LAWS was the innovation of Ron Daniels, the former Dean of the University of Toronto Faculty of Law.  It was developed in response to Daniels’ recognition that although law school was a well resourced institution with considerable expertise and engaged staff, faculty and students, it was immediately adjacent to high schools with diverse student bodies who faced significant challenges to succeeding in high school, accessing postsecondary education,  attending law school and joining the legal profession.

Daniels, now President of Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, Maryland, approached the Toronto District School Board’s Associate Director, Gerry Connolly. The two agreed on the need to level the playing field for students who may face barriers to succeeding in school, and decided to form a partnership between the U of T Faculty of Law and the TDSB to this end.

Inspired by the success of two high school law-themed programs in New York City—The Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice and The Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice – representatives of the TDSB and U of T Faculty of Law traveled to New York City to visit the two U.S. high schools. The group witnessed the benefits of providing students with opportunities to reach their full potential through law-themed programs, and returned to Toronto full of ideas about establishing an even more comprehensive program for Toronto’s inner city youth.

In April 28, 2005, more than 1,000 high school students, teachers, U of T Faculty of Law staff, students, parents, lawyers and members of the media, crowded into the auditorium at Central Technical School for the program’s (now known as Law in Action Within Schools, or ‘LAWS’) launch. The event began with a moving rendition of “O Canada” sung by the Central Tech Studio Singers, and included addresses by Daniels, Connelly, Rick Tarasuk, then Principal of Central Tech, and others. In a powerful keynote address, former Supreme Court of Canada Justice and former interim President of the University of Toronto, Frank Iacobucci, directed his remarks to the young students in the room, saying: Education is not just a ticket to earn a living, it’s a passport to learn how to live. Don’t rule out anything. Each of you has the talent to achieve those dreams.”

LAWS first academic year began in September 2006. Because of their close proximity to the U of T Faculty of Law, school size, and student demographics, Central Technical School and Harbord Collegiate Institute were chosen as LAWS’ first partner high schools.  Different models were piloted at each school – with what is now LAWS’ Core Program - a three year comprehensive cohort model, launching at Central Tech, and a Pan-Grade 10 model launching at Harbord Collegiate. Comprehensive research conducted by the TDSB from that first September enabled the program to evaluate the strengths of each model. In 2008, based on strong evidence that the three year cohort model provided significantly more benefits to students, Harbord moved to that model.

In 2008, the program expanded, when Monarch Park Collegiate, located in the city’s east end, came onboard as a LAWS partner school. Two new program streams were also added: firstly the LAWS Newcomer Youth Program Stream, catering to newcomer students in English as a Second Language classes at LAWS partner schools; and secondly the LAWS Aboriginal Youth Program Stream, which developed the annual Justice Conference for Aboriginal Youth from across Ontario. Two additional staff members were hired - a Program Coordinator and a part-time Program Assistant.

In 2011, LAWS expanded again, this time widening its partnership to include Osgoode Hall Law School at York University, and adding two LAWS partner high schools in Osgoode’s neighbourhood, C W Jefferys Collegiate Institute and Westview Centennial Secondary School. Danforth Collegiate & Technical Institute also came on board as LAWS’ sixth partner high school. A LAWS office opened at Osgoode Hall Law School, and a second Program Coordinator was hired.  In 2012 LAWS added Northview Heights Secondary School as its seventh partner school, focusing on the Newcomer Youth Program Stream.

Since 2005 numerous program enhancements and additions have also been added, including the Summer Job Program in 2006, and the first LAWS Law Firm Mentoring Program and the Court Experience Program in 2007. Our annual Justice Education Symposium designed to assist other postsecondary institutions in developing youth outreach programming also launched in 2007.

LAWS’ first Central Tech graduation ceremony took place at the U of T Faculty of Law in 2008 and in June 2011 graduating classes from both Central Tech and Harbord Collegiate came together to celebrate the end of grade 12. LAWS alumni are currently studying at universities and colleges across Ontario, as well as McGill University in Quebec, and Oxford University in the UK. 2012 saw the launch of the Faculty of Law’s Law School Application Program, supporting LAWS alumni now in a position to apply for law school themselves.

LAWS is now a robust, flourishing and well-respected collaborative education program that brings together high schools with postsecondary institutions and an entire employment sector and enjoys significant support across the education field and legal profession.  We are comprehensively serving more than 1000 students.