The Wellington Law Association’s 1880 Establishment

G. Blaine Baker

- excerpt from upcoming book History of the Wellington Law Association

The Wellington Law Association was created in 1886 under a seven-year-old permissive rule of the Law Society of Upper Canada that provided for the formation of local law libraries with the sponsorship, regulation, and maintenance of the Law Society’s Convocation. It was the ninth organization of its kind created in Ontario after law libraries in Brant, Bruce, Frontenac, Middlesex, Ontario, Peterborough, Wentworth, and York Counties), answerable in part to the Law Society’s standing Library Committee but was also a creature of the provincial ‘Library Association and Mechanics Institutes Act’ that required counties to provide space, fuel, light and furniture to local library associations. The Association would ask Wellington County for better maintenance, repairs, and improvements to its space on numerous occasions during the ensuing century and a quarter. Convocation’s ‘initiating grant’ to start-up county law associations running its branch libraries was to be double that contributed locally in cash or kind (such as books), but not more than $ 6.00 per member-practitioner during the 1879-1884 experimental phase of the regime and not more than $ 20.00 per member in initial subsidy thereafter. The Law Society’s contribution was periodically capped at $ 5.00 per member (annually) after an association’s start-up year, although Convocation routinely made readings required for the Society’s obligatory and optional legal education programs available in all approved county law libraries.

The Wellington Law Association’s initiating grant, paid in November of 1886, was $800.00 and Convocation instructed its Reporting Committee to deliver to that Association back-numbers of the law reports that the Law Society was then producing (the Society had been publishing official provincial law reports sine 1823). The Association would ask Convocation for library loans or special grants on four other pre-World War One occasions (as did its sibling county law associations at several junctures), but it seems to have maintained the Law Society’s confidence by filing the required annual reports with Convocation’s Library Committee, by passing on-site inspections by the Society’s Head Librarian from the Great Library at Osgoode Hall, and by restricting access to its books to local and visiting judges, paid- up association members, and law students articling in the county.

The inaugural president of the Wellington Law Association appears to have been Judge A. C. Chadwick, and the founding secretary was A. H. Macdonald. The Association’s trustees were to hold the contents of the library in trust for the Law Society, on condition that the books be returned to the Society in the event of the Association’s disbanding. In any case, Wellington’s early membership in the range of fifteen to twenty subscribers enabled it to rank fifth in size (after the York, Wentworth, Middlesex, and Carleton County Law Associations) among provincial law associations. That Association’s initial and nearly exclusive function was to create and run a library in which law books would enjoy prominence but not necessarily predominance. Promotion of social events by the Association, its attempted regulation of lawyers’ fees, campaigns against unauthorized legal practitioners, and the Association’s engagement with abiding political or professional issues like the delivery of legal aid are mostly mid-and-late-twentieth-century developments that were engrafted onto its established book-buying, storage, and book-lending functions.

The main concerns of the Law Society of Upper Canada for over two centuries have been the training of lawyers, practice standards, and its professional monopoly. For most of the nineteenth century, leading up to the initial sponsorship of county law associations and law libraries of the late – 1870s and 1880s, legal education was, by a considerable margin, the Society’s chief concern. The Society’s Toronto seat, Osgoode Hall, was built in the 1830s to provide it with a headquarters, function as a dormitory for out-of-town students attending the mandatory parts of their education that were only available in Toronto (such as entrance, intermediate, and bar admission examinations, ‘term-keeping’ seated in the back of courtrooms taking notes on the proceedings, and law lectures), and to provide space for classes and student law clubs to convene. The courts did not sit regularly at Osgoode Hall until mid-century and, even then, one important reason for their relocation to that site was to provide easier access to those courts by law students fulfilling their year-and-a-half long term-keeping obligations. Another was to help merge educational and judicial functions in the ‘Great Library’ that the Society had been building at Osgoode since the late- 1820’s as part of its pedagogical mission. In so far as law practice standards or the Society’s monopoly were policed during the nineteenth century, available evidence suggests that that kind of regulation happened informally or that it was shared by the Society with the courts. The Society’s disciplinary prerogatives were not made clear by statute until the mid-1870s, and the total number of nineteenth-century ‘impeachment’ or disbarment proceedings managed by Convocation can be counted on the fingers of two hands. Censuring of unauthorized law practice, professional discipline, and lawyers’ disbarment became increasingly central Law Society affairs as the twentieth century advanced, but those kinds of initiatives were not an important part of the late-nineteenth-century political, professional, or legal mix that gave rise to organizations like the Wellington Law Association. Although modern commentators on Wellington’s sibling associations in Carleton and York Counties have alluded to rising Ontarian concerns about professional and legal literacy in the province’s rural areas as a motive for what was effectively the creation and subsidization of branch law libraries by the Law Society in the 1870s and 1880s, regional self-interest appears to have played a more important role in the move to create county law associations. Local interests were also felt in the successful drive by Ontario’s lawyers of the 1870s to elect Law Society ‘Benchers’ to Convocation on a county basis, to divest the Law Society of its Toronto- based monopoly over legal education through the creation of provincial schools at Western University in London, Queen’s University at Kingston, and Ottawa University in the nation’s capital in the 1880s, and in the movement to locate entrance and Bar-admission examination centres outside Toronto in the 1890s. ‘Hogtown’ was not called the name merely because livestock-slaughtering yards were located there.

