School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Walking the talk – Meet David Cahill

PhD Student in Education

By Phil Gaudreau, January 2021

DAvid Cahill

Questioning the values and methods of post-secondary education might be seen as bold or taboo, but David W. Cahill doesn’t see it that way.

“Universities should be the place where you can go and ask difficult questions,” says Cahill. He sees “the point” of university as being a forum for challenging “orthodoxy, and perceived wisdom.” The quality of our education and legal systems doesn’t improve “unless someone questions if we could be doing this better.”

Cahill completed a B.A. (Hons.) and M.A. in history, and Juris Doctor at Western University, before coming to Queen’s in 2019 to pursue his LL.M.  “I chose Queen’s for their LL.M program because it offered a concentration in political and legal thought,” says Cahill. “It was a nice intersection between law and society for me to consider questions of a public policy nature - which is really what access to justice comes down to.”

Now, Cahill is a PhD candidate in education, supervised under Ted Christou, whose research proposes some structural reforms to the progression of law school and legal education.

Cahill is concerned about an education culture which features a “creeping, anti-intellectualism which sees students as fragile things that must be protected from ideas they don’t like and, as lawyers, we don’t have that luxury.” Cahill’s academic paradigms and methods are drawn from Heterodox Academy, which features a commitment to viewpoint diversity, open inquiry, and constructive disagreement, as first principles in post-secondary education.

Cahill believes that lawyers need to be ready to deal with all sorts of potentially troubling or upsetting subject matter. Law schools, and universities more broadly, need to be the training ground for teaching aspiring lawyers how to analytically engage with uncomfortable and controversial topics.

“This idea that students should be shielded from controversial things, or from difficult things, is completely incongruous with the work of a lawyer and, frankly, with the mandate of post-secondary education,” says Cahill.

Access to justice is a topic Cahill is personally passionate about, and one which is shared by his firm, Cunningham Swan. “Many Ontarians aren’t able to afford legal services and there are historic back logs in our family and civil systems.” Cahill believes that these backlogs wouldn’t exist if Ontario’s law schools adopted a practitioner-focused, competency-based, curriculum and pedagogy for students. The goal for Cahill’s research is to propose structural reforms to law schools which will provide aspiring lawyers with the anti-fragile practical knowledge and skills required to address Ontario’s access to justice crisis.

In Cahill’s own professional practice, he ‘walks the talk’ of his research by offering legal coaching services to his family law clients. Cahill sees the legal coaching service model as one “where the client is in the driver’s seat so-to-speak and can ask for guidance when they need it.” Cahill sees legal coaching as one pathway for connecting more Ontarians with competent, quality, family law legal advice. Cahill is proud to work at Cunningham Swan, which shares his commitment to improving access-to-justice for Ontarians.

To learn more about graduate studies options with the Faculty of Law, please visit their website.

To learn more about graduate studies options with the Faculty of Education, please visit their website.