Criminal Law

New law school should be seen as opportunity for innovation: Rosen

By Randy O'Donnell, Associate Editor

A new Toronto law school should include a centre of study to develop lawyers and solutions for the 21st century, says Toronto criminal lawyer John Rosen.

Rosen, founder of Rosen & Company Barristers, says Ryerson University's decision to proceed with its plans to open a new law school by 2020, should be seen as an opportunity to lead the profession into the future.

“A university law school is also a think tank for professors who come up with innovative ideas about the law and produce papers on its different facets,” he tells

“If you blend that into the law school, allow them to be leaders in law reform and practice reform in both an academic and practical sense, then the law school becomes that much more attractive.”

Rosen points to the development of a new mega courthouse in Toronto as an example of where such a centre of studies could have been helpful.

Tentatively scheduled for completion in 2021, the $1-billion courthouse near University Avenue and Queen Street West is meant to consolidate most of the city’s criminal courts.

Since the project was first announced in 2017, the legal profession has raised concerns about logistics, security, and access to justice — all issues a law school think tank could have played a part in addressing, Rosen says.

“At 9 a.m., when people are going to court, and they’re going through security, you’re going to have rival gangs showing up at the front door from all over the city. It’s a security nightmare," says Rosen, a recipient of both the Ontario Law Society Medal (2010) and the 2018 G. Arthur Martin Criminal Justice Medal.

“That’s at one end. At the other extreme, people living in the eastern reaches of Toronto are going to have to take transit all the way downtown to the courthouse, lose a half-day of pay they can ill-afford to lose, just to show up to say, ‘I’m in the process of getting a lawyer. Can I have another three weeks.’

“These are examples of how a think tank designed to address issues of the practicalities of running the legal system can help evolve it into the 21st century. That’s what we need, and Ryerson was perfectly positioned to make that offer.”

Rosen says a law school centre of studies could also be instrumental in examining best practices and how they can be incorporated into Ontario’s justice system.

For example, he cites Australia, where counsel is required to number exhibits with the registrar long before proceedings start. He estimates that could save between one and three days of court time during a lengthy trial.

Rosen points to British Columbia and the U.S. where digital court files are centralized, giving the public access to electronic documents.

There are also innovative solutions in Ontario that could be expanded, he says.

“One of the judges was telling me that they have a program on the civil (litigation) side where instead of actually going to court to speak to a case, to set a date or do an adjournment, for example, you can actually do it by Skype. He says it’s the most underutilized technology in the system,” says Rosen.

“People still insist on coming to the courtroom and putting their gown on. It points to the lack of efficiency. I could have my law clerk do it from the office.”

He says Ryerson should be less interested in producing a grad class of 150 each year than about preparing its students to shape the future of the profession.

Rosen says the majority of graduates leave law school facing a huge debt and they should expect to receive an education that’s “extremely valuable for that kind of money.”

He shared those thoughts in 2010 with people working on Ryerson’s law school proposal during early discussions into its development.

“I told them that at the end of the day, you should have students that come out with a different kind of legal education. It’s similar, but they're thinking about the profession, and practising law in a new way.

“You talk about access to justice. What does that mean? Does it mean putting 150 more lawyers on the street every year when, in fact, the market is already saturated?" Rosen says.

“Or, does access to justice mean putting out 21st-century lawyers who can streamline the system, and help the average person actually access the courts in an efficient and cost-effective way? That’s what technology and innovation are all about.”

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