By Dean W. F. Bowker
The University has conferred the degree of Bachelor of Laws almost from the time the institution was founded, the first being awarded in 1915.
There was not, however, until 1921 a regularly organized faculty, and no attendance at University classes was required. The candidates prepared themselves for the examinations, with some help from lecturers in the court houses of Calgary and Edmonton. By 1921 the University and the Law Society decided to establish a faculty with a full-time staff. This decision was reached at a series of meetings between Dr. Tory, president of the University; Mr. Justice Frank Ford, now retired; the late Mr. Justice Parlee, G. H. Steer, Q.C., and the late Mr. Wm. Dixon-Craig. The last four were in practice at the time and had been active as lecturers in law. The late J. A. Weir was engaged on a full-time basis and was made dean.
Classes at the University in first-year law were opened in the fall of 1921, and the first class graduated in 1924 with about twenty members. The course was, as it remains, three years in length. When the faculty was first established a candidate did not have to attend it in order to become a member of the bar. He could still follow the old method of spending five years under articles, or three if he had a degree. However, very few chose the old method and in the 1930s it was abolished. The graduate of the law school has always been required to put in a year under articles. As first, summer articling was permitted, but it was abolished over twenty years ago, and every graduate is required to put in his year after graduation. He takes out his articles with a practitioner with whom he makes his own arrangements to article, usually in Calgary or Edmonton. At the end of the year he has to write one examination in practice and procedure. Then he is admitted to practice before a justice of the Supreme Court and becomes a member of the Law Society of Alberta.
Until 1930, Dean Weir was the only full-time member of the staff, but in that year Dr. M. M. MacIntyre came to the faculty. In 1942, Dean Weir died. His students have always regarded him as the greatest of teachers, with a breadth of knowledge and ability to impart legal principles, largely by questions and the use of hypothetical problems that could not be matched. Dr. MacIntyre then became dean, and resigned in 1945. A graduate of Dalhousie and Harvard, his teaching was always provocative and stimulating. For the next two years, G. H. Steer, Q.C., a leading practitioner in the city, was acting dean pending the rebuilding of the staff. In the ten years since the war, the number of full-time members has grown to four, those at present on the staff being Dean W. F. Bowker, Professor Alex Smith, Associate Professor G. W. Reed, and Assistant Professor A. B. Weston. The faculty is still augmented by part-time teachers who are local practitioners giving one or two courses each. From the beginning the school has received invaluable help from the part-time teachers.
For many years G. H. Steer, Q.C., and L. Y. Cairns, Q.C., taught important courses, and many others helped, especially at the period when there was a small full-time staff around the end of World War II. At present there are five part-time instructors — D. M. Cormie, Frank Dunne, A. F. Moir, P. M. Owen, and J. W. K. Shortreed.
An important part of any law school is its library, where the students must spend a great amount of time in preparing the work assigned to them. At the end of the war, our library was adequate for the small classes, save that there were not many good textbooks and no reports of decisions in countries other than Canada and England.
Since the war many new books have been added, and the library is housed in the John A. Weir Memorial Room in the new Rutherford Library. In addition, we have a full-time fully qualified law librarian, Mr. Mills Shipley.
It is interesting to note the number of graduates at different periods in the history of the law school. Prior to World War II the number varied from about ten to twenty-four. Then by the middle of the war the numbers began to decline rapidly until 1945, when three students graduated. Then, with the coming of the veterans, the size of the classes increased so that in 1951, fifty-five students received the degree of LLB. Since then the numbers of students have declined somewhat and at present the school is graduating about thirty students a year. We do not look for any further decrease and, in fact, there will probably be a rise in enrolment when the larger numbers now in the high schools reach University.
Some persons are still under a misapprehension as to the opportunities for law graduates. They think that overcrowding of the profession must result from the numbers, totalling about two hundred and fifty, that have graduated since the war. The fact is that in the past five years the supply of graduates has not met the demand. It is easy to find good offices in which to article, and after the articled student has become admitted he often stays in the firm, or if not, he has no difficulty in finding an opening either by going into practice for himself or with some other law firm. There is a continual demand for young lawyers from firms in the city and in the country, provincial or dominion governments, business firms and oil companies. Many graduates of other law schools have come to this province since the war, and in the past two or three years perhaps one-third of all of those admitted to the bar have come from other law schools. Thus there is no question as to opportunity.
