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Ryerson has chance to break from traditional legal education: Handlarski

Ryerson University’s new law school brings with it the opportunity to revitalize legal education, Toronto criminal lawyer Ryan Handlarski tells

Ryerson is moving ahead with plans to open a new law school, which would be the eighth in Ontario, the Toronto Star reports. Ryerson is expected to hire a new dean, and begin accepting applications this fall, and open its doors to students by September 2020, the newspaper says.

Handlarski, principal of RH Criminal Defence, says Ryerson will focus on “entrepreneurship and innovation” but, more importantly, has the chance to break away from the customary law school model.

“What's exciting to me about a school like Ryerson is they are not married to the traditional brick and mortar type of legal education,” he says. “That’s why, in the current system, Ryerson’s existence is justifiable.”

Handlarski explains that law schools are patterned after Harvard, which “is nothing more than a tradition.”

He says he believes that model has become outdated, and new thinking is needed for the third year of legal education.

“I remember how painful third year was for me,” Handlarski says. “I had taken all the criminal law courses I was interested in during second year, and there I was in third year with an articling position, and having to go back and fill out my schedule with courses that I had no interest in.”

He says the old way of doing things is not necessarily the best, but "tradition has an incredibly powerful hold on human brains."

“When you start asking the question, 'Why do we do this?' you may not get a better answer than, ‘Well because we’ve always done it that way,'” Handlarski says. “So this is what to me is exciting about Ryerson. Maybe they will re-imagine the third year for students like me who were unhappy that time was being spent taking classes that had no application to my future career.”

He says instead of focusing on third-year courses that may have no relevance, law schools should consider allowing students the chance to broaden their horizons with something "either practical or creative."

“Ryerson may come along and say, 'In your third year you can shadow a criminal lawyer, or you can write a book, or write that legal article, or unleash some creative potential,'" says Handlarski. "I don’t know what Ryerson is going to do, but at least I can say from all indications they intend to break from traditional legal education."

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