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Editorial: Articling group must act quickly

“The task force is convinced that the articling program cannot continue to drift.”

Editorial Obiter by Glenn Kauth
Editorial Obiter by Glenn Kauth
Those were the words from the Law Society of Upper Canada’s licensing and accreditation task force consultation report a couple of years ago. Since then, the crisis — as one LSUC bencher described the situation — has only deepened. Now, Treasurer Laurie Pawlitza has said she’ll establish yet another working group to find solutions.

Working groups have value, particularly since the law society would want to avoid making radical changes without due consideration. But as the number of law school graduates without articles has now doubled since 2008, it’s clear that those involved in this second study need to act quickly.

At the same time, Convocation needs to be willing to make bold decisions to address the issue.
The articling conundrum isn’t easy, of course.

As the earlier task force had noted, there was little support for abolishing the articling requirement. But with the shortage of articling placements growing to alarming numbers, the LSUC may want to consider revisiting the issue.

Still, it’s probably more reasonable for the law society to consider aggressive actions to try to fix the articling program first. The actions recommended by the last task force, such as a communications effort to inform schools, students, and the profession about the articling program, clearly didn’t go far enough.

One area the LSUC should focus on is expanding the pool of placements outside of Toronto. As its own articling survey found, the overwhelming majority of placements are in the provincial capital.

Not including government agencies and court clerkships, Toronto accounted for 830 positions, or 65 per cent of them, in 2009-10. In the enitre northwest region, which includes places like Thunder Bay, Ont., just 11 articling placements were available.
(Click here for a PDF showing a map of where the positions are.)

That data isn’t surprising, and there certainly are barriers to small-firm and sole practitioners in some towns and cities in taking on articling students.

At the same time, many law graduates are likely to want positions in major cities. But the data shows that smaller communities are precisely the places where new articling positions could come from, particularly given the fact that many firms and sole practitioners could use the extra help and given that those towns and cities face a looming shortage of lawyers as people retire.

Graduates, of course, would then face the option of relocating, something it’s not unreasonable to expect them to do. If students won’t follow the jobs, the responsibility for their situation falls on their shoulders.

But as with many things, money is often a key factor. So if the LSUC wants to encourage articling positions around the province, it likely will have to come up with some sort of financial incentive for firms. In the meantime, letting the articling issue drift once again isn’t an option.

For more on this story, see "Articling crisis set to grow."
— Glenn Kauth

Comments   

+4 # Mitchell Kowalski 2011-06-13 18:08
Glenn,

In any other business, when supply exceeds demand, supply is then reduced. In Ontario, however, LSUC increases supply by approving a new law school, then complains that there is not enough demand for articling students. Are Convocation and the Treasure truly unable to do the math in this case?

Should law schools not be part of any solution to this issue?

Why can't a full year law co-op program be created that allows students to get their law degree and article at the same time? Thereby keeping articling students in those centres where they go to school. And, when students graduate they are ready to take the bar exams.

Why not create a student loan forgiveness program whereby student loans are forgiven based on the number of years of practice in towns where there are not enough lawyers?

Is LSUC up to the challenge of thinking outside the box?
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0 # Karen Lajoie 2011-06-13 18:38
I think it's time that Ontario grads look beyond the borders of the province for work. Across the country, there's an abundance of articling positions that go unfilled - Ontario has 7 law schools, and it simply generates too many grads for the pool. But there are other pools desperate for help. So get your blinders off and start looking harder beyond those borders. Move to provinces and territories underserved by regional law schools. Look to small firms and small cities. You're not entitled to having everything on your doorstep right out of the gate. Show some imagination!
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-3 # Law Man 2011-06-14 22:33
I live in Ontario, have a family here and you want me to go somewhere else for 10 months? That's about the dumbest thing I have heard. How about telling the law schools to stop increasing the damn number of students!
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+7 # John Adams 2011-06-16 16:07
I live in Brampton and finding articling was the hardest part in my licensing process. Due to current situation, hundreds of young law graduates have no other option but to start working on a no-pay basis. After struggling for years, it is not an easy decision to make. Its not just no pay but no benefits of kind are offered by the principals. It means that if an articling student has a severe toothache they are unable to afford a root canal. The Law society needs to come up with solid measures to eradicate this issue which is forcing young graduates into something close to slavery. The lawyers are not even paying gas or parking when the students go to court. An injustice is prevailing in the profession responsible to administer justice in the society.
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+28 # Kalia 2011-06-16 21:50
The anger among members/lawyers is erupting against Law Society and those who are shielding the corrupt.
While public opinion is uniting behind the anti-corruption via messages placed on LawTimes, there are those who question the motives and tactics of the commenting messages.The members outrage over LSUC official corruption to over look the interest of the members and profession runs at an historic high.The lawyers who made articling students to work without pay should be barred from contesting bencher's election and baned from holding public office and judiciary of all kinds paid by the public purse.It's a serious lapse of character which grows geometrically with age as the criminals grow.
The benchers should take note of the wealth convayed by the honourable members.This is time all lawyers especially the more thoughtful ones lead the community (out of Law Society convocation and staff) and find way to get rid of dirty element which has penetrated the legal forces.
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-10 # Karen Drake 2011-06-19 13:16
The problem is not as simple as an excess of supply over demand. The LSUC's Final Report of the Sole Practitioner and Small Firm Task Force in 2005 concluded that there is actually a shortage of lawyers in rural and Northern Ontario that is expected to become more severe as the aging lawyers in these areas retire. Given our shortage of lawyers, it's not surprising that we also have a shortage of articling positions in the North. The solution is not to decrease the number of law school graduates - doing so wouldn't help Northern Ontarians gain access to affordable legal services. One solution is to provide incentives to Northern and rural firms that would give them the capacity to take on articling students. And a law school in Thunder Bay would offer lower tuition and an opportunity for Northern residents to attend law school while living with family. Wtih less debt and roots in the North, these graduates would find the lower-paying Northern articling positions more attractive.
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-2 # William L. Turner 2011-08-23 14:07
A recent solution to the articling shortage was looking to smaller communities. However, even positions in smaller communities are starting to dry up. Here in Yellowknife I have been looking for a position for over a year. Ironically, there are very few lawyers willing to take a student because they are overly busy. Several US jurisdictions, including Massachusetts and New York have abolished their articling requirment, and only require an examination. Those jurisdictions seem to be doing fine.
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