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Majority of bar opposed to big changes to articling: report

|Written By Kendyl Sebesta

More than half of those involved in the Law Society of Upper Canada’s articling task force consultations strongly opposed major changes to articling despite roughly one in seven law students being unable to find articling positions by 2013, an interim report on the issue indicates.

The idea that law students should article for free is ‘repulsive,’ says Paul Calarco.

“We do appreciate the difficulty of some law students who are unable to find articling positions but at the same time we want gradual changes that will maintain what the vast majority of what our members think is a very valuable step to becoming a lawyer,” says Michael Davies, Ottawa director of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, which made suggestions during the law society’s consultation process.

Task force chairman Tom Conway produced the interim report during Convocation on May 24. As part of the report, the task force consulted with members of the province’s legal community earlier this year. They discussed articling as it currently stands as well as four additional training options.

The options include maintaining articling as it currently stands; replacing a pre-licensing transition requirement with a post-licensing one; and abolishing articling in favour of a practical legal training course.

Other options involved maintaining the status quo with quality-assurance improvements and a choice of either an articling placement or a practical legal training course taken after or during law school.

The task force’s interim report found that of the 125 public submissions it gathered between December and March, a small minority of practitioners, legal organizations, and law students were in favour of changing articling substantively. The report notes almost none were in favour of abolishing articling.

Of those who wanted substantive changes to articling, the majority were from equity-seeking groups who felt law students from racialized and minority communities have faced significantly more barriers during the articling shortage.

“Articling is frightfully important to ensuring competency among lawyers,” says Donald McChesney, a lawyer in Newmarket, Ont., who participated in the law society’s consultation process.

“In my opinion, the law society is totally missing the boat here. There’s a good reason why a lawyer who has more experience is more expensive. They know how to do what actually needs to be done.”

The task force reported a three-percentage-point increase in Ontario’s articling shortage during Convocation proceedings on April 26. According to the update, roughly one in seven law students will be unable to find

an articling position by 2013.

Hispanic Ontario Lawyers Association member Guillermo Schible, who participated in the law society’s consultation process, says the problem likely stems from Ontario’s law schools.

“The articling placement shortage has been created by increased enrolment by Ontario law schools and increased . . . foreign-trained lawyer candidates over the last few years,” he says.

“The market has absorbed most of these additional articling candidates. It has become clear that the market cannot continue doing so.”

But Paul Calarco, a criminal defence lawyer in Toronto, says although there are significant problems with articling, it would be a “terrible idea” to get rid of it entirely. Instead, he points to the issue of articling costs.

“I was disappointed to see that the report didn’t come to terms with the costs that are associated with hiring an articling student,” says Calarco, who notes many small firms and sole practitioners can’t afford to pay articling students.

Calarco calls the idea that law students should article for free “repulsive” and says it won’t solve the problem anyway.

“We can’t assume that all law students are supported by well-heeled parents,” says Calarco. “If we can charge lawyers premiums to get certain organizations out of debt, why can’t we do that for articling students?”

According to the report, some of the suggestions to the task force included lobbying Legal Aid Ontario to develop financial incentives for lawyers to hire articling students; working with law schools to decrease the number of students they accept; and matching services for positions.

“What I came away with after reading the report was the conclusion that the law society has a very large challenge ahead of it,” says County & District Law Presidents’ Association chairman Michael Johnston.

Johnston notes some of CDLPA’s suggestions to the task force included a break in fees for lawyers in remote areas to allow them to hire more law students and a new class of licence.

McChesney echoes Johnston’s suggestions. He notes many small firms and lawyers who practise in remote areas will continue to face significant difficulties without changes to articling.

“Our profession is dying on the vine in smaller areas,” says McChesney. “Articling students have become too expensive. We have to compete with the international firms and the larger firms in metropolitan areas.”

McChesney also suggests that limiting the amount lawyers can pay an articling student may help keep small and large firms on an even playing field.

For his part, Schible says the report’s suggestion of a practical legal training course presents a challenge as well.

“Although [practical legal training courses] may address the articling placement shortage, they do not address discrimination-related concerns. . . . If people with blue skin cannot find articling positions because of discrimination, one answer is to allow people with blue skin to pay $10,000 for a course. We can and must do better than that.”

For more, see "Articling crisis gets worse." To vote in this week's poll question on articling, see the Law Times homepage.

  • Nicole B
    Lmiting the amount lawyers can pay an articling student is not a good idea. If a small town firm can't afford to pay Bay St. prices, this means it may attract less interest from candidates who are competitive enough for Bay St. However, if there are lots of students without positions, some of them may have to article for less money than they would like. There is no rule that firms in smaller centres must match or compete with firms in big cities.
  • William
    It has been a colossal mistaken for law schools to ratchet up how many students they accept - the surfeit of students is the cause of the problem. The number of articling positions contiues to go up year over year, just not fast enough to keep pace with how recklessly law schools have increased their size. If for instance one school had not increased enrollment by 33% there would not be a problem with more students than articling places.
  • 10 Years Out
    3 years of law school is excessively long and prohibitively expensive. Reduce to 2 years of university study followed by blocks of specialized training which would result in certification in given areas of practice. A certificate would provide some assurance of competence. Lawyers would only be permitted to practice in areas in which they hold a certificate.
  • Ron
    The Law Society or the profession or students should not be the ones taking responsibility for law schools dramatically increasing enrollment to generate more big lush tuition fees to pay for their administrative superstructures. The public suffers, too, in that any Tom, Dick or Harry can get into law school and the profession without proper standards of admission. The problem is that universities have become degree mills which is having a negative effect even in professional programs such as law. Time for the law deans to stand up and take responsibility. And why are we opening new law schools (Thomson Rivers, Lakehead) when present graduates already are having a tough time entering an already crowded profession? That said, law graduates should be more open to starting their practices in smaller communities.
  • Articled
    Hardly surprising that the legal profession is opposed to change..
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