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OsgoodePD at 20: A Look Back

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Twenty years ago this Fall, this organization was launched by Osgoode Hall Law School with great vision and a leap of faith. And while 20 years is young compared to the law school itself (126 this year!), the remarkable growth and innovation that have made Osgoode Professional Development an important and unique part of the Canadian legal landscape makes it a milestone worth celebrating. In this post, the first of a few on this theme, I’ll attempt a short history, recognizing along the way some of the Osgoode leaders who got us here.  In posts to come, I’ll talk about the remarkable members of the Bar and Bench who’ve worked with us to make OsgoodePD the place where theory meets practice.

Marilyn Pilkington
Marilyn Pilkington

In 1995, the Part-time LLM in Alternative Dispute Resolution was launched under the umbrella of the “Professional Development Program” (or “PDP”) of Osgoode Hall Law School. Part-time LLM programs in Business Law (directed by Warren Grover), Banking & Financial Services Law (directed by Professor Ben Geva), and Tax Law (directed by Professor Neil Brooks) had been launched prior to 1995.  Under the leadership of Dean Marilyn Pilkington, however, the decision was made to bring the Part-time LLM programs together into one centre with a common mission: to provide a high quality graduate program designed for practicing lawyers. Given the emphasis on specialization in legal practice, the aim was to provide the opportunity to gain the advanced knowledge needed to develop expertise in a specific practice areas, and to build curriculum that would meet the needs of lawyers after they left law school.

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The early years of the PDP, under Director John Claydon, were heady ones indeed. The LLM in ADR, lead by Professor Paul Emond, was a roaring success, tapping into pent-up demand for advanced study in the theory and practice of Alternative Dispute Resolution. The approximately 450 alumni of that program to date are the leading thinkers, practitioners and teachers in dispute resolution in Canada and elsewhere. The thoughtful and continuous re-working of that program has lead to the LLM in Dispute Resolution (no longer “Alternative”) that thrives today under the leadership of Leslie Macleod (a graduate of the first cohort).

Peter Hogg
Peter Hogg

New LLM specializations were launched in rapid succession following the success of the ADR program.  Classes were held in  rented facilities in downtown Toronto but by 2000 it became clear that a downtown campus was needed to house the growing PDP.  In 2000, Dean Peter Hogg and John Claydon made the decision to rent space at the corner of Yonge and Dundas, at that time a relatively “low rent” commercial area but on the subway line and close to PDP’s clientele. This was a bold step. I think it’s fair to say that taking that kind of financial risk is outside the comfort zone of most legal academics, and this was the first of several in the life of PDP/OsgoodePD.

The PDP thrived in its new home and with new innovations that expanded the reach of the Part-time LLM. Video-conferencing of some programs was introduced in 2001, and students in various cities could access the degree by attending at video-conference facilities, often provided by law firms. While distance learning by various means has become commonplace today, it’s easy to forget that just a few short years ago, it was highly innovative, especially in graduate programs.

Gary Watson
Gary Watson

With evenings and weekends booked with LLM classes, it only made sense to use weekdays for non-credit continuing legal education programs, and the PDP started offering programs including Evidence Law for Civil Litigators, Written Advocacy (in partnership with The Advocates’ Society), and a bi-annual conference on Search and Seizure Law. The Osgoode Intensive Trial Advocacy Workshop, founded in 1979 by Professor Garry Watson, was also brought under the PDP umbrella and formed the foundation for legal skills programs in many areas.

Patrick Monahan
Patrick Monahan

I had the great good fortune to be hired by Dean Patrick Monahan in late 2004 to grow the PDP.  As a former trade-mark champion and lawyer at Coca-Cola Canada, I was struck that “Osgoode” was not front and centre in the name (really, is there a better legal brand in Canada than “Osgoode”?), and the PDP became Osgoode Professional Development.  With Dean Monahan’s enthusiastic support, we set about becoming the world’s leader in law school lifelong learning.

A first step was to look at who we were serving.  Just over ten years later, we have dozens of programs (including more than 25 non-credit certificate programs) directed to professionals and executives who are not lawyers but have legal risks and responsibilities in their jobs. Many of these programs are offered in a face-to-face format outside of Toronto and several are online.  A further step was to look beyond Ontario. Demand for our certificates has taken us to Nunavut and Jamaica and brought us students from  Trinidad, Kenya and Singapore.

Like other Canadian organizations, we were challenged with making our offerings accessible to a dispersed population. In 2008, we were the first to launch desktop video-conferencing.  Today, students can join our LLM classes from anywhere, and this capability has immensely enriched the learning experience.  It’s not unusual to have real time class discussions involving a Nunavut Crown, a Thunder Bay defence lawyer and a Fredericton Crown.  Many of our other offerings are live-streamed over the web in real time, and the recordings are archived for later access in our growing catalogue of On Demand offerings. Like other educators, we grapple with how to continuously improve the experience of our online audience and create intimacy over vast distances.

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2008 was a big year for other reasons too. There was no money to improve the facilities at 1 Dundas when they were acquired in 2000. We undertook a renovation of the entire facility, resulting in a refreshed space with splashes of bold Osgoode red throughout. We finally had a home that looked the part.

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2008 also saw the first year of our first program directed primarily at internationally-trained lawyers: a full-time LLM in International Business Law with an optional internship under the leadership of Professor Jinyan Li . This year, we have students from all of the world’s major regions, including a growing number of students originating in the Middle East and Latin America, in addition to our initial base of India, Nigeria and China.

During Dean Lorne Sossin’s tenure, we’ve added an LLM in Canadian Common Law, directed by Professor Faisal Bhabha, a fully online exam prep course for the NCA examinations (with help from the Province of Ontario), and a Pre-LLM Foundations program to assist students who need bridging into our full-time LLM programs.  As our body of full-time students grew, the “Part-time LLM” morphed into the “Professional LLM”.

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Many of the best OsgoodePD offerings have been developed with partners, both within and outside the legal community.  Dean Sossin has been instrumental in some of our recent partnerships. In addition to our long-standing partnership with The Advocates’ Society, in the last few years we’ve worked to develop programs with the International Property Tax Institute, the Society of Ontario Adjudicators and Regulators, and the Forum for Canadian Ombudsman, to name just three. On the horizon are other kinds of partnerships, with law and other faculties in Canada and elsewhere.

It’s not possible, in a blog post, to capture the spirit of this place or recognize the students, staff and faculty who have made it so unique (but follow us here and on @osgoodepd and #20atOsgoodePD as we try!). In 20 years, not only has the name changed, the face of OsgoodePD has changed (and that face is now often on a mobile or desktop screen). And as I scan the landscape, I’m pretty confident,  thanks to the vision of our leaders and commitment of well over 1000 practitioners, judges and others who’ve been involved in OsgoodePD over the last 20 years, that OsgoodePD is the leader in law school lifelong learning.

As for our 1 Dundas home, well, we’re running out of space.  Stay tuned …


vwatkinsVICTORIA WATKINS
Assistant Dean and Executive Director, OsgoodePD

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