Drills, drains and lawyers: Counterpoint

On Sept. 22, Toronto lawyer Murray Teitel used this space to deliver a harangue against the present state of legal education, wrote Allan C. Hutchinson, distinguished research professor and associate dean (research & graduate studies) at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, in an opinion piece for the National Post Sept. 27. Teitel maintains that law students are ill-prepared for legal practice and that law schools are more interested in training legal philosophers than legal tradespersons. These are serious charges that warrant a strong rebuttal.

It is simply wrong-headed to contend that [law schools] should concern themselves only with instructing students in the basic tools of the legal trade, wrote Hutchinson. In comparing lawyers to dentists and plumbers, Teitel fails to understood why the role and function of lawyers in society is different. Indeed, his basic insistence that “law is a trade puffed up into a profession” is as telling as it is mistaken. If law is only a trade, then society is worse off for it.

Teaching technical knowledge and practical skills is a necessary, but not sufficient condition of a good legal education: good technicians know not only how to, but also when to and why to. As one commentator put it, “Technique without ideals is a menace; ideals without technique are a mess.” It is incumbent on lawyers, therefore, to appreciate that their trade skills should be placed in the service of larger societal ideals.

Some schools, like my own, said Hutchinson, have recognized that students do need to be trained better in the basic legal skills; no amount of idealism can make up for a lack of primary technical competence. Accordingly, clinical programs have been developed and introduced which strive to combine lawyering craft with social and ethical sensibilities; service and skills are seen to be mutually reinforcing.

In attempting to produce lawyers who have technical proficiency and social awareness, the real danger is that law schools will fail miserably on both counts. Negotiating better this difficult and demanding educational terrain is the central challenge for today’s law schools. But the real failure would be, as Teitel seems to recommend, for law schools to give up on this noble and essential challenge.

Crotchety but brainy

Thomas J. Baker, a graduate student in psychology at York University, recently co-wrote a study that invites the conclusion that, upon reaching 60, disagreeable people maintain a higher level of intelligence than more easy-going seniors, reported the Kansas City Star Sept. 27. The study also suggests that those dismissed as grumpy old men and feisty old ladies are often smarter in some ways than the young. The study’s findings fly in the face of notions that intellect and memory fade with age – and that has made it a hot topic in the psychology world.

Provinces, companies await payday loan rules

Payday loans are short-term cash advances that usually must be paid back out of the customer’s next paycheque, wrote the National Post Sept. 27 in an article on anticipated legislation governing the practice. But in order to receive the loan, which is usually limited to 30 per cent of paycheque income, customers must agree to pay service fees and high interest rates that can significantly increase the debt load. “They’re charging too much,” said Chris Robinson, finance professor in York’s School of Administrative Studies in the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies. “If we allow them to continue charging this to a group that is not mobile and has no real capability to make comparisons or make good judgments, then they’re making huge amounts of money more than they ought to.”

Conservatives doing right thing

The Star’s blaring headline (Tories cut $1B despite surplus) could have read “Tories refuse to waste $1B surplus,” wrote Eric Lawee, humanities professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, in a letter to the Toronto Star Sept. 27. The Conservatives are doing the responsible thing by finding places to save and applying savings to the deficit, said Lawee. Would the Star prefer they invest the $1-billion surplus in Quebec sponsorships?

She has fond memories of York’s borscht

Back in 1984-1985, I was a student at York University, wrote Mary Fiumano in a feature on Retro Foods in the Toronto Star Sept. 27. I had to be frugal with my lunches. Between classes, I used to go to this Jewish restaurant at the University (now Country Style Kosher Coffee, Winters College) and have the most incredibly satisfying borscht. I have been searching for a recipe like it for many years.

QiGong instructor taught at York

Lana Aganian wants to “touch” the community with her talents, wrote the Belleville Intelligencer Sept. 26. Moving from Toronto in the summer, Aganian has much to bring to Belleville, including over 30 years’ experience teaching performing arts disciplines, with a specialty in piano, as an instructor of QiGong (a holistic system of self-healing exercise and meditation) and a certified Therapeutic Touch practitioner. Before coming to Belleville, Aganian taught QiGong at York University and lectured on the fundamentals of oriental arts and science in the Department of Dance in the Faculty of Fine Arts.

On air

  • Laura Foley, a Glendon student who listens to Professor Diane Zorn’s philosophy lectures on her Apple iPod, spoke about the innovation on Toronto’s CFTO TV News Sept. 26. Zorn and Foley were also heard on CJOH-TV (Ottawa) and CBC Radio’s “Here and Now” and the lectures were featured on CKCO TV (Kitchener-Waterloo) the same day.

  • CBC Radio’s “Metro Morning” discussed the provincial government’s increase of graduate studies places at York University and other Toronto universities Sept. 26.

  • Tarek Hamam, of the Arab Law Students’ Association at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, took part in a panel discussion about Middle East issues on CTS-TV’s “Michael Coren Live” program Sept. 26.