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Balancing Stability and Innovation

"Honoring the past. Ensuring the future." The words roll off Tim Christian's tongue. His Faculty's 75th anniversary begins in January, but Christian, dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Alberta, has already had lots of practice with the words chosen for the anniversary theme. Much of the practice has come in connection with the $3 million fund campaign launched in conjunction with the anniversary. That campaign received its formal kick-off in October, but a great deal of work and many hours of the dean's time had already been invested in it by then.

To date, the campaign has gone well (at the time New Trail went to press, the $2.3 million mark had been surpassed) and the dean can now afford to look beyond the campaign's immediate goals to its broader impact on his Faculty.

"I am delighted with the level of support that we have attained so far," he says, "but to me the thing is not the money. It is the closer relationship that the Faculty is building with the legal community and its graduates as the campaign progresses.

"This campaign will not end once we've raised the $3 million. The fund-raising will end, but the closer relationships we have built will continue to grow."

Relationships are important to Christian, who learned the importance of goodwill and mutual respect while serving as president of the U of A Students' Union in 1970. As SU president Christian fought for increased student representation on the University's governing councils and often found himself in an adversarial position in relation to the University administration, but at the same time he learned a great deal from people such as Max Wyman, '37 BSc, '82 LLD (Honorary), and Henry Kreisel — respectively the U of A president and vice-president (academic) at the time — and their deep-rooted humanity. A point of pride with Christian today is the collegiality that exists within his Faculty. "People in this Faculty work well together, " he says. "This Faculty is much more sociable than is common at other law schools. And we work at it. Everyone here recognizes the importance of getting along and tries to maintain good relationships."

The collegiality — which Christian credits his predecessor, Frank Jones, with promoting — has proven important in paving the way for the changes that have occurred in Christian's eight-and-a-half-year tenure as dean. That has been a time of a significant turnover in personnel. "About one-third of our faculty are new, having arrived in the past six or seven years," says Christian. "And, as a result, we have significantly more female faculty members than we did a decade ago."

Beyond the personnel changes, the most notable change that has taken place during Christian's tenure involves research: there is simply more research done in the Faculty now. That development, explains Christian, goes hand in hand with the creation or expansion of a variety of institutes or centres associated with the Faculty — entities such as the Alberta Law Reform Institute, the Health Law Institute, the Centre for Constitutional Studies, the International Ombudsman Institute, and the John V. Decore Centre for Alternative Dispute Resolution.

The emphasis on centres and institutes has been deliberate, a focus that is in keeping with the vision Christian and his colleagues have for their Faculty. "We see ourselves as a law centre with a law school at the centre of that," says the dean. "As a law centre, we have a bigger impact and there are enhanced opportunities for our students and faculty."

"A number of the staff members of the institutes teach courses for our students, and we can draw upon their expertise in other ways, " says Christian. There is also the opportunity for law students to work for the institutes as research assistants. The various publications associated with the institutes and centres provide publishing opportunities for faculty members. And the centres and institutes attract a number of visiting speakers and scholars. "We have a lot of interesting people coming through the Law Centre, and we are able to use them in the Faculty generally." says Christian. In addition, he says, the Faculty's centres and institutes are important because they are capable of attracting external funding. "It's our view," he says, "that we cannot expect increased resources from the University."

The newest of the centres associated with the Faculty of Law is the Decore Centre, created with a $200,000 gift to the Faculty's Law Campaign 75 by the family and friends of the late John Decore, '59 BA, '60 LLB, of Edmonton. Christian is confident that the Decore Centre will enable the U of A to take a leading role in promoting alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in Western Canada.

The Decore gift has funded renovations to space on the ground floor of the Law Centre. Here, two large hearing rooms suitable for mediation events have been created alongside office space that is the new home of the Alberta Arbitration and Mediation Society. Revenue generated from the rent paid by the AAMS and groups using the mediation hearing rooms will be used to fund the Faculty's ADR program and related initiatives.

Alternative dispute resolution is a growing area, says Christian. "I think that the nature of law is changing. Clients are less willing to fund expensive litigation, and we want to be able to provide our students an opportunity to learn more about mediation and arbitration," he says.

"Ten years ago, all we thought about was the courtroom; today there must be a focus on different ways of resolving disputes. And thanks to the Decore Centre we will have world experts in ADR visiting here."

While there have been considerable changes since Christian became dean of the Faculty of Law, and even more since he was a law student at the U of A in the early ‘70s (he finished his law degree at King's College, Cambridge on a Commonwealth Scholarship), one of the constants that the dean points to is the close working relationship his Faculty maintains with the legal profession. "About one-third of the teaching in the Faculty is done by some 52 sessional lecturers who are members of the practising bar," says Christian. "In our teaching we have a very important balance between full-time academics and leading practicioners."

The Law Faculty's close relationship with practising lawyers is firmly rooted in its history. While the Faculty is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 1996, the University was involved in legal education as early as 1913, when an agreement between the Law Society of Alberta and the University turned responsibility for setting and administering examinations for students-at-law within the Province of Alberta over to the University. At that time, entry to the profession was open to graduates holding degrees in arts, law, medicine, science or literature. To gain admission to the bar, these graduates were required to spend three consecutive years studying law as articling students in law firms.

