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UBC Reports | Vol. 49 | No. 8 | Aug. 7, 2003

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 Bobinski’s 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 at UBC.

“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 they’re 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 Bobinski’s 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 hasn’t 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 it’s like down the road and what’s 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 initiatives.

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 it’s 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 legal education.”

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 they’ll identify the academic gene and save all of this trauma as we try and figure out what we’re going to do in life,” she laughs.

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 of law.”

She will not teach during her first year as dean -- but is already anxious to get back in the classroom.

“It’s sort of like being a chef but not being able to taste the food,” she says. “Who’d 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 I’ve encountered. I see in Vancouver this striving, entrepreneurial energy and also openness to people from different cultures and an excitement about ideas. I just can’t think of any better place to be in the world.”

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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