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Speaker's Corner: Previous law practice program participant recalls experience during 1949 Manitoba articling crisis

The recent approval by the Law Society of Upper Canada of a three-year pilot project for an articling alternative reminded me of my own experience when a shortage of articling positions in 1949 caused the Law Society of Manitoba to create another option.

I’m 84 years old, so I doubt there are many of my contemporaries available to help out with any details I may have overlooked. But here’s some context. The University Of Manitoba law school was very much an apprenticeship school in 1949. It also included formal one-hour classes from September to April usually taught by eminent practitioners who received a small honorarium. Students would attend them Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to noon over a period of four years.

Students with undergraduate degrees also had to serve under articles for 48 months, including the summer, before being eligible for their call to the bar. Those with only two years of undergraduate experience had to serve for 60 months.

Time for the purpose of call to the bar began to run when a student secured an articling position and was enrolled as an articled clerk by the law society. Hence the crisis of 1949 when there was an insufficient number of articling positions. In response, the law society created a practice program for those students (of which I was one) who were unable to find an articling position.

Those of us in the program were fortunate in that the late David Golden, a Rhodes scholar and war hero who later worked as deputy minister of defence construction, was a founding member of Telesat Canada, and served on many public and private boards, conceived of and conducted it. The course, offered at no additional cost to students, required them to perform a large number of simulation exercises based on real examples.

One of the rules of the program was that participants were to continue to seek an articling position and, if successful, move seamlessly to the real world of articling. It took me several months to find a position and while I appreciated the advantages of being in a real law office, I discovered that, unlike the practice program, I became responsible for things such as banking, serving process, courier and office-cleaning duties, liquor purchases, and, in one instance, the purchase of a melon baller.

Office hours were Monday to Friday from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. I received $10 a month during my first year with annual increments of $10 over the next three years. My remuneration was a bit on the low side compared to other students but only a bit.

In case of emergencies, the office trumped school.

I had a range of duties. My principal, for example, was honorary counsel to a child and family service. This led to my appearing in child and family court on a number of occasions. They dealt mostly with custody and filiation proceedings, the latter leading to the determination of the paternity of a child for support purposes and to a number of “Who’s your daddy?” reunions with high school acquaintances.

I also had appearances in the Small Claims Court; was responsible for carrying out legal research and preparing draft pleadings; represented impecunious walk-in clients in the lowest criminal court, the magistrate’s court; performed real estate and other searches; and did a lot of thankless tasks in addition to getting yelled at a lot.

Upon my call to the bar in September of 1953, my principal offered me employment at a salary of $150 a month.

In 1954, I departed for Ontario where I was called to the bar in November 1955.

All of the students in Golden’s course found articling positions before the end of first year. Upon their call to the bar, they either found jobs with small firms or became sole practitioners as did most of those who weren’t part of the program.

Morley Gorsky practised law in Ottawa, was a member of the faculties of law at Queen’s and Western universities, and worked as an arbitrator and mediator. He doesn’t own a melon baller.

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