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Access to Justice: Current Crop of Law Students Committed, Enthusiastic

The Honourable Thomas Cromwell

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

This article originally appeared on The Lawyer’s Daily on April 18, 2018. It is the seventh article in The Honourable Thomas Cromwell’s exclusive Lawyer’s Daily column dedicated to access to civil and family justice.

It is easy to get discouraged by the slow pace of progress on improving access to justice. But a constant source of encouragement is the enthusiasm and commitment of the current generation of law students.

Everywhere I encounter today’s law student, I see concern about the injustice of our current poor level of access to justice, interest in what can be done to improve it, and commitment to be part of the change to bring about that improvement. The interest and enthusiasm of students for work in legal clinics and with Pro Bono Students Canada and other access-oriented activities are some of the tangible evidence of their concern, interest and commitment.

I recently had the privilege and pleasure of being part of another manifestation of law students’ engagement with access to justice. The Society of Law Students at Thompson Rivers University organized a two-day conference on access to justice. The program can be found here.

In addition to presentations by students and faculty, the students hosted a number of special guests, including the Honourable Robert Bauman, chief justice of British Columbia, the Honourable Len Marchand, a justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia and the Honourable David Eby, minister of justice and attorney general of British Columbia. The organization was entirely student-directed and participation throughout the student body was significant.

I spoke with one of the co-chairs of the conference, Dave Barroqueiro, who is a second-year student. Dave’s take on access to justice and the profession’s role in improving it is bang on and shows how the next generation of lawyers understands the problem and wants to help to solve it. I asked him what lessons he drew from his work on the access to justice problem.

He started by speaking of the need for culture change: “The culture of law and of lawyers must change, and society isn’t willing to wait any longer. The legal industry itself, the profession’s self-insulation, and our paralyzing risk aversion, are undoubtedly major contributors to the access to justice crisis in Canada.”

He also recognized the role that lawyers and legal profession should and must play in improving access to justice: “ … the key to unlocking the solution to the access to justice crisis rests in the hands of legal professionals themselves — we simply need to be willing to adjust to the rapidly changing needs and demands of contemporary, digital-age clients.”

He stressed what he believes is the important part technology can have in bringing about the necessary changes: “Increasing the agility of lawyers and the efficiency of the delivery of legal services ought to be the principal focuses of the legal profession going forward.”

Finally, he recognized what many commentators have stressed: The necessity of responding better to the needs of the public seeking legal services. As he put it, “To think that we, even as a self-regulating profession, can overwhelm consumer-driven market forces for much longer is a delusion. The future practice of law will depend on an active, informed understanding of client needs.”

My impression is that Barroqueiro’s views are not unique. I believe they are shared by a lot of law students. Those in positions of power and influence should encourage and support this kind of thinking in the next generation of lawyers and at least make a start on the important work that they are keen to take up as they progress in their legal careers.

We are leaving them a big access to justice challenge. But I believe that they are up to it.

The Honourable Thomas Cromwell served 19 years as an appellate judge and chairs the Chief Justice’s Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters. He retired from the Supreme Court of Canada in September of 2016 and is now senior counsel to the national litigation practice at Borden Ladner Gervais.