Thursday, May 7, 2020

Thank you

During the unprecedented circumstances in which we find ourselves, your Law school responded with resilience and determination to finish the Winter semester. Our students, faculty and staff came together with resolve and an incredible cooperative spirit to maintain our academic standards in a vastly changed environment. I want to thank all concerned for their contributions. The path forward is uncertain, but our first steps along it augur well for our ability to continue to live up to the high standards that we collectively have set for ourselves. I have never been prouder to be a part of this community.

Some examples of the agility and generosity that has marked these past few weeks include a transition from all in-person classes to all online learning with only 48 hours notice. This transition required significant effort from faculty, staff and students, and all adapted quickly and positively. Another example is found in the recent creation of an additional 60 short-term summer research assistantships to respond to the growing need for employment opportunities for our students. Professors contributed their research funds to a general fund to make this happen. The new positions are in addition to more than 180, research, externship, and fellowship opportunities the Faculty funds annually, with generous support from donors, now totalling over $1 million in supported Faculty employment. 

Aside from the tumult of the last several weeks, 2019-20 was another successful academic year for our Faculty that will be remembered for much more besides COVID-19. We continue to attract exceptional students. We received over 2,100 applications for just over 200 JD positions, and were able once again to admit an exceptional group of students with a median GPA of 3.8 – out of 4.0 – and LSAT scores in the mid-nineties. Diversity and inclusion continue to be a top priority at U of T Law. Of the class, 33% of our first-year students were born outside of Canada and 35% are students of colour.  

In less than a decade, we have quadrupled our executive education program, the Global Professional LLM, with 120 outstanding professional students in the current cohort. GPLLM student Crystal Park received the inaugural Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC) Chief Justice Richard Wagner Award for her commitment to access to justice.

Our LLM and SJD graduate program reports a 57% international student enrolment, providing diversity of thought and experiences. Our exceptional students include, SJD candidate Jérémy Boulanger-Bonnelly who was named a Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar; SJD student Léa Brière-Godbout who was awarded the 2020-21 Viscount Bennett Fellowship and was also a finalist in the national competition for the SSHRC Impact Award; SJD candidate Nadia C.S. Lambek was selected to be a 2020-21 University of Toronto Jackman Humanities Institute fellow on the theme of ‘collectives’; SJD student Michaël Lessard's paper was recently cited by the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Friesen, 2020; the World Bank Legal Internship Program has welcomed its first SJD student from U of T, Kanksha Mahadevia Ghimire; and doctoral candidate Brooke MacKenziewho won US$17,300 during her Jeopardy! debut. (Along with Professor Anthony Niblett, we now have two Jeopardy! champions at the Faculty!) These are but a few examples of the talent of this cohort.  

These admissions numbers and incredible, gifted students reflect our stellar global academic reputation. This past fall, Times Higher Education (THE) ranked U of T Law in the top ten in the world. This is indeed a rare honour for a Canadian academic institution. 

As an example of the remarkable performances by our students this year, we had another terrific record in mooting. Student talents were on full display a s our student mooters argued jury representation and the Charter at our Grand Moot in October front of Chief Justice Wagner,Chief Justice Strathy and Madam Justice Davies. This past term, U of T Law swept several moots, including the Wilson Moot, Walsh Family Law Moot, Fox Intellectual Property Moot, Winkler Class Action Moot, the national round for the Jessup Moot as well as the Isaac Moot! In addition, a number of students received recognition as top oralists, best factums and more. 

Our students are not just great at academics, they engage in a variety of activities across University and in the community. For example, the Faculty of Law Athletic Association coordinates student participation in U of T’s Intramural Sports program and over 130 law students participated. Law teams won first-place divisional championships in co-ed hockey, women’s soccer, and men’s flag football, among others. This year, graduating student Karlota Borges was recognized with an intramural ‘T’ award for outstanding contribution to the intramural program.  

In February, the U of T Black Law Students' Association (BLSA) received the Black Law Student Association of Canada’s Small Chapter of the Year Award. This recognition is most deserved, following the successful launch of the Black Future Lawyers program in January and its February conference. The program, which is a collaboration between the Faculty, BLSA and alumni, is aiming to increase the numbers of Black students attending U of T Law, and other law schools, and subsequently joining the profession.  We currently have 70 Black-identified students in undergraduate programs placed with 57 volunteer mentors. With more than 100 students signed-up for mentoring, we are seeking additional legal community volunteers to join Black Future Lawyers – there is no requirement that they be U of T alumni, as we seek broader community support to help achieve BFL’s goals. Please help spread the word.  

