First-year Corporate Law course a first in Canada

January 20, 2016

Starting in the Winter Term, Western Law students will have the option of taking corporate law in their first year, an opportunity unique among Canadian law schools.

Though a number of leading U.S. law schools, including Harvard, Yale and Stanford, have made corporate law available as an elective for 1L students for a number of years, the Western Law initiative is a first for Canada. Approximately two-thirds of Western Law's first-year class have opted to take the Corporate Law course. 

According to Professor Christopher Nicholls, the W. Geoff Beattie Chair in Corporate Law and Director of Western Law’s Business Law program, the new “Corporate First” option offers important professional and pedagogical advantages.

“Corporate Law offers a unique perspective on the critical intersection of public and private law and the dynamic relationship between legislation and common law principles,” he says. “It also challenges students to grapple with fascinating and complex legal and policy issues surrounding perhaps the most powerful economic institution in modern society.”

Nicholls also noted that the “Corporate First” option allows students to take more specialized business law courses as early as the fall term of their second year, while their counterparts at other Canadian law schools are only just beginning their study of corporate or business organizations law.

The curriculum change follows the adoption of Western Law’s new strategic plan in 2014, part of an ambitious renewal program focused on curriculum reform and the reaffirmation of our goal to be the pre-eminent business law school in Canada.

It’s part of an expanded first-year curriculum introduced by the Faculty to provide students with greater opportunities for advanced, active and experiential learning.

“We’re committed to ensuring our JD program has the curricular and co-curricular experiences students need to succeed in their chosen careers,” says Dean Iain Scott.

This past fall, first-year students took a new, blended course entitled “Orientation to Law & the Legal System” which introduced them to foundational legal concepts and skills through online modules and short writing exercises.

The course also included a three-day intensive program in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), led by experienced mediators and arbitrators, during which students learned negotiating strategies and put them into practice through simulations.

“The conventional first-year law curriculum involves reading numerous appellate cases,” says Associate Dean (Academic), Erika Chamberlain. “It’s important for students to learn that most legal disputes are actually resolved outside of the courts.”

In fact, Western Law offered a range of new ADR opportunities for students this year. These included an upper-year intensive course dealing with mediation and the “circle” resolutions often used by First Nations or in cases involving juvenile offenders, as well as a three-week January intensive course in international arbitration law and practice.

Upper-year students will gain additional opportunities to practice their professional writing skills through a new writing requirement.

In addition, a series of curricular streams have been developed to provide students with informal guidance on the courses and co-curricular activities they may wish to pursue in light of their interests and career aspirations.

“The approach to legal education continues to evolve in Canada,” says Dean Scott, “and it’s critical our students have a diverse, inter-disciplinary and rigorous academic experience.”