Once it took on responsibility for examining students-at-law, the University hastened to introduce a curriculum leading to the degree of Bachelor of Laws. This coursework was taught to the articled students, who attended classes in the provincial courthouses in Edmonton and Calgary. By 1915 there were 76 students registered in law — 44 in Edmonton, 24 in Calgary, and eight in other parts of Alberta. Lectures were given at the courthouses, either beginning at 8:45 or 9:00 in the morning and ending in time for students to reach their offices at 10:00 a.m., or beginning at 5:10 in the afternoon, once the students had completed their office work.

The teaching of law continued in this manner until 1921, when a change of provincial statute led to a reorganization of the way law was taught in the province. As a result of that change, instruction in law was moved to the U of A campus and students were required to study on a full-time basis for three years to obtain their Bachelor of Laws degree.

It was at this time that the Faculty of Law (that name had appeared in the University's calendar as early as 1913-14) took its place on campus beside the other full-time faculties, and John Alexander Weir, a Rhodes Scholar from Saskatchewan, was hired as the first full-time law professor. Weir was named dean of the Faculty (its first) in 1926 and was a driving force in shaping the Faculty until his death in 1942. Wilbur Bowker, '30 BA, '32 LLB, '72 LLD (Honorary), who himself served as the Faculty's dean from 1948 to 1968, describes Weir as having been a remarkable teacher and scholar, "a master of the hypothetical case and the Socratic question."

The Faculty's only other full-time teacher during the 1920s was Sigvald Nielsen, '22 BA, '24 LLB, a graduate in the Faculty's first full-time class. When Nielsen left in 1930, he was replaced by Malcolm MacIntyre, a Mount Allison graduate who had studied law with Roscoe Pound at Harvard. In 1972, the late Walter Johns published a brief history of the Faculty of Law. In it he comments that "The load of teaching carried by Weir and MacIntyre through the 1930s would be regarded as intolerable by their successors today."

Another hardship was lack of space. During its first 30 years, the Faculty occupied one and then two rooms in the Arts Building. Its need for more study and library space had been recognized as early as 1928, but it wasn't until the completion of Rutherford Library in 1951 that any relief was found. The Faculty's Weir Memorial Law Library was moved there immediately, but it wasn't until 1964 that the teaching faculty and classrooms followed.

In a 1992 publication, the Honorable Justice Jean Côté, '64 LLB, a member of the Alberta Court of Appeal, recalled the "magnificent Weir Law Library" that he knew as a law student at the U of A in the early 1960s:

There students occupied permanent chairs, stored their notes, debated law, chatted, heckled outsiders, played ping pong using the Probate Reports, and read law reports. They created Stephen Leacock's ideal university in the Library. It embodied the corporate life of the Faculty, much as the Four Courts Library had housed the Dublin Bar. To this day, Alberta graduates of that era feel more comfortable and productive in a law library than in an office. Can any law school make a finer claim?

Côté's memories of the Weir Library during its early years in Rutherford were recorded in a publication that helped mark the 20th anniversary of the Faculty's current home, the impressive Law Centre, located in the southeast corner of campus. Opened in 1972 during the tenure of dean Gerald L. Fridman, the Law Centre brought the Faculty's administrative offices, institutes, student groups, and library together into one specially designed building.

At the heart of this building, retaining its preeminent place in the life of the Faculty, is the Weir Law Library.

Now with more than 300,000 volumes in its collection, the Weir Library is "the best law library in Canada," says Christian. And while the collection now gets a great deal of use — not only from law students and faculty, but also from lawyers across Alberta, corporations, special interest groups, and members of the public — the Library's usefulness will soon be dramatically increased. The change will come about as a result of the Law Faculty's plans to take the Weir Library into the 21st century by making some commonly used and specialized resources in the library accessible in electronic form from remote locations. Plans include remote computer access to specialized databases and CD-ROM research materials, digitally scanning much of the collection, and making some of the material available on the Internet.

"We have a very serious commitment to keeping abreast of new technology," says Christian, whose Faculty recently launched a three-year project to enhance its efforts in computer-assisted instruction with the help of a $600,000 grant from the Alberta Law Foundation. "Without question we are the most technologically advanced law school in Canada. We are equipping our students to compete in a world in which using the Internet for research will be as basic as using a library used to be," says the dean.

All of the Faculty's students currently have full Internet access, which they use for research and e-mail, and computer instruction is compulsory in the first year of LLB studies. Several professors have begun sending information to their classes via e-mail and conducting seminars on electronic bulletin boards, and the Faculty is experimenting with one "paperless" course delivered through its World Wide Web site, one of the most well developed on campus.

