About the Dean's Forum

The Dean’s Forum on Dispute Resolution and Access to Justice (the Dean’s Forum) is an initiative that engages justice community stakeholders in Saskatchewan in a dialogue about access to justice and the future of the justice system. The associated Dean’s Forum course, unique to the College of Law at the University of Saskatchewan, offers law students a rare experiential learning opportunity to contribute to justice policy alongside these stakeholders, who are leading members of the legal profession.

Five meetings of the Dean’s Forum have been held (September 2013, March 2014, March 2015, February 2016, and March 2017). 

An overview of the Dean's Forum on Dispute Resolution and Access to Justice (2016).

Impact: Responding to national calls to improve access to justice

Dean’s Forum students ground their work in the touchstone report of the National Action Committee on Access to Justice, Access to Civil and Family Justice: A Roadmap for Change 2013 (A Roadmap for Change), chaired by the Honourable Mr. Justice Cromwell of the Supreme Court of Canada, and the recommendations from the Canadian Bar Association’s Reaching Equal Justice Report (downloadable below). The students prepare literature reviews, look to initiatives that are happening across Canada and internationally, and conduct consultation interviews with key stakeholders within the province on each topic to further inform and focus their work in the Saskatchewan context. Each group prepares a policy discussion paper summarizing their research and identifying key ideas, themes, and points for further discussion. The students also have an integral role in the development and planning of the Dean’s Forum meeting day. 

History: The purpose and evolution of the Dean’s Forum

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.

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

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.

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

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.

Dean's Forum StudentsWith 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.

2014-15 Dean’s Forum progress report

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

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)
A Discussion Paper on Introducing Paralegals into the Saskatchewan Legal Market (student policy discussion paper)

Dean's Forum 2015In 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.  

2015-16 Dean’s Forum progress report and summary notes

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).

Dean's Forum 2016The 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)
"Action" to Justice: Addressing Access to Justice in the Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench (student policy discussion paper)

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.

The fifth meeting of the Forum was held on March 1, 2017. Students developed policy discussion papers and presentations on two themes: (1) the distinction between legal information and legal advice in various contexts; and (2) expanding engagement in creating connections between delivery of justice and health services.

The first topic explored how the distinction between legal information and legal advice has been defined in various contexts, including intermediaries (e.g. librarians), legal coaches, and near-to-law professionals. The purpose of the topic was to, through these case studies, identify the cost/benefit of the distinction being at various points along a spectrum of more protectionist to more open, and work towards identifying a principled approach to setting the appropriate distinction, guided by the best interest of the public.

The second topic examined how partnerships between justice and health systems might improve access to justice for the public in urban, rural, and remote areas of Saskatchewan, with a special focus on how technology might enhance this service provision. The goal of this topic was to identify infrastructures, innovations, services, and resources currently available for the provision of health services and determine whether there are opportunities, partnerships, and relationships that could be developed to better enable the provision of justice services, improve access to information, and save costs.

Legal Information, Legal Advice, and Access to Justice (student policy discussion paper)

Expanding Engagement: Creating Connections Between Delivery of Justice and Health Services (student policy discussion paper)

Reports: Dean's Forum library

Benefits: Dean’s Forum Student Reflections

The Dean’s Forum initiative facilitates an environment for raising access to justice consciousness and related action among and between all participants.

Our Dean’s Forum students benefit from: 

  • Learning about access to justice in the local, provincial, national contexts, and beyond
  • Reaping experiential benefits and developing reflective practice skills
  • Gaining tools intended to help facilitate transformational change in improving access to justice

Our Dean’s Forum students have reflected on the benefits of their experience as key participants in the initiative:

“The most important learning moment was realizing who the gaps in legal services actually affected. I had worked at CLASSIC and seen some lower income groups come in. I was aware of the concept of legal aid, and those below a certain income bracket qualifying for that. However, I had never viewed this as a ‘middle class’ problem. I never considered that it would be members of my family or people I grew up with. I had never contextualized what legal fees would be compared to what the average family makes. That was an important moment for me, because it put the whole project in perspective. It has a direct impact on my life and the people in it. It is hard to dismiss a social issue such as that when it is literally staring you in the face.”

