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Osgoode Hall and Ontario's Legal Heritage

The Oldest and Largest of Canadian Law Societies

The Law Society of Ontario, the largest of all Canadian law societies, was founded in 1797, almost 20 years before the earliest such association in any other province or territory. The creation of this self-governing body by an Act of the Legislative Assembly was an innovation in the English-speaking world and it became the model for law societies across Canada.

The reasons for the creation of the Law Society, as set out in the statute of 1797, were to provide the province with a "learned and honourable body, to assist their fellow subjects as occasion may require, and to support and maintain the constitution of the said Province."

In concrete terms, the main function of the Law Society of Ontario was to ensure that all persons who practise law in Ontario were competent, followed proper procedures and behaved ethically. Its mandate has been broadened since May 1, 2007 to regulate all providers of legal services, including independent paralegals.

Since 1797, the Law Society has grown and evolved with the province and the country. The contribution of the Law Society has not been limited to its actions as the governing body of the legal profession, nor has its influence been restricted to Ontario. Its members have been vital and active participants in the life of the country, many becoming national figures in politics or business, with others making their mark in such fields as the arts and sports.

The Law Society and legal education

Until 1957, the Law Society controlled entry to the Ontario legal profession through its exclusive jurisdiction over legal education. Osgoode Hall Law School, the second oldest common law school in Canada, was established by the Law Society in 1889. The school was at the centre of the debates over the principles of modern legal education in the 1950s. Osgoode Hall Law School moved to York University in 1968 but the Law Society remains the licensing body for both lawyers and paralegals in Ontario.

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