Students are also active in volunteering at our outreach events, including BFL and See Yourself Here, which provides high school students from diverse backgrounds with a chance to learn more about law school, and our Welcome Day for newly admitted students. With nearly 160 students in attendance, it was our best-attended Welcome Day yet, and many alumni took part in meeting new students over lunch.  

There are a remarkable number and diversity of clubs and co-curricular programming at the Faculty. For example, there are the U of T Legal Hackers who hosted the Toronto site for the world’s largest legal hackathon, and the series of Indigenous law talks organized by our Indigenous Initiatives Office. Our students continue to have the opportunity to engage with our in-house legal clinics, including the David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights, Downtown Legal Services, and the International Human Rights Program. The Faculty also houses and supports Pro Bono Students Canada, which coordinates pro bono opportunities for law students at U of T and almost every other law school in the country. We are pleased to expand these offerings as we set to launch our new Investor Protection Clinic with the generous financial support of the Honourable Hal Jackman. We have welcomed back alumna Ivy Lam as the inaugural director. Starting this September, the clinic’s focus will be on engaging our students in helping protect vulnerable investors, such as the elderly. The Asper Centre will also be joined by alumnus Nader Hasan as the centre’s Constitutional-Litigator-in-Residence.  

We continue to partner with the Rotman School of Management in the OnBoard program, a corporate governance externship that connects students with local non-profit corporate boards. We also continue to partner with U of T Engineering connecting law students with Engineering’s startup accelerator, The Hatchery. These connections give law students experience in Toronto’s startup scene while simultaneously providing U of T entrepreneurs with valuable early-stage legal guidance.  

Our Leadership Skills programming continues to provide opportunities for students to develop their professional skills, such as networking, or professional communications. Lawyers Doing Cool Things brings relatively junior alumni back to campus to share their unique career perspectives.  

Our professors were also recognized with top honours this year: Anita Anand, alumna and professor, now on leave from the University while serving as MP and federal minister of public services and procurement, received the Yvan Allaire Medal for outstanding contribution in the governance of private and public organisations. Professor Audrey Macklin received both the President’s Impact Award and the Carolyn Tuohy Impact on Public Policy Award. Professor Gillian Hadfield was awarded Mundell Medal, Ontario’s prize for great legal writing. And University Professor and Albert Abel Chair of Law David Dyzenhaus has been honoured with a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship.  

We had record-breaking attendance at our alumni reunion on October 25 with 538 returning to campus, followed by class dinners recognizing years ending in 4 and 9. The class of 2014 had the largest turnout with 70 class members. While planning for the 2020 event continues for class years ending in 5 and 0, the current pandemic conditions may require some adjustment of our plans. We will advise of changes with as much advance notice as we are able to give.  

The Faculty of Law announced a $30 million campaign beginning January 1, 2015, to significantly deepen the financial aid pool and enhance the student experience. The Campaign for Excellence without Barriers, with a specific goal of raising $20 million for student financial aid, was the largest bursary-focused campaign at any Canadian law school.  

Increasing accessibility to the Faculty of Law for students who merit admission is our number one priority. The Faculty of Law awards bursaries only on the basis of financial need, and to those students who need it most. Increasing the financial aid pool helps support applications by top candidates with financial need, mitigates financial pressures for students during law school, and helps those in financial need post-graduation.   

December 31 marked the completion of our Campaign for Excellence without Barriers. I want to take a moment to thank our generous donors and volunteers once again. Together over 1,000 alumni and friends helped us achieve unprecedented support for our financial aid programs – thank you. In the coming weeks, I look forward to sharing the success of the campaign and gathering our donors and volunteers for a thank you event as soon as we are able.  

We are unfortunately unable to celebrate the 2020 class convocation in person as we had planned to do on June 5. We will instead be celebrating the students through digital means on June 5, and plan to gather with students and their families at future date.  

This will be my last academic-year-end message as Dean, with my term ending on December 31, 2020. It has been an honour and a privilege to serve as Dean for these six years, basking continuously in the reflected glory of the outstanding people in our community. But not only is renewal institutionally important, on a personal level, I am looking forward to thinking about law again full-time as I return to the professoriate. Before then, there are undoubtedly challenges ahead in the upcoming months, but I am heartened by the knowledge that our whole community will continue to face them together. 

Edward Iacobucci (LLB 1996)
Dean and James M. Tory Professor of Law