History: The Purpose and Evolution of the Dean’s Forum

This section outlines how the Dean’s Forum initiative, related law school course, and topics have unfolded.

Setting the Stage

The Dean’s Forum was born out of a vision to bring a selection of justice system stakeholders in Saskatchewan together to discuss the problem of access to justice and to begin designing a process of action to address the problem. The decision was made to host the Forum at the College of Law, which was well-positioned as a neutral stakeholder to play the role of convener. 

The First Meeting: September 2013

For the first meeting of the Forum, invitations were sent to those who were identified as potential decision-makers in the justice system in Saskatchewan, many of which hold high-level positions in their departments. The hope was that the membership of Forum participants would evolve as issues were explored and other voices could participate in the discussion. For the first meeting, attendees included judges from all levels of Saskatchewan Courts, members from the Ministry of Justice, the Law Society, the Saskatchewan Branch of the Canadian Bar Association, Legal Aid, and a handful of other justice-related organizations in Saskatchewan.

The goal for the first meeting of the Forum was to locate the access to justice debate within the Saskatchewan context and begin an open discussion about challenges, needs, hopes, and possibilities. By the end of the day, the group had identified three areas to focus reform efforts: (1) early integrated triage service centres; (2) public information at critical gaps; and (3) engaging practicing lawyers in a legal culture shift. Furthermore, the group decided that the Dean’s Forum should continue as a think-tank discussion forum.

Summary notes from 2013 Dean’s Forum Meeting (VIEW) 

Preparing for the Second Meeting: Student Involvement

There was considerable interest among Forum participants in having the three focus areas further developed through some interim project work before meeting again for further discussion and planning. The College of Law recognized the potential for supporting these efforts by involving students in background research and development. Accordingly, the College of Law granted course credit to seven students committed to access to justice through a Special Topics Course called “Innovation in Justice: Dispute Resolution and Access to Justice”.

The students in the course divided into two groups to research and develop reports on the topics of (1) integrated service centres (including public information at critical gaps); and (2) justice innovation and the culture of the legal profession. 

The Second Meeting: March 2014

The Forum reconvened at the College of Law in March 2014 with many of the same attendees, as well as a few additions, including the student researchers and the Honourable Mr. Justice Cromwell and Jeff Hirsch, as part of their nation-wide presentation tour regarding their Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters report. Other additions included key community-based stakeholders with a specific interest in addressing access to justice concerns in Saskatchewan.

The goal for the day was to continue discussion on the two topics and identify some tangible next steps.

The bulk of the day was devoted to the discussion of the two topics of (1) integrated service centres; and (2) justice innovation and the culture of the legal profession. It became clear that there was consensus on a desire to move forward with the development of an Integrated Service Centre, which attracted support from the Ministry of Justice. There was less consensus developed around the legal culture topic, though many interesting ideas emerged for further discussion and exploration in the future.

Summary notes from the 2014 Dean’s Forum (VIEW)
Justice Innovation and the Culture of Legal Practice (student policy discussion paper (VIEW) 
Bridging the Gap: The Prospect of Integrated Service Centres (student policy discussion paper) (VIEW)

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Dean's Forum 2014

Photo: Student participants of the first offering of the Dean's Forum course pose with Jeff Hirsch and Justice Cromwell at the March 2014 meeting.

Summer Student Innovators: Summer 2014

With support from the Ministry of Justice, the College of Law created two “Dean’s Forum” summer positions, for University of Saskatchewan law students, to engage in follow-up work during summer 2014. Two students from the previous Forum student groups filled these positions and and reported to a Forum sub-committee. The two students spent the summer months continuing to explore the topics of early and integrated service delivery and the evolution of Saskatchewan’s legal culture.

On the topic of “Early and Integrated Service Delivery”, student innovators conducted interviews with over two dozen community-based organizations to identify the specific needs, issues, and gaps faced by individuals in the Saskatchewan context. Outreach focused primarily on the Saskatoon area, with some regard to the experiences faced by smaller and more northern communities. Students also explored the process of navigating the justice system through the eyes of potential users and identified facilitators and barriers to accessing services “on the ground”. The resulting information was shared in two reports as a contribution to ongoing discussions surrounding early and integrated service delivery in Saskatchewan – “Emerging Themes in Early and Integrated Service Delivery” and “Improving Upon Early and Integrated Service Delivery”.

On the topic of “Changes in the Culture of the Legal Profession”, student innovators spoke with over two dozen legal professionals over varying years of call, areas of specialty, and geographical locations. The interviews focused on identifying changes, factors, and initiatives which have occurred within the legal profession over recent years. In addition to considering how aspects of the profession can be interpreted as either inhibiting or facilitating access to justice, the landscape of legal education and the future of the profession was also considered at length. The information gathered was shared to aid ongoing discussions and research amongst the Dean’s Forum and Saskatchewan’s legal profession as a whole. 

