UVic Law’s 40th anniversary: a legal education of quality and commitment


- Jeremy Webber

2015 is a banner year for UVic Law: its 40th anniversary. We often think of UVic Law as a young faculty, but it has now delivered four decades of first-class legal education.

On March 6 and 7, the faculty will celebrate this milestone with a series of events for alumni, faculty, students and friends. It is a time to take stock. What kind of law school is UVic? What distinctive contributions has it made to Canadian legal education over the last 40 years? Or, to put the question with a little more edge: Would British Columbia, would Canada, be any different if UVic Law had not been founded?

UVic Law was created with a remarkably coherent vision. Its curriculum was initially influenced by the legal process school of jurisprudence of Henry Hart Jr. and Albert Sacks, which took a broad approach to the sources of legal reasoning and emphasized the role of institutional forms and procedures in shaping legal outcomes. UVic Law's founding tryst with legal process left a lasting legacy in our faculty's emphasis upon law in action-law as it is lived in legal institutions and on the streets.

Very early on and still today, UVic Law adopted what is now called "experiential learning": educational experiences that require participation in legal processes and institutions, actual or simulated. UVic Law's flagship legal clinic, The Law Centre, was founded in 1977, only two years after the founding of the Faculty. Since that time two more clinics have been created, one in Environmental Law (1993) and another in Business Law (1998). Moreover, the Law Co-op program was established in 1990 and now admits between a third and half of all law students. UVic Law has had a number of intensive terms in particular branches of law, such as criminal law and public law. Indeed, UVic has had by far the most extensive opportunities for clinical and other forms of experiential learning, in proportion to its student numbers, of any law school in Canada, at least until the founding of Lakehead University's new school. Experiential learning remains a defining aspect of UVic Law.

But of course students' experience of the law in action is only one side of UVic's legal education. The school has also had, from the very beginning, an academic program that was exceptionally strong. I have seen many new law schools, especially during my time in Australia (where the number of law schools doubled in the 1980s and 1990s). New schools have often had rocky starts. But it is a testament to founding Dean Murray Fraser and the wonderful group of faculty he assembled that UVic Law very quickly established itself as a school to be reckoned with, providing an excellent and well-rounded education and making particular contributions in areas like trusts, public law and the law of the sea.

Thus were established the twin foundations that characterize UVic Law today: 1) First-class academic training in law, across a wide range of areas; and 2) Intensive commitment to the community through UVic Law's legal clinics, Co-op program, student projects, and faculty members' activities and scholarship.

These two foundations stimulate each other. Long before coming here, I was impressed with the number of people at UVic who would ask of a clever legal argument, "Wonderful argument, but will it make any difference to people on the ground?" It wasn't that those professors were against strong academic work in law. On the contrary, they were-and are-very fine scholars, who make substantial contributions to law and legal theory. But they test those theories against an acute sense of how law works in practice.

And the education at UVic Law has proven itself in the activities of its alumni. They have gone on to do amazing things. Twenty-one have been judges of the BC Provincial Court. Ten have been justices of the BC Supreme Court. One is a justice of the Alberta Court of Appeal. UVic alumni have served as cabinet ministers in Liberal, Conservative and NDP cabinets, and at both the provincial and federal levels. About a dozen alumni have been chiefs of their First Nations. Thirty-five alumni hold faculty appointments in universities, from very close at home (UVic, UBC, SFU and Thompson Rivers), across Canada-Alberta, Calgary, Saskatchewan, Osgoode Hall (there are three alumni there), Ottawa (another 3) and UNB-to universities overseas, including Oxford, National University of Singapore, and Wellington and Otago in New Zealand.

UVic Law is, then, a superb law school, with an impressive range of accomplishments. What about the future?

UVic has long had a remarkably stable faculty but, like many universities, the expansion of the 1970s is now producing a spate of retirements. We regret to see our colleagues retire. They are outstanding scholars, teachers and colleagues who have made UVic Law what it is today. But the good news is that we have been able to recruit very well. In the last two years, we have hired four entry-level faculty. They research and teach at the highest level in, among other areas, the law of charities, criminal law, theories of adjudication, and corporations law. We urge you to visit our website to learn more about their qualities.

