UBC Reports | Vol. 49 | No. 8 | Aug.
New Law Dean Committed to Lifelong Legal Education
Mary Anne Bobinski predicts a strong future for UBC law
By Erica Smishek
Like the Texas state she has until recently called home,
Mary Anne Bobinskis vision for the UBC Faculty of Law
is bold, varied and grand.
A few minutes in her dynamic, determined company and the
new Dean of Law leaves little doubt she and her team have
what it takes to shape the future of legal education and research
UBC is one of the best schools in North America if
you look at the research productivity of the faculty and their
outstanding teaching, if you look at the student body based
on their grade point average, their LSAT scores and also at
the background and experience that they bring here and what
they do once theyre here, Bobinski, 40, said in
an interview with UBC Reports.
A third of the students go out and participate in exchange
programs. Many of them go into foreign countries and spend
a semester away. Schools across North America aspire to be
global law schools. UBC really is.
Bobinski comes to UBC from New York via Texas, where she
spent 14 years at the University of Houston Law Center as
a professor (with research interests in health care financing,
legal aspects of HIV infection and reproductive health issues),
associate dean for Academic Affairs and, most recently, director
of its Health Law and Policy Institute.
Under her leadership, the Institute, which consistently receives
the top ranking by U.S. News and World Report for health law
programs in the nation, broadened its curriculum, enhanced
its human resources and gained additional funding sources
to finance new program initiatives.
Bobinski was also noted for building links with the community
-- something she has already started to do within UBC and
with the external legal community.
Following her address to 250 members of the legal profession
at a welcoming lunch co-hosted by the UBC Law Alumni Association
in June, Howard Berge, QC, president of the Law Society of
B.C., says he and other benchers were impressed by Bobinskis
willingness to work with the bench and the bar and her commitment
to lifelong legal education.
There used to be a different emphasis on legal education,
Berge says. The law school worried about their curriculum
and we looked after post-LL.B. training. There was certainly
an interchange but it hasnt been seamless where there
was some kind of overriding program that starts at law school
and continues through a career.
Mary Anne seems focused on getting students into a
general education stream as soon as possible so they do know
what its like down the road and whats available
when they are in the profession. Hopefully this will lead
to a smoother transition from law school through bar training
and the practice of law.
Bobinski, the first Law dean appointed who did not have a
prior connection to UBC, has consulted widely with members
of the faculty and legal community to help shape her vision
for the school and sees a strong match between her experiences
and the opportunities that exist at UBC.
Her goals include broadening an already comprehensive curriculum
to balance traditional subject areas at the core of legal
practice with developing practice areas like intellectual
property and health law; expanding the integration of new
technologies; skills training in advocacy, legal research
and writing, problem solving and ethics with traditional teaching
methods; empowering law graduates to succeed in a rapidly
changing world by exposing them to critical perspectives about
law and the role of law in the resolution of important social
issues; attracting and retaining the best teaching and research
faculty; and marshalling the necessary resources for these
Bobinski acknowledges the difference between the Canadian
and American legal systems -- one of her first tasks is to
become more familiar with Canadian legal practice and culture
-- but says both countries share similar issues in legal education,
such as applying more learner-centred teaching methods and
financing faculty research.
With the old Socratic teaching method, you could have
one brilliant person in a room full of many students and its
a relatively inexpensive way of educating future lawyers,
says Bobinski. But as soon as you start talking about
doing things that are skills-based or involve problem-based
learning, legal education becomes much more expensive and
there is a question about how to respond to the need to change
Born in upstate New York, Bobinski comes by the academic
life honestly -- her father was dean of the School of Information
and Library Studies at State University of New York (SUNY),
Buffalo and a brother is the associate dean of the School
of Management at SUNY, Binghamton -- though she initially
contemplated a career in medicine or legal practice after
getting her B.A. in Psychology and a J.D. She was working
on a PhD in policy studies with a focus on health policy before
switching to Harvard for her LL.M.
Maybe as part of the Genome project theyll identify
the academic gene and save all of this trauma as we try and
figure out what were going to do in life, she
Bobinski says she is driven by a love of teaching and creating
an environment where students can learn what they need to
know to prepare them for the profession and for the other
places that law can take them outside the traditional practice
She will not teach during her first year as dean -- but is
already anxious to get back in the classroom.
Its sort of like being a chef but not being able
to taste the food, she says. Whod want that?
In addition to professional challenges, Bobinski faces interesting
times on the home front as she and her partner, Holly Harlow,
also a lawyer, recently adopted an infant daughter from Guatemala.
She looks forward to their new life in Vancouver, a city
Bobinski was familiar with thanks to a decade of frequent
travel to western Canada.
It is definitely a world-class city in every respect
that Ive encountered. I see in Vancouver this striving,
entrepreneurial energy and also openness to people from different
cultures and an excitement about ideas. I just cant
think of any better place to be in the world.