Thursday Thinkpiece: Bullen and Sossin on Flex Time JDs

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Media Mention

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Slaw - Canada's online legal magazine


The focus of this study is accessibility and inclusion in legal education. Bringing together conversations about broadening financial and structural access to legal education, we seek to broaden the institutional responses to the CBA’s call for accessible and innovative legal education in the Futures Report by making the case for a Flex Time Juris Doctor (JD) program. This paper explores how more flexible models of JD programs can foster a more diverse and inclusive learning community for law students.

The first Part of the study situates the discussion about access to legal education in a historical context by outlining the existing financial accessibility and inclusion models. In Canada, the range of flexible legal studies generally is limited to a part-time or extended-time program of study that is only available as a retroactive accommodation to students experiencing barriers to full-time study who may be mature, low-income, sole support caregivers, or from other under-represented groups in legal education. While there is not a mid-sized city in the U.S. without part-time law school programs, intentionally designed flexible legal education remains non-existent in Canada with exception to graduate level legal education where professional, part-time LL.M. programs have been flourishing for over twenty years. Without long-term solutions to the front-end burdens and barriers to accessing legal education (for example, through lowering tuition), providing greater flexibility in how students can obtain legal education provides an attainable and meaningful pathway to greater access and inclusion in Canadian Law Schools. We situate this examination in historical and comparative perspective in light of part-time legal education models in the U.S., which reflect some of the benefits of legal education accessibility, as well as pointing to a range of cautionary tales about programs whose students allege isolation from the main currents of student life and intellectual engagement at law school.

The second Part of the paper moves from the existing models of legal education to consider one which has not yet been attempted in Canada and attempts to answer the calls for financially accessible legal education – a Flex Time JD program. The introduction of a Flex Time JD program in Canada offers promise in the face of the barriers recognized in the CBA’s Futures Report.

Drawing on the research gathered in Osgoode Hall Law School’s Accessible JD Working Group over the last two years, including surveys of potential law students, the third Part of this paper examines the potential features of a Flex Time legal education program. We observe that if a flexible legal program can meet the diversity, family status, ability, and financial accessibility needs of present and future lawyers, then a Flex Time JD has the potential to enhance both the accessibility and quality of legal education.