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Faculty of Law
UNB Fredericton

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Embracing Experiential Learning

UNB Law is taking a big leap forward this fall. As our cover story showcases, we are opening the UNB Legal Clinic in September. This is a game-changing development for our Faculty and the Province.

The UNB Legal Clinic will be New Brunswick’s only full-time, non-governmental poverty law clinic offering legal representation to people who cannot afford a lawyer. This pillar of our strategic plan is the first step in a journey that will result in UNB Law developing the most innovative experiential learning program of any Canadian law school.

I am so grateful to everyone who helped make the UNB Legal Clinic a reality. For years, perhaps generations, people have been talking about the need for such a program, but there was always something standing in the way. We finally got it done. There is a reason why UNB’s President, Dr. Paul Mazerolle, and Vice-President (Academic), Dr. Kathy Wilson are on the cover of this issue. Simply put, the UNB Legal Clinic would not have happened without them.

From the first time I spoke with him three years ago, Dr. Mazerolle expressed his support for a poverty law clinic in our Faculty. As a criminologist who oversaw a law faculty at his previous institution, Dr. Mazerolle understands the importance of clinical legal eduction, both in terms of experiential learning and access to justice. Despite the major financial challenges and uncertainty caused by the pandemic, Dr. Mazerolle pushed hard to ensure the money was there to get the UNB Legal Clinic established.

And Dr. Wilson embraced this project as a top academic priority for the Fredericton campus, putting the conditions in place that allowed us to hire an outstanding Supervising Lawyer, Jeannette Savoie. We are so fortunate to have such ambitious and proactive leaders supporting us in our efforts to revitalize UNB Law.   

In addition, as you will read further in this issue, the UNB Legal Clinic was made possible by many other people, both inside and outside our Faculty. We are also indebted to them.

Some of you may wonder why the UNB Legal Clinic is such a big deal. After all, UNB Law and its graduates thrived for generations without one. The reason is that the legal profession, law students, and society have changed significantly in the last forty years. The consolidation of law firms, a more competitive market for legal services, and innovation in how they are delivered have significantly increased the pace of the legal profession. In this frenetic climate, legal employers understandably struggle to devote enough time and resources to training and mentoring law students and recent law graduates. Experiential learning programs, like the UNB Legal Clinic, allow students to graduate from law school knowing some of the nuts and bolts of representing a client.

Aside from its practical virtues, clinical legal education gives students valuable perspective. Law school isn’t about grades, prizes, or fancy jobs. It’s about the privilege of preparing oneself for a noble profession—one that is fundamentally about helping people and society. Through the UNB Legal Clinic, our students will encounter real people with real problems, and they will be tasked with solving them. I am convinced that this kind of experience makes law school a more profound, meaningful, and less isolating endeavour for students. It serves as a vivid reminder of why they are there in the first place.

With more experiential learning opportunities, our students will start to learn the most important lessons of our profession much earlier in their development—that our purpose is to solve problems, not create them; that our goal is to avoid and resolve disputes, not seek them out; and that lawyers are facilitators, not obstructionists. In short, they will learn how to be great leaders.

This is something that cannot be learned from a casebook; it is engrained by experiencing the privilege and responsibility of being charged with another person’s interests. Always under the direction of our Supervising Lawyer, our students will find out what works and what doesn’t work in real life. If we can graduate more students with this perspective—who see themselves as servants and who have empathy for their clients—our society will be much better for it, and we will contribute positively to the rule of law and the administration of justice. 

As proud as we are of the UNB Legal Clinic, it is just a first step. Our Strategic Plan outlines a series of new programs that will take experiential education further, including the Legal Observatory and the Virtual Reality Law Lab. I invite you to learn more about these initiatives. Like the UNB Legal Clinic, they will make UNB Law an institution that is more engaged with the community and, in doing so, broaden the perspective and skills of our students.

It has been a privilege for me to travel across the country this summer and share these ideas with so many of you in person. In May, I was in St. John’s, where we had a fabulous alumni reception organized by Tom Williams, QC (LLB ‘87); this visit reinforced my conviction that UNB Law is Newfoundland and Labrador’s law school. In June, I met with several alumni in Vancouver and we are working together to establish a more formal network of graduates on the West Coast, and to open more career opportunities for our students there too. Earlier this month, I was in Toronto and met with about a dozen prominent alumni who are so passionate about UNB Law and its future. With your ongoing support, we will affirm UNB Law’s place as one of Canada’s very best law schools. 

Throughout this issue you will read about leading indicators of our success, whether it’s in national moots, high court clerkships, community service, or teaching excellence. I hope you are as proud of these accomplishments as we are. After all, as alumni, you are forever linked to UNB Law; when its star shines brightly, it reflects on all of you too.

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