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John Brown: Newfoundland needs a law school

John Brown
John Brown - Submitted

We need a law school in the province. We need one soon.

Today Newfoundland and Labrador is one of only two provinces in Canada without a law degree offered in a local university. Prince Edward Island is the only other to do without and students there can drive to law schools in nearby Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Every lawyer practicing in the province has studied somewhere else. Most of them started their careers carrying massive student debts as a result for housing and travel.

Several other problems result from this state of affairs. We lack a competitive academic environment where our research lawyers can find a home. The legal community is short on legal scholars who publish regularly in any vein.

Where this profession is intellectual, cogent inquiry into our own practise milieu is sparse. The only reports from our courts are journalistic accounts without the penetrating insight of learned analysis.

The only exception is the existence of an academic position by the law society, where the bar admission course is offered to law school graduates. Justice Frank O'Brien held that job until he was elevated to the Supreme Court. Everyone else on the local bench are former practitioners.

I think that this comparative lack of scholarship may be why we waited from 1949 until last year to finally appoint one of our own to the Supreme Court of Canada. The official rationale of why this continues on is facile. We have a quota held in some mainland schools for our budding jurists and in return we accept so many back for programs available here like medical school. The province needs that scholarship.

Right now the Supreme Court of Canada is revisiting the scandalous Churchill Falls deal with Quebec. It is at times like these we need our brightest minds. Minds who are invested in this province. What can I tell you? I spent the better part of a decade pursuing this path.

When I finally entered the work force I was in my late 20s and I felt like a stranger to the local scene. Many of my friends from Labrador City had homes and families already. We need the impetus to study here with plans to live here with a new breed of new legal people and a vibrant thinking culture.

Now I recall hearing from some of my colleagues that we should not have our own school. Otherwise the profession would become saturated with new lawyers and the average shingle polisher would lose income. I sincerely doubt that is true and if it is it should not matter.

We need as many newbies as we can get. The students will figure out for themselves if they will follow a traditional route, or branch of into something new. My old colleagues were probably against computers too. Do we want a profession where the older lawyers are intent on shutting the doors behind them on other lawyers just starting in the profession?

In order to best serve the broader society, it is vital for fresh blood to pump through articles, bar admission courses and academe. New kids on the block are more current on recent legal developments and modern research methods then us old dogs. The youth have much to teach us.

When the older crowd fail to continue to learn and develop, we stop being effective advocates. And that learning starts with a local spot for talent to be nurtured, to thrive. New local kids, invested in this province, and not saddled with crushing debt, would be ready to start right away.

A school is needed now and it will give back so much in the future. Then when we got our new shot at Churchill Falls, Quebec will no longer be the place with the homegrown talent. Kids without trust funds, or Spring Breaks on their parents’ credit card can realize this dream. Because it is a dream, at least it was for me. And it can be one for our children as well.

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John Brown is a lawyer based in Bay Roberts. He can be reached by email at jb@johnbrownlaw.ca.

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