Q&A with Dean Holloway
Guest contribution from Dean Holloway
Hi, Dean Holloway. How are you doing? How has your summer been?
Hi! Things are well. And it’s been a pretty good summer. I’ve mostly stuck close to home, which was nice. I’ve done my best to avoid the chaos that is the Canadian air transportation industry these days. Since May, I’ve had four trips on law school business, and three of them have involved cancellations or significant delays. So as much as I love to travel, being a homebody for now is just fine by me!
What’s on your mind these days? What’s the Fall going to look like, do you think?
That’s the $64,000 question! Those who know much more about these things than I do are predicting an uptick in Covid cases as we move back indoors. Whether that will lead to an uptick in hospitalizations, we don’t know yet. I hope it won’t, but the experience in Australia, a country I often compare us to, suggests that it might.
So would that mean that we pivot back online?
I don’t know yet. That’s the honest answer. For one thing, those decisions are made at the University level, not on the level of individual Faculties.
What about masking?
Again, I have no authority to invoke a mask mandate. What I can do is to encourage people to wear masks, and to say that if someone feels more comfortable in a mask, then they shouldn’t have even a moment’s hesitation to wear one. There should be no peer pressure to go maskless. None.
Can you give us a glimpse on your current thinking regarding Covid and its impact on legal education?
No one is happy that we’ve had to go through this. And I wish it would disappear tomorrow. But it won’t, so we need to learn to adapt. And while it remains a work in progress, we have learned that distance education can work in law school. That may seem an odd thing to say - distance education has been around for more than a century, so why wouldn’t it work for law? In fact, we had our first online case here at UCalgary Law more than ten years ago. And I myself taught an experimental course via video link twenty-five years ago. But the truth is that in the Canadian setting, distance ed only existed at the margins. Now, we’ve learned that it could very successfully be made more mainstream.
Now I continue to believe that the nature of our profession - which is a “people profession”, if there ever were one - is such that a legal education still needs to be primarily in-person. But we should no longer be afraid of using technology to extend the reach of our classroom. And we’re doing that. This year, for example, we’ve got one Sessional Lecturer who will be teaching from Toronto, and another from Vancouver. And while we weren’t able to pull it off in the end, the Associate Deans and I explored jointly offering a course with a law school in Africa. That’s the wonderful thing about our school - we aren’t afraid to try non-mainstream things like this if it might enhance the educational experience.
Do you see us significantly expanding the number of online courses we run?
My hunch is that the number will continue to grow. But there is another important factor. That is that the Federation of Law Societies, which is the professional accreditation body for law schools in Canada, currently says that in order to be approved, a law degree needs to be primarily in person. Partly because of the lessons we’ve all learned from the pandemic, they’ve got a committee that is currently looking at this issue, so things may change in the future. But for now, there are limits on how far we could go with online education.
What about the impact on the legal profession and the practice of law?
This is something that I actually think about a lot. Clearly, the legal profession has learned just as well as most every other business that working from home is a possibility. Maybe not for every role, but for lots of them. So since 2020, we’ve seen some law firms shrink their office space, and replace individual offices with so-called “drop in” offices. And for many lawyers, especially those in big cities like Toronto, New York and London, not having to fight the commuting battle each day is a real treat. I know a Canadian lawyer who practices in London. She told me that her commute was about three hours each day. She’s thrilled with being able to work from home three or four days a week.
So there is a lot to like about the new work from home regime. But I have one significant worry about it from the perspective of a student or young lawyer. That is, how will they develop their professional networks within their firms. As a newbie, almost every day you find yourself faced with uncertainly. You used to be able to poke your head in a lawyer’s office, and ask, “How do I do this?” There was also what I call the serendipity factor at play. I practiced labour law. I became a labour lawyer because one day when I was Articling, the head of the labour group poked his head in the Library (which is where all the students worked), and said, “Come with me.” Literally, that’s how my career began. And those sorts of things are so much harder if one isn’t working in an office environment. So I do worry about the impact of working from home on the lives of law students and young lawyers.
Last year was the first year for the foreign-trained lawyers program. Can you tell us about that? Why did we start it?
Yes, it was the first year of the FTLP. I’m not sure I’d recommend starting a brand-new program like this in the midst of a global pandemic. But we did. And while we had some bumps in the road, it went very well all things considered.
Why did we do it? In short, it’s because there is a major need for programs like it. There is an odd disconnect under our constitutional structure regarding professionals - not just lawyers , but also accountants and engineers and doctors - who move to Canada. They get points under the immigration system, which is federal, for their qualifications. But then those qualifications, which under our constitution are governed by the provinces, aren’t easily recognized. That’s why you find so many eminently-qualified recent migrants working in jobs they are not suited for. Through our FTLP, we are trying to make a modest contribution to remedying that by giving foreign-trained lawyers an avenue to practice law in their new country.
I know that you worry a lot about finances. We also know that we deliberately chose not to seek a tuition increase last year - unlike the U of A. Can you talk about that?
Yes. Apart from Covid, I worry a lot about finances. We’ve had a series of significant budget cuts in recent years. And we’re now seeing something that we haven’t seen in a while, which is inflation. So it’s getting more and more challenging to continue to provide the level of education that we do. That’s especially the case for a school like ours, which places such a premium on experiential learning. It’s a big issue, and I assume that it’s only going to get bigger as we go forward.
What else is on your mind these days?
The biggest thing in my mind - professionally that is - is wellness. Physical wellness, of course. But also mental wellness. These past two and a half years have taken an extraordinary toll on us all. Many people are doing their best to show a stiff upper lip, and in a way, I admire that. But the reality is that so many of us are hurting and need support. There are limits to what we can do - partly because of the finances, as I just talked about - but re-building a sense of community and mutual connectedness among all of us in the law school, students, faculty and staff alike, is the thing I think about more than any other these days.
Thank you for saying that, Dean. Any concluding words?
No, thank you for allowing me to do this. Concluding words? Well, it has been a terrible two and a half years. But there have been so many instances that have made one feel proud to belong to the UCalgary Law family. We’ve continued to advance the Calgary Curriculum, we’ve hired new professors and staff, we started a new program, and we’ve graduated three wonderful classes of fresh law graduates. All in the midst of the worst global health crisis the world has seen in a century - and while having to administer a series of major budget cuts. When you think about that, it’s really quite amazing what we’ve accomplished together.
Just yesterday, we had this summer’s group of innovation interns do their project presentations. Every one of them was great - really great. And it reminded me that UCalgary Law truly is a special place. We do things here that no one else in Canada does. And I’m lucky to be a part of it. I hope others feel that way, too.