At the senior levels, in the same period we have hired two exceptional scholars: Victor V. Ramraj came to take up our CAPI Chair in Asia-Pacific Legal Relations after 16 years at the National University of Singapore; and in May 2014 we were able to welcome John Borrows back to UVic, in a new Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law.

Our clinics remain strong thanks to support from the BC Law Foundation (for the Law Centre and Environmental Law Centre), the Tula Foundation (for the Environmental Law Centre), a growing consortium of firms, including McMillan LLP, Miller Thomson, McCarthy T&e#180;trault, and BLG (for the Business Law Clinic), and the generous donations of our alumni. The Law Centre alone serves approximately 1,800 clients each year and the Environmental Law Centre and Business Law Clinic about 90 clients each. Quite apart from the educational dimension of the clinics, this represents a very substantial contribution to access to justice in communities around the province.

Moreover, our concern with access to justice is also manifest in the research dimension of UVic Law. Many of my colleagues work in areas that have substantial implications for equality. What's more, Professors Jerry McHale and Michelle Lawrence, with Business Law Clinic director Michael Litchfield and PhD candidate Kathryn Thomson, are leading an effort to establish a Centre of Excellence in Access to Justice.

In terms of subject-matter expertise, we continue to have great strength across a wide variety of areas, from international investment arbitration, intellectual property, securities regulation, and international taxation to Asia-Pacific Law, criminal law, law of the sea, remedies, family law, immigration law, pensions, animal law, and legal theory (the list could go on). Indeed, this year, thanks to Victor V. Ramraj, we will be organizing what we expect to be an annual conference for lawyers in the Americas whose practices have an Asian dimension. It will be held on April 15 to 18, 2015 (for information visit, www.uvic.ca/asiadeskforum/).

We remain leaders in areas where our colleagues have long contributed to setting the agenda. This is certainly true in Indigenous Law, with the presence of John Borrows and Val Napoleon, the amazing activities of Professor Napoleon's Indigenous Law Research Unit and the newly launched National Consortium for Indigenous Economic Development (jointly organized with the Faculty of Business). Indeed, we are working on other major initiatives to take all law schools' engagement with Indigenous legal orders to a new level.

Our environmental lawyers continue to go from strength to strength, with faculty, staff, and students working on environmental issues of all kinds across the province. Do visit the Environmental Law Centre's website.

And we remain among the strongest Canadian schools in areas of public law and critical legal theory (including feminist theory), with great depth in constitutional law and various areas of applied regulation.

Last but not least, we remain a highly collegial environment, with a deep sense of community among students, staff and faculty, with staff members who care as much about the academic mission of the school as any of us do.

Let me conclude on a personal note. I still find myself thinking about UVic Law in the third person, perhaps because I so long admired it from afar. I was Dean of Law at Sydney University from 1998 to 2002. When it came time to return to teaching, researching, and writing, I had to choose between three possibilities: remaining as a full professor at Sydney, returning to McGill or coming to UVic. I chose UVic because I knew that if I was to be a real scholar again, I needed to go forward, not back. Here I believed I would be challenged by my colleagues' conversations and by UVic' s expertise in Indigenous law to take my own work to its next stage. UVic amply fulfilled my expectations. I would be a worse scholar, I would have less range as a teacher, I would know less and be able to convey less-were it not for the constant stimulus and commitment of the faculty, staff, and students at UVic Law.

That quality, that commitment, has been a constant for the last 40 years. That is why UVic Law has had such a unique and enduring impact.


This article also appears in the March issue of the Advocate, a legal magazine published by the Vancouver Bar Association.

In this story

Keywords: law, anniversary

People: Victor V. Ramraj, John Borrows, Jerry McHale, Michelle Lawrence, Michael Litchfield, Kathryn Thomson, Jeremy Webber

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