The University of Alberta officially opened in 1908 and by the following year, the Faculty of Law was already in the early development stage. Initially, the University worked in partnership with the Law Society of Alberta to hold examinations on its behalf, but the University soon played a growing role in the provision of legal education. In addition to holding examinations for entry into the Law Society, the University also began offering lectures as part of a developing Bachelor of Laws degree program within the new Faculty of Law, which was created in 1912.
As it was generally accepted that law was learned through the practical experience of articling, lectures were offered on a part-time basis only, permitting students to carry on part-time study while still working full-time day hours. Lectures were commonly given in early morning hours or at supper time after work, in order to accommodate the working students’ schedules.
By 1913, Drs. Walter S. Scott and W. Kent Power were delivering the Faculty of Law’s first lectures in Edmonton and Calgary, respectively. Both men were uniquely qualified to be the Faculty’s original instructors, as they each held impressive resumes. Their extensive training and varied experiences allowed them to individually present students with a comprehensive perspective of the law.
After graduating from Trinity College in Classics and English Literature, Dr. Scott continued his academic pursuits, reading law at King’s Inn in his hometown of Dublin, and at Lincoln’s Inn in London. While in England, he worked as a member of Halsbury’s Laws of England editorial staff. A position as Counsel to the Legislative Assembly of Alberta brought Dr. Scott to Edmonton, where he quickly became a respected member of the local legal community, serving as Vice- President of the Canadian Bar Association and as a Bencher of the Law Society of Alberta.
As his dedication to the profession of law in Alberta was evident, Dr. Scott was a natural choice for the position of lecturer with the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Law.
Dr. Power graduated from Dalhousie Law School in 1904, and shortly thereafter, moved to New York, where he worked as a law writer. He made further contributions to the canon of legal writing by working as the editor of the Western Weekly Reports in Calgary. Dr. Power held this position from 1912 until 1958.
His passion for writing continued throughout his career. Developing the Canadian Encyclopedic Digest of Law (Western) is counted as one of his many accomplishments. Dr. Power used his broad knowledge base to help students gain an appreciation for legal writing.
As the first law school in Western Canada, the University of Alberta Faculty of Law made significant efforts to help establish the practice of law in western Canada. The Faculty’s long-standing tradition of excellence is rooted in the contributions of its many educators, starting with Drs. Power and Scott, whose legacies live on today.
The Faculty of Law’s first class, which counted only eight people, graduated in 1915.
By the Faculty’s second year (1913-1914), there were fifty students registered in the Bachelor of Laws program.
Committed to continuous improvement and concerned about growing enrollment, the Faculty reassessed its program offerings. In 1921, the Faculty of Law implemented major changes and redesigned the existing LL.B. program to become a full-time, three-year program with mandatory attendance at University lectures. Before these new program regulations, attendance at lectures was not compulsory, and the LL.B. degree was not required for admission to the Bar. Other changes to the Bar admission process included shortening the articling period following completion of the LL.B. degree to only one year.
The University of Alberta’s President, H.M. Tory, supported this transition, which also included bringing Faculty of Law classes to the University of Alberta campus.
Once the Faculty of Law had been reestablished in 1921, it developed a greater presence on campus. The Faculty of Law inhabited a section on the second floor of the Arts Building. In that space there was sufficient room for each student to have a chair and a desk. The Faculty was also assigned an area for a library.
The move towards a more education-based approached to the degree program proved quite successful in terms of enhancing the student experience. As students were no longer juggling full-time articles with lecture attendance, they now had more free time to focus on their studies and fully review material before lectures. This permitted students to be more fully engaged in thoughtful discussions concerning their various subject matters.
Building on the excellent academic foundation that Drs. Power and Scott had developed, John Alexander Weir became the first full-time teacher at the Faculty of Law. After earning his B.A. and LL.B. from the University of Saskatchewan, Weir attended Oxford as a 1914 Rhodes Scholar and completed a Bachelor of Arts degree with first class honours.
Thanks to Weir’s dedicated efforts, the first class to graduate under the Faculty of Law’s new LL.B. program did so in 1924. Weir became the first Dean of the Faculty in 1926.
Throughout the next few decades, the Faculty of Law underwent many changes, including a revision of the curriculum. Furthermore, it dealt with many issues, such as Faculty staffing shortages and severe fluctuations in enrollment. All of these factors put a strain on the Faculty’s resources. Consequently, the Faculty was challenged to achieve sustainable development.
During this difficult period, Dean Weir’s commitment to the Faculty of Law and its students did not waver. His true passion for the study of law and his devotion to his students and colleagues pushed him to overcome many obstacles and realize his vision for the Faculty.
Dean Weir and the small group of Faculty instructors faced the challenge of fulfilling Faculty needs, by carrying extremely large workloads.
Dean Weir was a brilliant scholar who inspired both his students and his colleagues. His intense commitment to building the Faculty of Law and establishing its presence in Alberta’s legal community was evidenced by his willingness to make many personal sacrifices to ensure the Faculty’s success. It is widely thought that the very long hours that Dean Weir committed to this project had a detrimental impact on his health, as he died in his late forties. This was an unbelievable loss for the Faculty of Law, but Dean Weir’s lasting legacy propelled the Faculty forward to achieve new goals, while maintaining its standard for excellence.
When Dean Weir passed away in 1942, the Faculty needed new guidance, which it found under the direction of Dr. Malcolm M. MacIntyre, a graduate of both Mount Allison and Harvard who specialized in torts. MacIntyre was Dean of the Faculty from 1942 until 1945.