Western first Canadian law school offering 1Ls corporate

March 31, 2016

By Mallory Hendry 
Chris NichollsAs of winter term, Western law became the first Canadian law school offering a corporate law course to first-year students.

“There are a number of career-related and academic advantages,” says Christopher Nicholls (left), the W. Geoff Beattie chair in corporate law and director of Western law’s business law program. 

“By giving them this chance, they get greater flexibility.” 

Corporate law is now a mandatory course in almost every law school in Canada, Nicholls says, so by offering the introductory course in first year, students can then pursue more specialized business courses sooner. 

The earlier course also helps those working in business law firms as summer students. They’ll have the chance to take corporate law before they start — an opportunity not offered in any other law school in Canada, Nicholls says.

A number of top law schools in the United States such as Harvard, Yale, and Stanford already offer corporate law as an elective for first-year students and have done so for a number of years. The option is not unheard of elsewhere in the world, but it is a new innovation for Canada, Nicholls says. For the professor, it’s a move that makes sense academically.

 “On the pedagogical side, we really think corporate law is an ideal course for many students in second term of first year because they get a chance to integrate concepts of a number of other courses they’ve taken in first term, and they get to do that in the context of a field where both statutes and judicial decision-making — case law — are important.

“I really think it’s an ideal opportunity for students to integrate all of these skills.”

The course is part of an expanded first-year curriculum aimed at providing students with opportunity for active, experiential learning. 

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

Nicholls began teaching law in 1997, and he says he is happy to have the chance to teach the course. 
Students seem enthusiastic and very engaged, he says, calling the course “a delight” to teach.

“I hope the students are enjoying the course as much as I’m enjoying teaching it. It’s great fun.”

The numbers speak for themselves — of the 176 first-year law students, 123 are enrolled in the new 1L corporate law class. Nicholls says if they’re right and “it has the benefits we think it has,” other Canadian law schools will want to offer the same option. 

“Only time will tell,” he says.

According to Danielle D’Alonzo, one of the almost 70 per cent of first-year law students in the course, the class is as good on the student side as it is from where Nicholls is standing. 

“Honestly, it’s been a great introduction. Professor Nicholls is such a great speaker — he’s so engaging, he’s clearly passionate about the topic, and that makes it a lot easier to sit through the two-and-a-half hour class,” D’Alonzo says.

“It’s something new for 1Ls, and I think it’s a good opportunity to get some exposure early on in our careers. We do the intro now and, come the fall, we can jump right in to more advanced classes.”  

For D’Alonzo, the course is something that sets Western apart from other law schools. She says it provides an advantage over students at other schools who won’t get their first taste of corporate law until second year.