“I really enjoyed the experiential activity and view it as a very rewarding experience because I was a part of something meaningful, gained exposure to new experiences, built confidence within myself, and contributed to something that may have a huge impact on both the legal profession and peoples’ lives.”

“Participating in this class was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to be a part of a discussion addressing access to justice issues. This class has helped me realize that I can use my legal education and my position to help make changes for the better. I know I sound extremely optimistic, but as [the instructor] said, this ignorant optimism may just be what is needed.”

In the news

Outreach: Dean’s Forum in the community

The information that follows highlights a sample of the Dean’s Forum outreach in the community, including conferences attended, presentations made, and contributions of materials. 

  • Presenter, Meeting of Dean’s Advisory Council, College of Law, University of Saskatchewan (March 2015)
  • Presenter, “Creating a collaborative policy-making course on access to justice”, 6th Annual Association of Canadian Clinical Legal Education Conference: “The Place of Clinical Legal Education”, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (October 2015)
  • Attendee, Innovation and Access to Justice Conference, Montreal, Quebec (October 2015)
  • Attendee, CIAJ Aboriginal Peoples and Law Conference: “We are All Here to Stay", Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (October 2015)
  • Contributed memorandum on the Dean’s Forum to the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench (November 2015)
  • Presenter, Meeting of Faculty Council, College of Law, University of Saskatchewan (November 2015)        
  • Presenter, Meeting of Access to Legal Services Committee, Law Society of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (2015)
  • Presenter, Session of Mediation Class, College of Law, University of Saskatchewan (November 2015)
  • Student Group Conveners, Community Roundtable with Community Based Organizations, Meeting on “Putting the Public First”, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (January 2016)
  • Student Group Meeting with the Honourable Mr. Justice Winkler, Former Chief Justice of Ontario, Meeting on “Accessibility of Superior Courts and Court Procedures”, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (January 2016)
  • Student Group Meeting with the Honourable Mr. Justice Brown, Supreme Court of Canada, Meeting on “Accessibility of Superior Courts and Court Procedures”, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (February 2016)
  • Presenter, Meeting of Saskatchewan Access to Justice Working Group, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (January 2016)
  • Contributed to materials on civil process reform and judicial mediation, Mediation Seminar, Federal Court of Canada (January 2016)
  • Contributor, CBA Legal Futures Workshop: “Transforming Legal Education and Training in Canada: Learning Across Life Stages”, Canadian Bar Association, Toronto, Ontario (March 2016)
  • Presenter, Meeting of Dean’s Advisory Council, College of Law, University of Saskatchewan (March 2016)
  • Presenter, Meeting of Ministry of Justice Leadership Team, Regina, Saskatchewan (April 2016)
  • Presenter, Alternative Dispute Resolution Institute of Saskatchewan Inc. Annual General Meeting and Conference: "Innovation in Conflict Resolution in Saskatchewan: Defining the Next Chapter”, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (May 2016)
  • Attendee, Saskatchewan Administrative Tribunals Association Annual General Meeting and Conference: “Access to Justice: Moving Forward - Stepping up the Action”, Regina, Saskatchewan (May 2016)
  • Presenter, Canadian Association of Law Teachers Conference, Calgary, Alberta (May 2016)

Connect: An invitation for conversation and collaborations

There are various possibilities for conversation, research, and collaborations related to improving access to justice through the Dean’s Forum initiative. We invite you to contact us at any time about:

  • Access to justice topics in general
  • Previous Dean’s Forum topics
  • Submitting access to justice related topics for discussion at a future Dean’s Forum meeting

For more information, please contact:
Brea Lowenberger, Access to Justice Coordinator, College of Law 
 b.lowenberger@usask.ca 
306-966-8635
@BreaLowenberger and #skdeansforum