Ability of law grads questioned
By Ed Stack
Participants involved with the inquiry into the wrongful murder conviction of Guy Paul Morin were told on Tuesday that Canadian law schools may not be doing enough to ensure that young lawyers are ready for the courtroom.
"Perhaps there has been a failure to teach critical thinking and the traditional ethics of the bar," said Dianne Martin, a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, who made the presentation to the inquiry. "It is important ethics are maintained especially by lawyers.
"Ineffective assistance of counsel has played a role in wrongful convictions in the past but it is not the major cause."
Lawyers with little practical experience make common errors in the role they play as the prosecution or defence, Martin explained. The most common prosecutor error is the failure to disclose information, while most mistakes made by defence lawyers involve passively accepting the prosecution's case or failing to pursue evidence.
An additional problem within the legal system involves a scarcity of resources for cases that aren't of a serious nature, Martin said. "There is a question of whether there is time to do every case textbook perfect. We should preserve the resources for more serious cases."
Western's law school has recognized practical teaching has an important place in law education. Michael Cormier, a law professor and director of clinical programs at Western, said there is not enough clinical work done at Canadian universities. "It is possible for many law students to go through school having never seen inside a court room," he said.
Law students are often forced to get most of their practical experience when articling at law firms after completing their third year of school, Cormier said. "Unfortunately, articling students are often left to work on their own. Law firms are aimed at making money, not educating."
Associate dean Robert Solomon said law schools are meant to provide the academic basis for practicing law. "I find that law school is not intended to fully prepare students to handle serious criminal law cases," he said.