September 29, 2021
John Craig and David Doorey are leading thinkers, practitioners, and academics in the field of labour and employment law, sporting various publications, teaching engagements, and representative opportunities between them. Thankfully, they also function as Professors and Co-Directors of the Part-time Professional LLM in Labour and Employment Law.
We sat down together to discuss their thoughts, experiences, and perceptions of both the LLM and the greater labour and employment law field.
John Craig and David Doorey
Academic Directors of Osgoode’s LLM in Labour and Employment Law
You have both had very successful careers in the labour and employment law field.
How would you advise those who are thinking about undertaking the LLM in Labour and Employment Law? What kinds of questions should they be asking themselves?
I think the most important piece of advice I would have for a prospective applicant is to consider how an LLM could enhance their current career trajectory and what their hopes and expectations are for their future career. If you’re really going to enjoy the program and get the most out of it, then consider your professional aspirations.
As a practitioner, I appreciate that many prospective students are wondering how the program will help to advance their careers. When I get phone calls from lawyers or non-lawyers who are thinking of applying, they often ask me for my insight into how this program can help them move forward. We then have a conversation about how the program can enhance their professional practice, support their teaching and research, and allow them to position themselves as leading experts in the field.
If you’re serious about being in this program, I think you also have to start with a real interest or passion for labour and employment law. It has to be something you’re interested in, have experience with, and are curious about.
You may have a sense of the nuts and bolts of the current laws, but our program looks at more complex issues – historical perspectives, competing theories, international law, etc. We also draw from top academics who bring different perspectives and views. Passion for the field is essential and is the main thing you need to be successful.
By the way, some of our students decide to pursue the program because of their interest and curiosity in labour and employment law, rather than for career advancement. That’s perfectly fine!
The LLM in Labour and Employment Law tends to attract students who are interested in going beyond the nuts and bolts of black letter law, so they can spend time thinking about larger policy debates and comparative perspectives and reading legal literature that they never have time to consider in their jobs.
So, I would suggest that it is a good idea to come into a program like this with an open mind and a desire to be challenged to think about legal issues from a broad and hopefully new perspective.
The program allows students to engage with leading Canadian and international scholars and with literature that comes at contemporary legal issues from a wide range of perspectives. The program is challenging. It’s a “real” LLM and not just a continuing education program.
I recommend that potential applicants make a realistic assessment of whether they have time to commit to the program. However, if the answer is yes, then I’m confident that they will get a lot out of the program.
Frankly, I think this is the best graduate program in labour and employment law in the world right now and I wish I could have taken it myself!
Can you talk a bit about your experience in the classroom? How do you challenge your students and how would you say they challenge you?
Oh, they challenge me all the time! That’s the best part of teaching, right?
I am a comparative labour lawyer, so I’m a big believer in looking at the solutions that other jurisdictions have come up with, how they operate, etc. I challenge my students by presenting them with the laws, regulations, and debates that happen in countries other than Canada and provinces other than Ontario. I look at international labour law.
Practically speaking, I ask lots of questions, put cases forward, and ask the students to break into small groups. For example, I will introduce a fact pattern and have the students convene in groups of 5-6 to discuss the issues, the applicable theoretical principles, and practical solutions. Lawyers and non-lawyers contribute to the debate and it’s fun to see what they come up with. We encourage participation and we expect our students to be involved, challenge each other, and challenge the professor.
Recently, I had a student in class who had a lot of knowledge of international labour law who was far more involved in the ILO than me. She was able to post recent reports and documents for the class to review. One of the key aspects of a graduate program is what you learn from your peers!
This program attracts students with an incredible range of backgrounds and life experiences.
In your class, you might have lawyers from across Canada with direct practice experience in Canadian labour and employment law ranging anywhere from 1 to 20 years… a Vice-President of Human Resources or an HR generalist, a senior policy advisor for the International Labour Organization, a union president, an academic expanding their knowledge of the field, and a labour lawyer from South America or Europe.
This diversity means that instructors need to be quick on their feet to tap into the knowledge and experience of the class, while at the same time pitching the material at a level that is engaging and interesting to the entire class. I have been amazed at how well the students work together in the spirit of cooperation and mutual learning given the diversity of backgrounds.
Our job as instructors is to create a classroom environment in which everyone feels safe speaking up, and there is something about the students who are attracted to this program that has made this challenge easy and natural.
How would you describe the relationship between lawyers and non-legal professionals in the program?
You might be surprised by how much law the non-lawyers actually know.
The non-lawyers in our program typically have graduate degrees in related areas and/or deep experience in industrial relations, human resources, and related fields. So, the distinctions between lawyer and non-lawyer melt away quickly in our classes. Non-lawyers also have a lot of insights about policy. We talk about legal principles and policy issues and the solutions that are out there. They’re well situated to engage in that broad-based debate because of where they’re situated in the field.
Meanwhile, I always tell the students who don’t have law degrees that if there’s a legal issue that comes up in the classroom or if I say something that’s unclear, to please ask – at break, in the moment, whenever. Let me know and I’ll help to explain it. We are legal academics, and occasionally we fall back on obscure legal terminology – although we try not to.
In the admissions process, when we consider non-lawyer applicants, we are looking for evidence of direct experience with labour and employment law in their professional lives. Therefore, the non-lawyers who are admitted are well-equipped to bring a unique insight towards the legal issues we explore in the program.
Over the years, some of the best students have been non-lawyers, in the sense of the energy and desire to learn that translates into a positive energy in the classroom and in their assignments. I find that the lawyer students are interested to hear the perspectives of the non-lawyers and also that the lawyers have been very generous in helping us professors explain points of law that might be new to people without a formal legal education. So, I think there is a good balance between the lawyer and non-lawyer students in the program that works very well.
I would add just a cautionary warning to non-lawyers considering the program, which is that there is a lot of legal literature that you will need to read and that some of it will be very challenging. Therefore, you do need to be very committed to keeping up with the work. However, if you have the time and commitment to invest in the program, the Osgoode LLM in Labour and Employment Law will be an incredibly rewarding experience.
What is a hot topic in the field of labour and employment law at the moment? What has personally sparked your professional or research-oriented interests?
A hot topic that is very relevant is privacy. It’s always been a really important topic – nationally, regionally, internationally. But, COVID has brought privacy matters into relief in stark ways, including working from home, COVID testing, vaccination policies, and more. It’s now important enough that there should be a course about it. That’s why we decided to offer a privacy class.
Privacy is actually a field that I’ve been researching since grad school in the ‘90s. I did a comparative review of privacy law in various countries 25 years ago. The Europeans were doing a lot in the early ‘90s and Canada was far behind. That’s largely why I pursued the topic in my graduate degree – there was a lot of opportunity for fresh research. I’ve continued engaging with it both in practice and in academia.
Well, as John points out, COVID has produced a long list of interesting legal puzzles for labour and employment law, although most of those issues will fade as we hopefully return to a state of normalcy.
I find that some of the most interesting issues in the field arise at the intersections of the three regimes of work law: the Common Law, Regulatory Standards, and Collective Bargaining Law.
A recent example involved the question of whether a change to employment standards legislation limiting the right of employees to claim they were constructively dismissed also affected the Common Law of constructive dismissal. These regime interaction cases are fascinating. We see this also in the various arguments about what workers qualify as “employees” in Canadian law, since the legal tests vary from regime to regime.
In the LLM program, we explore all three regimes and we also examine important issues – such as employment status – through a comparative lens by offering courses taught by leading British and US scholars.
I understand that the two of you try hard to ensure that the program remains up to speed with the sector, that you meet every year to discuss courses, and that there’s usually at least one new one coming down the pipeline. We’ve already discussed the privacy course!
Can you talk a bit about where you see labour and employment law going over the next few years and what aspirations you might have for the LLM?
I’m very optimistic about the field. I’ve always found it an exciting area since it’s a perfect meeting place for law, policy, theoretical issues, and people. If you’re someone who likes issues that have a broad impact, then labour and employment law is for you.
The reason I’m optimistic is because of the importance of labour and employment law during the pandemic. The field has generated debates and innovative ideas focused on modernizing how we regulate the workplace. I’m optimistic about the relevance of the field and its ability to attract the top thinkers and minds to generate ideas and address issues.
We review the program every year, including the topical areas covered, and the faculty members. We continually look for opportunities to expand and up our game.
Who knows what we may have to address in our classes and what opportunities may come to us? There are lots and lots of ideas about what the program should look like and how it should evolve.
We’ve introduced new courses almost every cohort depending on student feedback, emerging issues, and opportunities to bring in leading scholars on important topics.
One trend is to expand course offerings that explore issues that are of importance at a global level. For example, we have courses on international and transnational labour and employment law, the law and policy of labour concerns within global supply chains, and comparative labour law that explores Canadian approaches to labour policy issues compared to approaches of other nations.
On that front, I think that this LLM is a great opportunity for international students to obtain a degree from one of the world’s top law schools, especially not that the courses are available online as well as in person.
Do you have a favourite memory or experience you can share from your time at OsgoodePD?
My best memory is from after the end of my Employment Regulation class.
It was a long, intensive class with great group discussions. The students spontaneously decided to go out for drinks and invited me. There were probably 10-15 of us. We just chatted until 8 or 9pm, got to know each other better, and they gave me feedback on the class and the program.
It was something I haven’t really experienced before – my undergraduate law students don’t typically invite me out after class! Our students are a diverse group and there’s a sense of collegiality. We were able to go out and have a wonderful time. I really enjoyed it.
I’ve been teaching in this program for nearly 15 years, so there are lots of good memories!
I remember one class that had three students from British Columbia who were all very senior, respected practitioners, arbitrators, and policy advisors.
One section of my course explored some unique aspects of BC labour law and the debates that led to the BC model. When I mentioned that Professor Paul Weiler (a former labour law professor at Osgoode Hall Law School) had driven the changes, two of the students raised their hands and went on to explain the debates that they had with “Paul” at the time over drinks and golf games. That’s not your everyday professor experience!
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