Law schools are notoriously difficult to get into and the challenge increases over time as applications increase. Today’s post discusses the change in demographics in law schools since 1867. Only two Canadian law schools existed prior to Confederation; both in Quebec.
Women in Law
At, and shortly after, 1867 women could not participate in the legal system in what was then Upper Canada. Men exclusively ruled the law schools and the legal system until Clara Brett Martin came onto the scene. She petitioned the Law Society of Upper Canada to become the first female articling student but she was refused.1
However, like other influential women of her time, Martin was persistent. She refused to take no for an answer and introduced a provincial bill to allow women to attend law school and practice law.
In 1893, Martin’s conviction changed the legal profession forever.Her bill was passed, allowing women to be admitted to the law society as solicitors.2 Martin was admitted as a law student in the same year and helped pass legislation to allow women to become barristers. In 1897, she became the first female lawyer in the British Empire.
Martin opened the door for women to excel in law, which is reflected in Canadian law school demographics today. Since 2000 at the U of A, about half of all law students in the faculty are women.3
Aboriginal and Indigenous Lawyers
In 1954, William Wuttunee was the first Aboriginal person to graduate from law school in western Canada.4 A Cree man, Wuttunee worked tirelessly to develop Aboriginal law in Saskatchewan and later moved to the national scene.
On the west coast of Canada in BC, Aboriginal peoples were “pretty much restricted from becoming lawyers” until the 1950s.5 It was Alfred Scow who broke down that barrier, becoming both the first Indigenous law student and member of the bar in BC.6
Today, many law schools in Canada including the U of A have a separate application categories for Aboriginal law applicants. The schools recognize the persisting underrepresentation of Indigenous lawyers, and are working to correct the disparity.
Though Canadian law schools have admitted more women and Aboriginal students since 1867, admission remains difficult. While some schools like the University of Calgary have moved to a more wholistic approach to admission, high grades and LSAT scores remain important.
The average U of A law student admitted in 2016 had a GPA of 3.8 out of 4.0 (based on the last 2 years of post-secondary courses) and an LSAT score of 161 out of 180.7 The LSAT did not exist in 1867.8
In addition to the demographic diversity, the applicant pool continues to grow. In 1848, 23 men petitioned McGill University to create a law school.9 In the last few years, , McGill rejected over 80% of applicants and U of A rejected about 85%.10
1Constance Backhouse, Dictionary of Canadian Biography, (University of Torotono/Universite Laval, 2005) sub verbo “Martin, Clara Brett”, online: <www.biographi.ca/en/bio.php?id_nbr=7840>.
2John D. Blackwell, The Canadian Encylopedia, (2008) sub verbo “Clara Brett Martin”, online: <www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/clara-brett-martin/>.
3See the University of Alberta Faculty of Law JD Program FAQs, <www.ualberta.ca/law/admissions/juris-doctor/faq#WomenEnrolled>.
4Doug Cuthand, “Remembering William Wuttunee: Cree lawyer was a trailblazer”, CBC News (2 November, 2015), online: <www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/remembering-bill-wuttunee-1.3300662>.
5Yolande Cole, “B.C. judge Alfred Scow remembered as “aboriginal pioneer”, The Georgia Straight (8 March 2013), online: <www.straight.com/news/360396/bc-judge-alfred-scow-remembered-aboriginal-pioneer>.
6Allison Griner, “Aboriginal lawyers stride in footsteps of legal pioneer” (25 March 2013), online: <thethunderbird.ca/2013/03/25/aboriginal-lawyers-stride-in-footsteps-of-legal-pioneer/>.
7See the University of Alberta Faculty of Law JD Program applicant profile tab, <www.ualberta.ca/law/admissions/juris-doctor/applicant-profile>.
8William P. LaPiana, “A History of the Law School Admission Council and the LSAT”, (Keynote Address delivered at the 1998 LSAC Annual Meeting, 28 May 1998) [unpublished], online: www.lsac.org/docs/default-source/publications-(lsac-resources)/history-lsac-lsat.pdf.
9See McGill Faculty of Law’s “Our history” webpage, https://www.mcgill.ca/law/about/history.
10See the University of Alberta Faculty of Law JD Program FAQs, <www.ualberta.ca/law/admissions/juris-doctor/faq#AverageScores>.