Despite the fact that no more than twenty percent of Ontario’s lawyers originated from or ultimately settled in Toronto at any point during the nineteenth century, the Law Society conceived of itself as and tried to operate as a centralizing and homogenizing force in the province’s social, professional, and legal affairs through much of the nineteenth century. Its entrance examinations, administered orally by the Society’s Secretary/Librarian/Sub-Treasurer, were never offered anywhere other than the provincial capital during the century following their introduction in 1828. The Society’s five-year apprenticeship, inaugurated in 1797, could be undertaken anywhere in the province there was an eligible principal, but the ever-increasing number of mandatory, Toronto-based components of the Society’s educational program that were grafted onto it after the early-1830s appears to have resulted in large numbers of students articling in Toronto. Even when obligatory parts of that regime went into remission and became voluntary, disproportionately large numbers of law students seem to have enrolled in them and thus relocated as apprentices in the

provincial capital for five years (three years for some university graduates, after 1847). Term-keeping by articled students in court, which took about a year and a half and could only be done in Toronto, continued as a component of Ontarian legal education from 1828 to 1871, and its centralizing tendencies made it an early casualty of post-Confederation regional tensions in the Law Society. Mandatory attendance at Toronto law lectures or obligatory participation in Toronto law clubs like the Osgoode Society or the Legal and Literary Society ebbed and flowed between 1832 and1868. But attendance at those sessions was typically high even when it was not required since the Law Society often gave reductions (such as between 1868 and 1889) of students’ articling time equal to that spent voluntarily attending Toronto law lectures or club meetings. Most elements of that venerable regime of legal education were reintroduced or affirmed by the Law Society in 1889 with its opening of the Osgoode Hall Law School, which was run by the Society’s Legal Education Committee through a new full-time Principal and Instructor in the person of William Albert Reeve. The Law Society’s regime of apprenticeship and classroom training offered exclusively in Toronto helped to enable law, unlike medicine, dentistry or engineering, to avoid association with Ontario’s universities until the mid-twentieth century. That independence was not so much the result of pedagogical debate or institutional rivalry as it was a consequence of tensions within the Society among geographic regions of the province, strains that were partly ameliorated by other decentralizations of power by Convocation to the counties.

Edward Blake served as Treasurer of the Law Society from 1879 to 1892, when much of the controversy about regional autonomy came to the forefront of the Society’s affairs. Blake appears to have been an absentee Treasurer, due to the large amount of time that he spent in Ottawa as leader in Parliament of the federal Liberal Party from 1878 to 1886 and to his subsequent relocation to Britain. But he did actively chair the Law Society Committee on Aid to County Libraries whose recommendations of 1879 led to the inauguration of the county law association and library regime and, in a related vane, he chaired an 1880 Law Society Committee to Encourage Legal Studies by Law Students in Various Parts of the Province.

The lengthy treasurership in the 1820s and 1830s of Blake’s father, Chancellor William Hume Blake, had seen the introduction of most of the major and durable aspects of nineteenth-century Ontarian legal education, and Edward Blake himself had been a part-time Law Society instructor since the appearance of its first obligatory classes in the 1830s. Blake was, therefore, heavily-invested in the Society’s ‘crown jewel’, and well-positioned to deal with regional agitation. His second mandate on those issues, the Legal Studies of Committee, led to the adoption by Convocation in 1881 of a ‘local option’ program of law training run by its County Library Aid Committee under which the Law Society agreed to finance any ‘branch law school’ operated by a county law association in which there were at least twelve students in regular attendance, at eighteen one-hour lectures each term, evaluated by a written examination in each course that was comprised of no less than twenty-four questions. By 1884, the law associations of Middlesex, Frontenac, and Carleton Counties had taken up that local option, in collaboration with an established neighbouring university. None of those programs survived the monopolistic establishment in 1889 of the Osgoode Hall Law School, but county law associations did continue as local or courthouse libraries. Some of them, including the Wellington Law Association, informally extended the mandate in the first decades of the twentieth century to include social events, efforts to impose countrywide schedules of legal fees, the organization of voluntary legal aid, and fraternally or politically-motivated endorsements of candidates for elected Law Society offices.

A smaller number of those associations continued to campaign for relinquishment by the Law Society of its concentration of classroom legal education (and thus, indirectly, articling) at Osgood Hall Law School in downtown Toronto. Those sporadic lobbying efforts yielded limited success in the mid-1950s when responsibility for law training was delegated to four (and later six) Ontario universities, but with the caveat that the apprenticeship component of that training would no longer be pervasive but would instead be limited to a twelve-month period following completion of full-time academic study in a university setting. The Law Society’s bar admission course was also expanded, geographically, to two locations outside the provincial capital (London and Ottawa) in the mid-1970s.


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