Skip to main content

This law school is rich. Nearly every week it flies in leading authorities from all over the world -- Oxford, Taiwan, Florence -- for intensive two-week sessions. It has 16 endowed positions for distinguished researchers while most Canadian schools are proud to have two. The University of Toronto law school aspires to stand with Harvard and other world leaders.

"This is a school with riches beyond the wildest dreams of any law school in this country," Bruce Feldthusen, dean of the University of Ottawa's law school, said. "And I'm sure they're putting it to good use."

And maybe they are. But a cheating scandal at Canada's most privileged law school is raising some hard questions. As many as 30 first-year students have been implicated in lying about their grades in job interviews for Bay Street firms. Now the law school that produced three of the current nine Supreme Court of Canada judges (a fourth is its former dean) faces a painful self-examination of the culture that all that money has helped to create.

Story continues below advertisement

"We know what we're doing and we know what our values are," dean Ron Daniels said in an interview. "We don't know why, in light of all that, 30 students who we know are good people may have made a very bad choice."

It may be hard for the dean to stand back far enough for a clear look. He has been at the school so long -- 13 years on faculty, plus several more as a student, and he is all of 41 -- that its culture is second nature to him. And besides, law school insiders say it has been his influence that made the culture more corporate (and the school undeniably wealthier) than ever.

It is a culture that purports to be about ideas, public service, leadership and integrity. And the school can make a good case that it is about these things; there are legal-aid clinics and bursaries to prove it.

But the culture is also every bit as much about money.

"It's Bay-Street infatuated," said second-year student Lara Tessaro, 24.

"The dominant logic dictates that career decisions should be made based on monetary measures in order to be valid, with few exceptions," said 29-year-old Sam Babe, in his second year of a combined law and MBA program.

Bay Street is ubiquitous here.

Story continues below advertisement

It begins during orientation week with parties sponsored by corporate-law firms, free T-shirts featuring the big Bay Street names, and booklets full of Bay Street contacts. Students can't escape it during the Law Follies, a revue in which even glow sticks carry the imprimatur of some company or other on Bay Street. And then there are the weekly and sometimes daily notices students receive from school administration advising of job postings on Bay Street.

Mr. Daniels says the school tells them not to worry: almost all will find work.

"We tell them, 'Don't worry about competition. Don't worry about a job. Don't worry about doing anything but taking the best out of this incredibly rich and precious community,' " he said.

But some students think the dean doth protest too much. Every time he prefaces his remarks with "this is not about Bay Street" the students are inclined to think it most definitely is about Bay Street.

"The university should ask itself about how to address the mixed messages it sends to students on a daily basis," Ms. Tessaro said. "This is being treated like professional training from the get-go."

At a recent meeting, Mr. Daniels told students that the school will soon increase first-year tuition, easily the country's most expensive at $10,000 (plus $800 in incidentals), by another $2,000. In light of Bay Street pay of $90,000 for young lawyers, this seemed fair, he said.

Story continues below advertisement

But some see this approach as evidence of the school's corporate orientation. "When we pushed him on the fact that some of us don't want to go to Bay Street, he just didn't get it," said Rachel Furey, a 24-year-old second-year student who plans to work at the federal Justice Department this summer. "He shut down the discussion."

The market for young lawyers has never been stronger. For the first time, jobs are plentiful for first-year students, and big-time U.S. firms beckon in a way that was unheard of a decade ago.

But the sense of enormous rewards awaiting them can create a panicky feeling among the first-year students. "You don't want to be in the 2 per cent" who don't make it, said Karen Park, 27, a second-year student.

Ms. Park was recently on a four-member team that travelled to Fredericton for a moot court competition. There she found that her school has a nasty reputation. "People are always so surprised we can actually converse on a social level with them because of this perception that we're so ultracompetitive," she said.

The University of Toronto recently commissioned a review of its program that ranked it among the world's top 12 law schools. (The review panel included a former dean, Mr. Justice Frank Iacobucci of the Supreme Court of Canada, whose son Ed is a U of T law faculty member.) But at other Canadian law schools, academics are leery of such rankings.

"It really is comparing apples and oranges," said John McEvoy, the president of the Canadian Association of Law Teachers, explaining that each school has a different mission or specialty, depending on its size and location.

Story continues below advertisement

For Ms. Park, competition is a natural symptom of having so many smart people around. The school "pushes you to excel, to push for more, to do more than rest on your own laurels, and to see other perspectives."

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter