Dean's Message | Spring 2020 | NEXUS Magazine | The Faculty of Law | UNB

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Faculty of Law
UNB Fredericton

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Dean's message

Our future is bright. Let’s get to work.

In July of 2015, my wife, Jane Thomson, and I were out for a walk near Golf Club Road in Fredericton with our daughter Ruth. We were visiting my mother-in-law as we did several times a year. Jane’s family is from Newcastle, New Brunswick, and she graduated from Fredericton High School. Although I grew up in Montreal, I left at age 17 to attend Acadia University and have always felt at home in the Maritimes.

At the time of this summer visit, I was a faculty member at the University of Ottawa and Jane was teaching there part-time, while practicing family and estates law. “Let’s email the dean and see if UNB Law is hiring this year,” I said to Jane. She was surprised by my suggestion. Jane hadn’t really contemplated moving back home. That night I emailed then Dean John Williamson; he responded almost immediately, inviting us to meet him the next day. This was a good sign...

A year later, Jane and I joined the Faculty together. It has turned out to be one of the best decisions of our personal and professional lives. We are incredibly fortunate. Of course, being in the same city as our family and lifelong friends was a welcome change. But it has been so inspiring to be part of the renewal of this remarkable Law School, which has an enviable history of excellence and achievement. Many people forget that just twenty years ago, UNB Law was ranked second in the country behind only the University of Toronto.

When Jane and I started at the Faculty, we had a sense that it was ready to reclaim its place at the top of Canadian legal education. That’s because, before our arrival, the Faculty had hired several promising new professors and retained its most prominent and experienced ones. We thought that this combination of new energy and institutional wisdom would soon result in significant progress. After four years, I’m delighted to say our hunch was right.

Every member of our Faculty, from the newest to the longest-serving, is united in a common vision. Last November, this vision was formalized into a Strategic Plan—a blueprint for UNB Law’s revitalization. It sets a bold and ambitious agenda, one that the University’s Senate and Board of Governors unanimously endorsed.

I am incredibly honoured and excited to have been chosen to lead the implementation of our Strategic Plan over the next five years. This will be my mission as your new Dean. Thanks to the devotion of our alumni, students, faculty, and staff, UNB Law’s future is bright. We have recommitted to the values that helped our Faculty emerge as a top national law school in the 1990s—small class sizes, a professionally relevant curriculum, research that makes a difference, personal attention to students, and a collegial learning and working environment.

At the same time, we have recognized that the world has changed in the last two decades, and to regain our standing, we need to innovate in key areas. Specifically, we need to update our aging building, not just to meet the requirements of 21st-century legal education and the expectations of today’s students, but also to project our sense of pride as an institution with great aspirations. We need to embrace experiential learning as an extension of our “career-ready” ethos, develop a unique graduate program, and diversify our curriculum. We need to be at the forefront of addressing societal challenges by promoting excellence in research, using technology to share our contributions with the world, and becoming a partner in the administration of justice. And we need to do all of this while becoming more accessible to students from all backgrounds.

These broad objectives, which are the result of over a year of study and consultation, are designed to position UNB Law as a top-five national law school in the next decade. This isn’t just a dream. It can and it will come true. Indeed, despite the disruption and distraction of the pandemic, meaningful progress toward these goals is already happening.

In October, we reached a $120,000 partnership agreement with the University to fund our Legal Clinic as a three-year pilot project. This will allow us to hire a staff lawyer and dedicate office space for students to help provide legal representation to those who cannot afford it. The new UNB Legal Clinic will fill significant gaps in the Province’s legal aid system—in areas like housing, social benefits, employment, and human rights—and offer students invaluable practical experience. We also finalized a partnership with WorkSafeNB and the Department of Post-Secondary Education Training and Labour to offer a new administrative tribunal internship. Through this internship, our students will support all parties before the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal (WCAT). We consider this to be a first step toward our vision of a Legal Observatory, through which the Law School will host proceedings of all kinds, allowing students and faculty to watch, reflect upon, and participate in the administration of justice.

In November, our Faculty Council approved a plan to make important upgrades to our facilities, including a renovated student lounge with a full kitchen, new flooring, ceiling, and lighting, improved cabinetry, lounge and dining spaces, and modern furniture. After so much time away from UNB Law, we want to welcome our students back with a special space just for them. In the same vein, we will be replacing the painful wooden chairs in rooms 14 and 15 with comfortable ones, ensuring that the return to in-person learning is as pleasant as possible. The renovation will also feature modifications to the front entrance, making it wheelchair accessible.

As a Law School known for personal attention to students, it’s fitting that this first phase of upgrades will focus on them. These building improvements will also help UNB Law continue to attract the best students from across Canada, allowing us to offer facilities that are comparable to other law schools. Of course, this project has a cost and we hope that we can count on the support of our alumni to make it a reality.

Our recent initiatives also include an alumni mentorship program, through which we match graduates with current UNB Law students living in the same city. This program was initially meant for our first-year students, but it quickly expanded to upper-year students due to the large number of alumni volunteers. In addition, we launched a podcast featuring discussions with the outstanding people who are part of our community. In this edition of Nexus, you can read some of my interview with the first guest on the UNB Law Podcast, Ann Gushurst (LLB ‘94).

Another recent success was the Hon. William Henry Harrison Moot Court Competition, which we held virtually this year. As you will read in this issue, the online format allowed us to attract a full panel of real judges, one from every level of court—the Court of Queen’s Bench, the Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court of Canada. The Competition was broadcast live and watched by over a hundred people from across the country.

In the following pages, you will read more stories that foreshadow UNB Law’s bright future. Our professors are tackling society’s biggest challenges, our students are excelling locally and nationally, and our alumni are leading at every turn. We are small and we are mighty. There is no goal too big for us to achieve. Let’s get to work.