Train for the Future: Law Reform Commissions
By William L. Reynolds and Laila Said

Law reform is a never-ending task. Obsolete laws have to be discarded and new laws proposed. The latter task is particularly difficult given the pace of technological and social change. Because the result must convince political decision makers, the successful law reformer marries political acumen with technical expertise. Research and drafting skills are of great importance to the law reformer, of course, but so is the ability to listen. Law reformers, in short, must possess many talents.

The value that law reformers add to the political process has led many common law jurisdictions to create permanent law reform commissions. Those commissions are natural places to train law students. Not only will they hone skills learned in school, but they will get a close look at how the political process works, and how to make it work better. Moreover, if the students work for law reform commissions in foreign countries, they will learn something about comparative law and about the political process in other lands. The commissions, therefore, should be wonderful places for student interns. Recently, the University of Maryland School of Law began such a program.

The David S. Brown International Fellows Program places interns with law reform commissions in other English-speaking nations. To qualify for the program, students first must take a course in Comparative Public Policy and Law Reform. An interested student then applies to an individual commission, which selects an intern from among the applicants. The program provides the fellows with a stipend for travel and living expenses. Since 2005, individual fellows have served with the Law Reform Commissions of Australia, Hong Kong, Ireland, Ontario, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.

This past summer, Laila Said was a David S. Brown Fellow with the Law Commission of Ontario (LCO), located in Toronto. She provided legal and social research on two projects. The first involved the division of pensions as a marital asset upon dissolution of the marriage. The second project looked into the fees residents of Ontario pay when they cash government checks. For both projects, Ms. Said examined the law in Ontario as well as in other jurisdictions, including New York and California, and she also met with stakeholders, policy makers, and other interested parties. She participated in meetings involving the LCO, and also in meetings with members of the provincial legislative and executive branches. She summarized and commented on the discussions that took place during those meetings. Her research and the responses from the stakeholders on both projects were included in the final draft of the report.

Ms. Said has this to say of her experience: “The internship not only allowed me to learn the process of policy drafting, it allowed me to pick up and refine other skills as well. The many hours researching for the two reports sharpened my legal researching skills, applied legal writing to a practical situation, and emphasized the importance of organization and time management. And I got to live in a wonderful city during this valuable experience.”

A law commission internship provides enriched educational and professional opportunities for students, career guidance, and invaluable insights into legal reform. As Dr. Patricia Hughes, executive director of the LCO, explains, “A student from another jurisdiction enriches the in-house research capacity of the law commission and brings a different perspective to the work. In Laila’s case, we definitely benefited from the quality of her U.S. research, but having her with us also made the other students’ experience that much more enjoyable.”

The fellows return home with a foundation they can use to further other law reform efforts. They also have seen how interesting and important public law can be. The generous sponsorship of donors like the David S. Brown Program helps students become interested in a career in public interest law. Even if Ms. Said and the other fellows choose other paths, however, their experiences as interns should provide them with a lifelong interest in law reform.

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Law Reform Commissions
Business Law Today
Volume 18, Number 3
January/February 2009

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