A Ryerson law school could set up Toronto as a legaltech sandbox


Ryerson’s proposed law school looks to be a pretty safe bet to open, given approval in March by the Ryerson Senate. This follows the February blessing by the provincial regulatory body, the Law Society of Ontario.

While the law school still needs approval by Ryerson’s Board of Governors, this seems to be a rubber stamp at this point, and has done little to distract from the ongoing debate as to whether Canada needs another law school.

That answer seems to be pretty easy one: no, it does not. That said, there are compelling reasons for Ryerson Law to exist, and strong evidence that this new Toronto law school might actually be wildly successful.

A strong parallel here is our beloved National Hockey League and the ongoing glass slipper tale of the Vegas Golden Knights. Few argued that the league really needed to expand, as their thirty teams had wide geographical and deep market scope. And when this team was formed, some observed that they might actually be a decent expansion club. But while many have since jumped on the Knights’ bandwagon, truly very few predicted that in year one, this team would be competing for Lord Stanley’s Cup. Indulge my pun for a moment, but this is a hockey stick success curve.

It is possible that Ryerson might be faced with the same success trajectory, as they have already done a magnificent job in laying the foundation for a great law school. The top arguments supporting this are legal industry ones, but more importantly, they revolve around technology, startups, and Canadian legal entrepreneurs.

We need more direct paths to practice

Ryerson Law is going to be Canada’s second most direct path to practice — aside from Laurentian which is the best path for indigenous practitioners to begin a law practice. Ryerson will surely fold in their LPP (Law Practice Program) and graduate people who can, should they choose, hang out some kind of (ideally specialty) shingle.

Many share my own hazy reminiscences of sleepless law school nights, wondering how we would ever develop any skills to actually practice law, since law school appeared to be more about a paper chase for hidden library books and oddly disturbing legal writing classes than actual preparation to serve the needs of sentient humans with legal issues. Anything practical that Ryerson can continue to do to prepare people to be real-life lawyers is a huge plus.

Having a full arena every night is good

Back to the Golden Knights – they sold a huge number of season tickets and in their first season ranked 4th in the NHL in home attendance. As someone who has endured the misery of actually living in Las Vegas, I can tell you that it’s almost impossible to get locals out to anything as the city is a Leviathan of traffic jams and solo tourists exclaiming “we’re all going streaking!”. That so many were committed to support their hockey team from day one is impressive.

Becoming a legaltech entrepreneur is something that’s becoming increasingly desired among recent law grads.

Ryerson will have a fairly full school from day one because, located in Toronto and (obviously, hopefully, and wisely) having markedly lower admission standards to begin than University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law and York University’s Osgoode Hall (both of whom many agree with be in the top three law schools in Canada), Ryerson will be the law school that actually attracts people to stay home who otherwise couldn’t.

This staying home piece is massively important and home, here, isn’t just Toronto. Who will be impacted will be regional US schools such as nearby Michigan State University College of Law, who draw significant numbers of applicants from the Toronto area. Where the universities of Windsor and Saskatchewan were arguably one’s last chances to stay in Canada for law school, thus spake Ryerson, keeping up to 40 Canadian students at home each year, which is a fairly significant number given law school tuition costs.

We’ve already built it and they came

While Ryerson Law is new, law at Ryerson absolutely is not. This week marks the 3rd anniversary of Ryerson’s Legal Innovation Zone, which is the hub for legal innovation not only in Toronto, but in all of Canada. There is no way that Ryerson would have been granted a law school absent the amazing work of Chris Bentley, Hersh Perlis, and their team at LIZ.

Why this is important is simple: LIZ is peanut butter to the chocolate of a law school. It’s ridiculous that no one else in Canada has copied this. They have done so in the US, and it’s a really viable way for third- and fourth-tier US law schools to redefine their brand and use a quasi-fictitious innovation ranking to be in the same conversation as elite law schools.

Now, in 2018, even these elite American law schools are joining the innovation conversation; take a peek at the compelling mix of great and less stellar US law schools with innovation centers akin to LIZ. It’s going to be the best path for low first-tier schools to remain there and high second-tier schools to crack the top level of totally silly but hugely important US law school rankings.

If content is king, innovation is queen

It goes without saying that dressing up a bad law school just makes it a well-branded bad law school. But very few have concerns that Ryerson Law won’t run a rigorous academic program. So with the solid content and the world-class wealth of legal talent in Toronto, what should be an amazingly good permanent and adjunct faculty, innovation will be the rocket fuel that drives Ryerson’s success as a law school brand.

Ryerson Law will not only be a windfall for Canadian legal and legal education communities, but for the tech and startup ones as well.

This is a point that can’t be overstated. Innovation has the potential, in its first year, to make Ryerson an elite school in some circles. From as early as their third admission cycle on, there will be increasing applicant crossover between Ryerson and top local and regional competition. Ryerson Law won’t be a school that needs to worry about their initial shine wearing off.

The school will look so much better as its metal develops the patina that comes from hard work and holding true to vision behind adding a law school to a region and nation few believed needed even one more.

Toronto as the legal startup sandbox

Not only is it the Legal Innovation Zone’s third birthday, it’s been three years since MaRS Discovery District in Toronto launched LegalX, which allowed me to help dump some fresh sand in what became a rapidly-growing sandbox in Toronto and Canada. Together, LIZ and LegalX played a seminal role in relatively early legaltech culture in Toronto. The result three years later is that Toronto is a comparatively good place globally to be an early-stage legal entrepreneur.

When investors and accelerators look to Canada for legaltech solutions generally and — as they already are — for founders and startups well-versed in critical sub-verticals like AI and blockchain, they can form relationships with Ryerson Law and the Legal Innovation Zone, thereby investing in an entire, pre-built ecosystem. This has never before existed (as far as I know) at a university before they’ve opened their law school. This is critically important and, in the medium to long-term, will keep a lot more than 40 recent law graduates in Canada if they choose the startup path.

Becoming a legaltech entrepreneur is something that’s becoming increasingly desired among recent law grads and there are no signs that this will slow down soon. It would surprise few legaltech pundits to see “Y Combinator at Ryerson Law” or something similarly branded.

None of what is stated here takes anything away from the many cogent arguments against a new law school in Canada. But when, as good lawyers are trained to do, you take a dispassionate and broad view of the evidence, it’s pretty clear that Ryerson Law will not only be a windfall for the Canadian legal and legal education communities, but for the technology and startup ones as well.

Photo via Burst.


Aron Solomon

Aron Solomon was a Senior Advisor and the founder of LegalX at MaRS. He lives in Berlin, where he is the founder of Aron Brand Ventures EU and remains active in the global legal innovation scene.

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