Opens in the fall of 2011.
By Brenda Craig
The country’s first new law school in 35 years is a landmark achievement for B.C.’s Thompson Rivers University (TRU) and a significant event in the history of legal education in Canada.
The TRU school of law will open its doors to students in the fall of 2011 with high profile academic and former politician Chris Axworthy as TRU’s first Dean of Law. It’s a job he says that was difficult to resist. “By definition it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Axworthy says. “Given the opportunity to start something brand new, I don’t think anyone would turn this down.”
Strategically placed in the community of Kamloops, the TRU law school hopes to encourage young lawyers to pursue careers in areas that are currently underserved. “If lawyers are educated here they are likely to stay here,” says Axworthy. “We are going to offer the kind of legal education lawyers in these communities need. We’ll focus on the legal concerns of this region, such as Aboriginal and environmental issues.”
The University of Calgary has licensed its curriculum to TRU’s law school to expedite the start up. “Our focus on natural resources, energy and environmental law is uniquely suited to academic priorities at TRU and we are excited to provide them together with a program that focuses on practical legal skills instruction,” says Alastair Lucas, Dean of the U of C Faculty of Law.
Working with the Calgary team, Axworthy says “that the curriculum is modern and sophisticated” and “that the school will hit the ground running.”
Before the class of 2011 arrives, there are a number of major steps Axworthy and the TRU team will be working on. “We have to be accredited with the Federation of Law Societies of Canada,” says Axworthy. “We also have to go through the Province’s Degree Quality Assessment Board process and have the program approved by the Ministry of Advanced Education here in the province.”
Another challenge will be launching a new law library for the digital age. It's unlikely books will be completely eliminated and Axworthy expects the facility will look quite different. “A library card may not be as important as a Kindle or an iPad,” he says, “especially because students are so comfortable with digitized information.”
At the moment, TRU expects to accept 60 students in its first year – and Axworthy expects class sizes to remain small for the near future.
The unrelenting efforts to bring a law school to the Interior of B.C. are in no small part due to a group of Kamloops lawyers like Rob McDiarmid that lobbied long and hard to see it happen. “Traditional law schools prefer to deal with cutting edge legal issues,” he says. “But if you are going to turn out lawyers that are going to do general practice you have to focus on practical learning. That is something that excites me about TRU’s law school.”
Axworthy, a trailblazer with sterling professional and academic credentials is looking forward to see the law school flourish in the years ahead. “We have a lot of relationship building to do with the B.C. Branch of the Canadian Bar Association, with the Bar here in Kamloops and we have to have our eyes open to fundraising right from the beginning.”
Left photo: Chris Axworthy, TRU’s first Dean of Law. Right photo: Artists depiction of the new House of Learning, which is where the new law school will initially be set up. For more info go to www.tru.ca/houseoflearning.html.
This article was published in the August 2010 issue of BarTalk. © 2010 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.