It has been more than 30 years since a new English-language law school has thrown open its doors in Canada—but that’s finally about to change. Last week, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell announced plans to open a new law faculty at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, in partnership with the University of Calgary. Slated to open in 2011, the new school will be a much-needed step toward alleviating a severe shortage of law schools in Canada.
There are now just 16 common law schools across the country—not nearly enough, critics warn, to serve our population. According to John G. Kelly, who runs Canada Law from Abroad, Canada has the lowest number of law schools per capita in the Commonwealth. Rural areas in particular are already showing signs of a lawyer shortage, and in B.C.’s interior, “there just aren’t enough lawyers to meet demand,” says John Sparks, general counsel at Thompson Rivers. Because of the law school shortage, in all of B.C. only about one in 10 applicants is currently admitted.
Unless other provinces follow B.C.’s lead and open new schools, some say the dearth of lawyers in Canada will only get worse. “I think there’s going to be quite a significant shortage” as the population grows, says Rob McDiarmid, a Kamloops lawyer who worked on the Thompson Rivers proposal. With too few lawyers, he warns, the public risks facing “no competition and outrageous costs.”
Officials at Lakehead University, in Thunder Bay, Ont., recently proposed opening a new law school there to train more lawyers for northern Ontario. But the provincial government has refused to fund any new law faculties, prioritizing medical schools instead. “Lawyers are scarce here, and they’re very costly,” says Stan Beardy, grand chief of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation. With all six of Ontario’s law faculties located in the south, “there are young people interested in law who aren’t pursuing it,” he says. “We need a law school in Thunder Bay, and I will continue pushing hard for it.”