York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School has embarked on a bold change to its three-year Juris Doctor (JD) Program. Commencing with the class of 2015, which arrived this September, every Osgoode JD student will be exposed to law in action through an experiential course or program as part of their legal education. Osgoode is the first law school in Canada to introduce an experiential education requirement – referred to at Osgoode as a “praxicum” – into the JD curriculum.
In addition to expanding the size and scope of its experiential education offerings in order to implement the praxicum requirement, Osgoode has opened an Office of Experiential Education under the direction of Kimberley Bonnar, manager, experiential education & career development. Bonnar, who graduated from Osgoode in 2009, had been working as an associate in the employment and labour group at Norton Rose Canada LLP. While a student at Osgoode, she played an instrumental role in the establishment of the Mediation Intensive Clinical Program, which continues to thrive. The Office of Experiential Education will serve as a catalyst for the development of new courses, programs and clinics, and provide support to the faculty, students and staff.
The new experiential component is part of a larger package of reforms to the law school’s upper-year JD curriculum that was approved by Osgoode Faculty Council in 2011, following three years of intensive consultation and collaboration between students, alumni, faculty and staff. It follows on the heels of the adoption a few years ago of first-year JD curriculum changes, including a pioneering course in ethical lawyering and a public interest requirement, and the introduction of a holistic admissions policy and process that foster equity as well as excellence. Together, Osgoode’s new JD curriculum is designed to integrate legal theory and legal practice in diverse and dynamic settings – whether in the classroom, across Toronto or around the globe.
Osgoode Dean Lorne Sossin noted that the law school, which has about 900 JD students, has been a leader in experiential education over several decades. Its experiential education offerings are the most extensive in Canada and among the most innovative in the world. Experiential education programs include the Innocence Project, which involves students in the investigation of suspected wrongful convictions; the Mediation Intensive Clinical Program; the Criminal Intensive Program; the Osgoode Business Clinic; the Intensive Program in Poverty Law at Parkdale Community Legal Services; and the Community & Legal Aid Services Program.
New intensive programs in anti-discrimination law and intellectual property law are broadening the choices available to Osgoode students and several other experiential courses, internships and clinical programs are in development.
“This is the time for us to introduce more experiential education in our JD program,” Sossin said. “This approach to legal education means additional faculty involvement, more student engagement, community partnerships and enhanced administrative support, but the end result will be graduates who are focused on solving problems, responding to a rapidly changing legal landscape and becoming more reflective and collaborative professionals.”