2014-2015 Dean’s Forum progress report (VIEW)

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Photo: Students Miles Waghray and Rochelle Blocka spent the summer researching access to justice barriers and opportunities.

The Third Meeting: March 2015

The third meeting of the Forum took place in March 2015. Student groups again prepared policy discussion papers and presentations. The students focused on two themes: (1) the role of non-lawyer legal professionals (legal technicians/paralegals) in the delivery of legal services (a subset of the early integrated intervention and public information at critical gaps theme); and (2) how law school can better prepare students to appreciate and respond to the access to justice issue, including possibly introducing a Centre of Excellence for Access to Justice at the College of Law (a subset of the original culture shift of the legal profession theme).

The Forum participants supported the general idea of introducing paralegals/legal technicians into the Saskatchewan market with the aim of providing more accessible and affordable justice. There was also support that law school admissions, curricular and extra curricular programming, and degree requirements be re-examined by the College with an access to justice lens. Forum members further identified the need for infrastructure to provide ongoing support for Dean’s Forum meetings and recommendations arising from the meetings, by creating (i) an action-oriented provincial access to justice committee “Working Group” as a smaller extension of the Dean’s Forum whose members meet on a regular basis and ensure that Dean’s Forum recommendations are proceeding; and (ii) a staff position to help coordinate the Dean’s Forum event, Working Group meetings and initiatives, and projects arising from the same.

Access to Justice: A Legal Education Initiative (student policy discussion paper) (VIEW)
A Discussion Paper on Introducing Paralegals into the Saskatchewan Legal Market (student policy discussion paper) (VIEW)

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Dean's Forum 2015

Photo: Students in the Dean's Forum course pose with instructors Brea Lowenberger (front right) and Janelle Anderson (front left) and Interim Dean Beth Bilson (front centre).

Creation of Infrastructure for Initiative: Spring to Fall 2015

In the National Action Committee’s report, A Roadmap for Change, the Honourable Mr. Justice Cromwell encouraged provinces to create provincial working groups focused on addressing the issue of access to justice. Since the last Dean’s Forum in March 2015, Forum participants’ recommendations to move toward creating a staff Access to Justice Coordinator position, and an action and advisory oriented Saskatchewan Access to Justice Working Group have been fulfilled. During Spring and Summer 2015, the College of Law, in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice, applied for and received funding from the Law Foundation, with support from the College of Law, to create an “Access to Justice Coordinator” position on a three-year term.

In addition to establishing an Access to Justice Coordinator position, during Summer 2015, the Ministry of Justice, Justice Innovation Division began drafting the Saskatchewan Access to Justice Working Group mandate and membership list in accordance with Dean’s Forum members’ recommendations to create same.

Brea Lowenberger was hired as the Access to Justice Coordinator for the Saskatchewan Access to Justice Working Group and started in the position on October 1, 2015. Ms. Lowenberger has been supporting the creation of the Working Group and the implementation of and evolution of Dean’s Forum topics, as well as connecting with justice community stakeholders, students, and the community at large on initiatives that promote justice reform and access to justice.

Preparation for the first meeting of the Saskatchewan Access to Justice Working Group occurred during Fall 2015.  The first meeting of the Working Group was a full day event on January 5, 2016 at the College of Law.  

2015-2016 Dean’s Forum progress report and summary notes (VIEW)

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The Fourth Meeting: February 2016

The fourth meeting of the Forum took place in February 2016. Student groups again prepared policy discussion papers and presentations. The students focused on two themes: (1) putting the public first in access to justice initiatives; and (2) the accessibility of superior courts and court procedures.

The goal for the first topic was to engage Dean’s Forum participants in a discussion to explore and critically engage with identifying who 'the public' is and how it can contribute meaningfully to more 'accessible justice'. The students shared with participants the scope of their project, which involved building upon previous work completed through the Dean’s Forum initiative to ‘map’ justice services for the purposes of: reciprocal learning; identifying critical gaps in legal information and service providers; and empowering the community. The second topic examined how Courts and Court procedures can be more accessible to more people and more cases, reflective of the needs of the society it serves. This theme involved examining how early and active judicial case management and dispute resolution, and further engaging lawyers in the new simplified and summary procedures rules of Court could improve access to justice for Saskatchewan residents.

Putting the Public First (student policy discussion paper) (VIEW)
"Action" to Justice: Addressing Access to Justice in the Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench (student policy discussion paper) (VIEW)

Dean's Forum 2016

Photo: Front row: Dean’s Forum Instructor and Access to Justice Coordinator Brea Lowenberger, Janelle Souter, Julia Quigley, College of Law Dean Beth Bilson, Kelsey Corrigan. Back row: Lorne Fagnan, Graham Sharpe, Saskatchewan Deputy Minister of Justice and Attorney General Kevin Fenwick, Sarah Nordin.

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