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Adjunct professors: Vital cogs of cash-strapped universities

Michel Deschamps doesn’t have to teach. In much demand for his expertise in banking and finance and commercial law, the Montreal lawyer trots around the world giving conferences and participating in commercial law reform projects in the area of secured transactions when not taking care of his clients at the Montreal office of McCarthy Tétrault LLP.

Yet for the past 37 years, Deschamps has been an adjunct professor at the Université de Montréal, teaching law students the complexities of banking law. Stellar pupils include the current dean of the Université de Montréal, and two generations of his family, including his daughter and his two sisters, one of whom is Supreme Court of Canada Justice Marie Deschamps.

“It’s not as if I need the revenues from teaching to make a living but I continue to do it because I enjoy teaching and enjoy the exposure to students as they provide me with a window into perspectives of the coming generation,” said Deschamps, who seriously considered becoming an academic before being dissuaded by the dean of the faculty of law at his alma mater.

That’s also what swayed Michael Battista to become an adjunct professor seven years ago at the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto. A partner at Jordan Battista LLP, Battista felt that it was a natural progression from offering community workshops on immigration issues to teaching a course to law students that examines the domestic and international legal regime defining and governing refugees. “Making law accessible to people has always been an interest of mine – it’s something I really enjoy,” said Battista, who is certified as a specialist in citizenship and immigration law by the Law Society of Upper Canada.

Adjunct professors like Battista and Deschamps have become vital cogs of cash-strapped universities across the country, enabling tightly-managed law faculties to expand its curricular offerings into areas such as energy, entertainment and pension law that it otherwise would never be able to afford to give, said Gilles Trudeau, the dean of the Faculty of Law at the Université de Montréal.

Adjunct professors also provide students with a more expansive, albeit complimentary, perspective that most full-time faculty would be hard-pressed to be able to offer, said Lorne Sossin, dean of Osgoode Hall Law School.

“The adjunct world gives us far broader linkages to spheres of practice and the legal community that we would just otherwise be insulated from if we relied only on our full-time faculty for the delivery of our curriculum,” said Sossin, who served as the inaugural director of the Centre for the Legal Profession.

While adjunct professors are offered little, if any, remuneration, law faculties expect them to adhere to the university’s exacting standards. Once law faculties identify curricular gaps that full-time faculty staff are unable to breach, they usually use their network of contacts in different walks of the profession to identify its leading voices. At times, it works the other way around: practicing lawyers approach the faculty and offer their services.

In either case, face-to-face encounters are then arranged by the office of the associate deal with potential adjuncts to make sure they know what they’re getting themselves into because as one adjunct professor put it, “it’s a lot of work.” Adjunct professors are expected to prepare course outlines, deliver the material in class, be accessible to students, and correct essays and exams. All told, an adjunct can easily expect to put in anywhere between five-to-ten hours a week, more so during examination period when students often flood professors with pleas for help. And at the end of the semester, they can expect to be assessed by students, which in turn are evaluated by the associate dean’s office. In some universities a committee comprised of full-time faculty members also are involved in the evaluation process.

“It’s not because you are a good lawyer that you are a good teacher,” said Trudeau. “At the moment they are hired, we must meet with them and ask questions to ensure that we have someone who is qualified to go before a class but we can make mistakes.”

Sossin concurs, adding that adjuncts can be uneven. “Every now and then you will have someone who will come in on the strength of their reputation but who only wants to tell war stories or someone who is just interested in the teaching the nuts and bolts without a lot of discussion of ideas,” admitted Sossin, an author of over 50 articles and books who served as the Integrity Commissioner for the City of Toronto in 2008-2009. “The expectations and workload are significant but I think that lawyers recognize that this is a way of giving back to the university and the profession.”

The workload is indeed hefty, which makes “time-management a challenge,” remarked Battista. Wrestling between the demands of  a thriving practice and the weight of teaching is par for the course, he acknowledges. Sometimes hearing or court dates conflict with his teaching schedule, and he ends up scrambling to re-schedule one or the other. Usually it’s more of a question of finding the time to thoroughly prepare before heading for class because, as he points out, no matter how thoroughly you know the material, you always have to review it to make sure you are grabbing the interest of the students.

“Law school can be overwhelming and finding ways to make the course come alive and stimulate the interest of the participants is a challenge,” said Battista, whose class is a seminar, making teaching even more difficult. “I am always conscious of the fact that I just can’t stand up at the front of the class and lecture. That can be challenging because as lawyers we are used to delivering submissions in court and hearings by basically lecturing.”

Deschamps faces a different challenge altogether, given that he teaches banking laws, a subject he acknowledges is complex. But he approaches the matter just like any good jurist does – making something appear simple that at first glance is abstract and complicated.

“The challenge lies in interesting the students, and teaching them to learn and reason,” explained Deschamps. “That is what distinguishes a good jurist from an average one, the ability to analyze and summarize, which is the way I approach my teaching.”

The rewards, while seemingly intangible, are worth it. Battista says that he is a better lawyer given that teaching has compelled him to diligently keep abreast of legal developments in his field while exposure to law students has spawned “creative ways of thinking” that has energized his practice.

Deschamps has noticed teaching has enhanced his reputation. Besides being perceived as an expert in the field, clients are impressed by his passion for law and “not just in it to make money.”

“I believe that teaching has contributed to the confidence I hope I have established with my clients because they know I am interested in law because I enjoy it,” said Deschamps, adding that many of his clients have turned out to former students.

Andrew Pinto, a former adjunct at the University of Toronto who has put his teaching career on standby for the time being, too has noticed that teaching has boosted his career. While being an adjunct has not drawn new clients, it has led to far more opportunities on the conference circuit. “Being an adjunct professor lends a certain degree of authority as someone who has a tremendous amount of expertise in the field,” said Pinto, who intends to teach once again at a later date.

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