In recent years there has been much discussion in legal circles on the aims of legal education and the best method of gaining these aims. A lawyer in Alberta may either concentrate on “court work” — that of a counsel or barrister or advocate, or on “office work” — that of a solicitor or attorney, or he may combine both. In one capacity or the other he must have a thorough knowledge of general principles and the ability to apply them to the problems that come before him. He must also know how to draw legal documents. In time he may develop a special interest in constitutional law, taxation, company law, insurance, wills and estates or criminal law. If he is interested in court work he must know how to prepare for trial, examine witnesses, make a legal argument. The power of both written and oral expression is essential. It is generally agreed that law schools cannot give really effective training in all of these skills, especially those required in court. Some can be learned only by practice. However, the law school should be able to do much to stimulate a student to reason out problems and apply what he has learned; there are obvious advantages in an intensive study of the important subjects through reading before class and discussion and criticism in class.
For the greater part, our law school follows the method of teaching that generally prevails in the United States and in the common law provinces of Canada — that is the reading of cases designed to bring out the main principles of each subject such as contracts, wrongs (civil and criminal) and property. The cases are read beforehand and then discussed in class. This method enables the student to grapple with actual problems, to analyse critically the decisions of the courts, and to apply his learning to new problems. Of course, the reading of cases is supplemented by textbooks and articles, by legal writing and the making of oral arguments.
Another aspect now stressed in some circles is the importance of relating law to other subjects of study — economics, history, psychology, philosophy and sociology. Unless the period of legal training were extended by one or two years, it is clear that a choice has to be made — everything cannot be taught. The contest is between teaching in breadth and in depth. The more one tries to cover, the less thorough the training will be; and, generally speaking, it seems better training to teach a smaller number of subjects thoroughly than a smattering of everything. If a student is well grounded in the tools of his profession he has the equipment to attack problems that he never heard of before or that come into existence after he has begun to practise.
One tendency that must be avoided in the law school is that of encouraging the “premature specialist”. One must be a lawyer before he can expect to become an expert in any special field. Most of the outstanding lawyers deal with the most diverse problems.
Related to training in a law school is the question, what education should be required of students applying to enter? This subject has produced much discussion in teaching circles. Like legal training itself, it has to stop somewhere. Diminishing returns are reached after a certain period. Yet the great danger is not in requiring too long a period but in admitting students to law schools whose general education is not good enough. It is hard to fix a standard that is fair in all cases — should it be two years? three years? a degree? and if a degree, what degree will suffice? There is a clear relation between a liberal arts education and law — a knowledge of literature, a foreign language, economics, history, philosophy are obviously helpful. Yet a graduate in honors mathematics is probably a better prospect than the weakest student who has squeezed his way through a history or economics course. At this school the original requirement was senior matriculation. After about five years an additional year of arts was required. Then, around 1938, the requirement of a B.A. or equivalent degree was made compulsory. This means a minimum of six years from senior matriculation except in the case of those students who take the combined course in Arts and Law which takes five years.
This leads to another question. What other factors besides academic record is the law school interested in? There are a number, but the most important are character, interest in law and aptitude for law.
The difficulty is that there is no chemical test to disclose these qualities; and those with the responsibility must decide. In recent years this University has built up a student advisory service which is designed to assist the faculty in their admission problems, and this is an important advance. Once the student is admitted, however, the responsibility is that of the law school. Much can be done by the faculty to generate and increase interest, and in making the majority of students and not merely those at the head of the class into potentially good lawyers; but little is gained if, together with these good graduates, there are others who will not help to build a better profession. The school can do much to inculcate the ideas of professional ethics in most students, but the ground must be fertile.
Lastly, it may be of interest to mention the subject of legal research on the part of the staff. All of the members of the faculty spend as much time as they can (principally in the summer) in pursuing the study of subjects of special interest. The work may or may not be done toward a degree. All of the members of the full-time staff have written for the Canadian Bar Review or the University of Toronto Law Journal. It is, of course, a fact that legal writing in Canada is not as abundant as it should be. We rely greatly on English works. This is, of course, understandable and proper, but many consider that we in Canada could do more in building up our own legal literature and that law teachers have a special responsibility to do this. One fertile field of research is that of comparing our law to that of the United States, particularly in the field of constitutional law. The framework of government in the two countries has so many similarities and yet so many differences that comparisons of the two are bound to be beneficial — and little has been published on the subject. One member of the staff has been working for years on the subject of human rights in the two countries and another on regulation of trade and commerce. This work has been done in connection with graduate work, and it is hoped that these theses will be published sooner or later. Another member of the staff has spent several summers in Ontario working on insurance and labour law. Ultimately we can expect tangible results that it is hoped will be a contribution to legal thought, and in the meantime the benefits of these studies are passed on to the students in class, and the training of students is, after all, the first obligation of the teacher.
Published Summer 1955.