Bora Laskin Law Library

By Lucianna Ciccocioppo / Photo by Gordon Hawkins

From the Fall/Winter 2017 issue of Nexus

Lionel Schipper, Class of 1956, calls his three years of law school in a two-storey house on Baldwin Street “transformational.”

“The first-year class was the biggest class, and we were taught in the old living room.” The library was in the dining room, he explained, and the den housed the stacks. “It was a tiny law school, about 85 students, where everyone knew everyone. It was quite an amazing place: the spirit, the dedication, the relationships.”

Schipper returned for a visit recently to chat with Dean Edward Iacobucci and to remember the classmates and other alumni who made the Bora Laskin Law Library a reality in 1991.

He was a co-chair of the law school’s first-ever campaign, together with James Tory, co-founder of Torys LLP, at the request of then-Dean Frank Iacobucci.

After Frank Iacobucci became U of T’s vice-president and provost, they worked with Dean Robert S. Prichard to bring the project to fruition. A volunteer committee was formed with alumni from all eras and the dean, and one staff person Billie Bridgman was hired.

“The law school’s advancement department consisted of Dean Pritchard; he was all we needed,” said Schipper. “The strategy was pretty simple. We all believed we had the best law school in Canada—one of the best law schools in North America—and by every test, we had the worst library of any law school. So, that was an easy sell. Getting the dollars was harder, in the sense we were starting something brand new—at ground zero.”

But galvanizing alumni proved easier than expected.

“Every graduate, I think even until this day, but certainly in the '50s, '60s, '70s, had this special connection with and affection for the law school that I had, and the folks in my class had. So, it was really easy to recruit volunteers.” Then came the ‘asks.’

“I remember calling my pal and former Goodmans partner, Herb Solway, and telling him the amount I hoped from Goodman, and I think his response was ‘Are you crazy?!’ Not a surprising response since the amounts that we were asking for were unheard of, at the time. I mean, in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. But they agreed to do it.

“It was a success, and of course, we were doing it for Bora Laskin, who was a much beloved professor and friend and great jurist, so the connection to Bora just made it that much easier to sell people on the concept of giving.”

He was nothing if not determined: “Somewhere along the line maybe the cost went up a bit or else we were not getting quite the response we were hoping for in some places. And I remember I went back to Goodman & Goodman and said: ‘You remember I asked you for X? Well, how about 2X or some other number?’ We had an interesting discussion over that,” he explained with a chuckle.

Today, the names of those who envisioned the Bora Laskin Law Library are remembered in an elegant commemorative book and with a plaque, in a prominent place at the law library for everyone to see, enjoy—and appreciate the vision.

“Bora and Cesar Wright, the founding dean, were our heroes. Bora, of course, went on to become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. He was someone we knew and called our friend. It was very exciting to do something for the law school, and honour his memory.”

Added Schipper: “For me, the new Bora Laskin Law Library, in the new Jackman Building—in the context of Baldwin House—is breathtaking; it's fantastic what's happened.”