May 22, 2018  
University of Alberta Calendar 2016-2017 
University of Alberta Calendar 2016-2017 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

History of the Law Faculty

Return to: Faculty of Law 

Early Foundations

Law students at the Faculty of Law in Edmonton from 1912 to 1921 attended classes early in the morning and late in the afternoon at the Edmonton Courthouse while clerking for firms for the remainder of the day. This changed in 1921 when the Faculty shifted from the professional model of part-time instruction to the university model of full-time legal education. The establishment of a university-based model of legal education was inspired by changes instituted at Harvard Law School by Dean Langdell. It demanded a scholarly approach to law as an academic discipline.

President HM Tory, the first president of the University of Alberta, was committed to this model and was instrumental in its implementation. In 1921, the Faculty of Law was reorganized to provide a three-year course of full-time study on campus, leading to the LLB (designation changed to JD in 2011). Instructors used the Socratic method of instruction in which students were expected to come to class prepared to participate in a thorough and sophisticated analysis of the case law. Mandatory moot court exercises were introduced in 1921 to improve students' research and rhetorical abilities; this vital part of legal education continues to this day. John Alexander Weir was the Faculty's first full-time teacher. Weir was chosen for a 1914 Rhodes Scholarship and, after three years of service in the RAF as a Flying Officer, he earned a Bachelor of Arts with first-class honours from Oxford. He was hired as a lecturer in 1921 and became the first Dean of Law in 1926. He continued in that capacity until his untimely death in 1942. Two John A Weir Memorial Scholarships are offered annually to students entering the Faculty.

Growth of the Faculty

Until the end of the Second World War the Law Faculty remained relatively small. There were only two full-time Faculty members and most classes contained fewer than 20 students. The size of the Faculty began to swell after World War II when veterans began legal studies in preparation for joining the postwar economy. In 1945, Wilbur F Bowker was hired to teach full time. He became Acting Dean in 1947, and Dean of Law in 1948. Dean Bowker was destined to steward the Faculty through a remarkable period of growth and consolidation. The full-time teaching complement expanded. The Law Faculty and its library was moved from its cramped quarters in the Arts Building to the first floor of the Rutherford Library.

The Modern Law Faculty

By the mid-1960s the Faculty of Law had again outgrown its facilities. In 1972, the Law Centre was officially opened, consolidating administrative and Faculty offices, institutes, students' groups and the library into a building specifically designed for the Faculty. The facilities offer comfortable classrooms, a well-appointed Moot Courtroom and one of the finest law libraries in Canada. The Law Centre is now home to more than 500 law students and 35 full-time members of Faculty. The Faculty has many nationally and internationally recognized scholars, and their articles, books and treatises are widely used in law schools, court houses and law firms throughout Canada. Close ties to the legal profession are maintained by virtue of the contributions of more than 50 members of the judiciary and practising bar who serve as sessional lecturers.

The process of building the Faculty continues, thanks in no small part to the financial commitment of individual and corporate donors. Law Campaign 75, launched in 1995, raised over $4 million. Some of these financial resources were devoted to expanding and enhancing the Law Centre's physical plant, including technologically advanced classrooms, library space and a renovated moot court room. Funds were also used to support the moot court program and establish new scholarships and bursaries for students. Law Campaign 2008, which was launched in 2005, has resulted in contributions and pledges of over $18 million. These funds are being used to meet Faculty priorities such as additional financial support for students and student programs; new chairs and professorships; and upgrades to our facilities, including the creation of new student service, teaching and research space as a result of the opening of the Frank and Beverley MacInnis Centre.

The Future

Although the complexion of the Faculty has changed over the years, its aspirations have not. The Faculty holds fast to its fundamental belief in the value of university legal education and the importance of legal research. It strives to impart the knowledge, skills and ethical values that will enable its students to add their own life's work to the enduring legacy of scholarship, service and achievement left by its distinguished graduates.