There are also plans for an electronic reading room — a common room in the library in which students will be able to plug their laptop computers into the Faculty's local network. This initiative has been made possible by a sizeable contribution to Law Campaign 75 by alumnus David McLean, '59 BA, '62 LLB, '94 LLD (Honorary), of Vancouver, a former chairman of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

Another major gift to Campaign 75 has been earmarked for improvements to the Faculty's moot courtroom. The $300,000 gift — the largest contribution to the campaign by an individual — was made by alumnus Eldon Foote, '45 BSc, '48 LLB, a successful businessman in Japan. Among the improvements it will fund are some advanced technology initiatives, including real-time video transmission and reception.

The emphasis on advanced technology initiatives, particularly the commitment to the use of computers in the teaching process, pays off for the Faculty's students, says Christian. "Employers like the fact that our students come out familiar with what's on the cutting edge of technology. They know that they can rely on them to help update them about where the use of advanced technology in law is going."

Considering his Faculty's boldness in embracing advanced technology initiatives, it comes as a surprise to hear dean Christian describe his school as "somewhat conservative." But he does. The description, it turns out, refers to the school's curriculum. Says Christian: "We ensure that our students are well grounded in the fundamental principles of law and know about their professional responsibilities. We stress the learning of the law in its historical, political and economic contexts. Underpinning it all is a focus on legal ethics — we were one of the first law schools to institute a compulsory course in legal ethics."

The balance between stability and innovation has always been a profound strength of the law school at the University of Alberta, says Christian. While the central core of the curriculum has remained firm, the Faculty has recognized the changing needs of the times, he says. During the province's post-War growth and development, the law school responded to the emerging topics in law, which included oil and gas law, natural resources law, and labor law. More recently the Faculty has introduced courses related to Pacific Rim law, women and the law, law and medicine, and special topics in Native law.

Courses may change and the way in which they are delivered may change as well, but the Faculty's commitment to quality has remained firm, says Christian. "We have always been a very demanding Faculty," he says. "We select the best students, we recruit the best teachers, and we expect a lot – this place has very high standards. When our graduates go out into the job market, their employers know they have achieved something significant."

Another constant has been the sizeable contributions that the Faculty and its graduates have made to the Province of Alberta. But Law is also "the most national faculty in the University," says Christian. As evidence he points out that last year 65 per cent of the applications to the U of A law school came from out-of-province, 35 per cent of the current first year class are from out-of-province, and 26 per cent of last year's graduates articled outside Alberta.

Adding to the national and international impact of the Faculty are its faculty members. Among them are the authors of many of the standard legal textbooks used in Canada. These texts include a work on land use planning by Fred Laux, '63 BA, '64 LLB; a publication on creditor's rights by Dick Dunlop, '56 BA, '59 LLB, '71 MA; David Percy's book on contracts; Christine Davie's text on matrimonial law; Bruce Ziff's recent work on real property; Lewis Klar's textbook on torts (now in its third edition); and Gerald Gall's The Canadian Legal System, now being translated into Chinese and Japanese.

"All in all," says Christian, "this Faculty has a great deal to honor in its past." And as for ensuring the future, the Law Campaign 75 is a good start, he says. "But," he repeats, "the more lasting legacy will be the strengthening of relationships that is taking place."

To help further cement those relationships, the Faculty has plans for the creation of a "Board of Counsel to the Faculty." The board is to be composed of 14 or 15 individuals from the legal community who will give advice and counsel on an ongoing basis and will also superintend the use of undesignated gifts to the Faculty. Consideration is also being given to establishing a constituent alumni association for the Faculty's graduates.

"Honoring the past. Ensuring the future." Tim Christian wants to make certain that these are not empty words — that when his Faculty's 75th anniversary celebrations end next year the phrases may lose their familiarity but their challenge will not have gone unanswered.

John Alexander Weir

Buried in the U of A Board of Governors' minutes for 1921 can be found reference to the appointment of one John Alexander Weir as lecturer in law at a salary of $2,700 per annum.

Little does this brief entry hint at the historic nature of this appointment. The first full-time law lecturer, Weir would become the Faculty's first dean and a legend among his students and contemporaries. One of the former, retired Supreme Court justice Ronald Martland, calls Weir "one of the greatest lawyers whom I have encountered."

Born in Ardock, North Dakota in 1894, Weir moved to Regina as a child and studied at the University of Saskatchewan. There he completed BA and LLB degrees and was chosen for a 1914 Rhodes Scholarship which took him to Oxford, where he earned a BA with distinction following a three-year stint of military service.

As dean of the U of A law school, Weir established a tradition involving both the study of law as an academic pursuit and close cooperation with the practising bar. When he died in 1942, of an illness aggravated by the heavy work load he shouldered, he was survived by his wife Elizabeth and their three children: Elizabeth, Ramsay, and John Weir, '57 LLB, now a partner in the Edmonton law firm Weir Bowen.

Weir is remembered as a scholar of the first rank and an able teacher, never stiff or formal with his students. When he died the Faculty was forced to divide the teaching hours he carried among seven part-time lecturers.

After Weir's death, his friend and successor Malcolm Maclntyre summed up Weir's contributions to the law school this way: "When he commenced his work it did not exist. He left it a going concern with a high reputation, both within and without the province, for the scholarship of its graduates."

Published Winter 1995/96.

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