollment.
We already have the infrastructure for an excellent law school. So, we can plow all of the increased revenue into faculty and programs. The marginal cost to us of the additional student is small, the benefit to the school of the additional student, in tuition and grant revenue, is enormous. I thought this was an opportunity we could not miss. I’m really excited about the expansion in our clinical offerings and faculty hiring. None of this would be happening had we not decided to expand our enrollment. None of it.
A Makeover for the Law Building?
MS: One of the big challenges with enrollment expansions is the actual physical limitations of the facilities and the staff here at Queen’s. Could you address this?
DF: We made commitments in the strategic plan to maintain and improve the level of service we provide our students. There is no question that we will maintain our investment in both Education Equity and Career Services to meet the needs of our students.
The expansion is going to mean an additional two million dollars in net revenue for the school. We’re going to be removing all of the books from the basement. We will maintain access to everything that’s there; it just may no longer be print. So, the entire ground floor of the law library is going to be repurposed as a study space dedicated to law students. We’ll be consulting with students about this. I’m envisioning more break-out rooms because I know students are looking for more areas where they can do group work and moot work.
I’d like to move those lockers down the hall. My vision is that you walk down those stairs from the atrium and it’s just a wall of glass that goes around the corner and the whole floor is a dedicated study space. It will become law school space which means we can reserve it for just law students. I think this will go a long way to addressing concerns about study space in the building.
MS: In addition to access to study space, what about the constraints around our other space? Like our lecture halls?
DF: Well, we’ve always had access to Dunning. For classes that require the entire first-year, we’re holding them in the Dunning Auditorium. We’ve already held a number of events there, it works really well.
In a sense, we’re fortunate because we’re not physically isolated at the law school, we’re connected to Mackintosh-Corry and Dunning. We have more options than a typical law school might have, where you are literally physically constrained by the building in which you are. We acquired that wing in Mac-Corry and there’s a lot of discussion about what’s happening in the Robert Sutherland building with Policy Studies. We also have the new clinic space, which is going to open up some additional space in the building for other programs and staff. We’re not going to have to build a new wing or anything of this nature.
MS: Are you at all concerned that there might be some decrease in the calibre of students we’re admitting?
DF: The GPA average actually increased in this incoming class. The LSAT was down one point which is right where it was two years ago. While the application rates in Ontario are down because there are fewer people seeking to go to law school, we increased our class size by twenty percent and saw no diminishing of our admissions stats. We were concerned about that: are we really going to take a hit on GPA and LSAT? And in this year, there’s no evidence of that at all. I think that as we’re able to invest more in our programs through the expanded revenue, we’re going to attract even better students. The calibre of our students is not simply a question of the number of them, it’s also a question of the reputation of our program. I think this is a virtuous circle.
Michael Scott (2L) is a News Editor of Juris Diction. Dean William Flanagan is Dean of the Faculty of Law at Queen’s University.
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