As the Law Practice Program enters the third and final year of its pilot, the Law Society of Upper Canada is set to embark on a review of the articling alternative.
The law society’s Professional Development and Competence Committee is set to introduce a report to Convocation at its meeting in late September, kicking off a review that will determine the fate of the LPP.
Opponents of the LPP say the review needs to be comprehensive and should include both objective and subjective measures.
“Because of the concern about creating further problems by adding the LPP program, I think it’s absolutely important that we see a few different things that come out of this evaluation,” says Toronto lawyer Renatta Austin.
Austin says it is critical for the review to include extensive statistics on the candidates who have participated in the LPP, including demographic information, the law school they attended, whether they were hired afterwards, as well as whether they chose to be in the LPP as a first choice or because they could not get an articling position.
“We’re going to need metrics across the board, but that is number one to address the issue of creating a two-tiered system,” she says.
When first approved by Convocation in 2012, the program faced some opposition from within the legal community, but it passed by a vote of 35-21.
The LPP was first proposed as a way to help tackle a shortage in articling placements and consists of a four-month course and a four-month placement.
Opponents voiced concerns it could create a two-tiered system, in which some employers would perceive LPP candidates as a lower tier. Other concerns included higher costs for candidates in the LPP.
A number of benchers who were opposed to the LPP called for the scrapping of articling altogether and the adoption of a different system. Austin, who is not a bencher but ran in last year’s bencher election, said she would like to see an integrated legal program implemented, similar to that at the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law at Lakehead University.
The law society’s new treasurer, Paul Schabas, has been a vocal opponent of the LPP in the past and voted against approving the program in 2012.
In an interview after his recent election, Schabas told Law Times that under his direction the law society would be taking “a hard look” at how well the program is working.
A spokeswoman for the law society said the committee’s review will tackle the Pathways Pilot Project, which includes both the LPP and other changes to articling.
Convocation is expected to vote in November on the committee’s recommendations.
Michael Lerner, a bencher who voted against approving the LPP in 2012, says he was concerned over unpaid placements in the program.
He also questioned whether an online part of the LPP course would provide candidates with training that would be as good as what they would get from articling.
“Nothing has changed my mind about the program. I was skeptical in the beginning and remain so,” he says.
When asked what the review would have to show for him to change his mind, Lerner said, “I think bearing in mind the need to accommodate new licensees and at the same time regulating in the public interest, I’m going to have to be satisfied that the current program is doing that.”
Austin says she would also like to see an analysis in the review of any differences in the ability of LPP candidates compared to articling students.
“I would want to see in-depth analysis about the competencies that candidates are developing in those two streams and how they compare to each other,” she says.
LPP proponents and administrators have hailed the program as a success, saying the program is just as good if not better than the training received through articling.
Ryerson University’s LPP program has seen 440 candidates go through the first two years of the program.
In the first year, 75 per cent of the candidates who were called to the bar were employed full time in law six months after completing the LPP.
As of May, 44 per cent of the second year of candidates were either hired or extended.
Chris Bentley, the executive director of Ryerson’s LPP, says the program has provided high-quality skills-based training that ensures lawyers called to the bar have the skills necessary.
“At the end of the day, a call to the bar means that the lawyer can do anything from murder to merger,” he says. “[And] that the law society is certifying it’s safe to leave them with members of the public and we’ve designed the highest quality skills training that’s standardized, supervised and assessed to make sure that candidates for the bar are well prepared.”
Bentley says tackling the perception some employers may have that LPP candidates are of a lower tier has been an ongoing battle. “The only thing second tier is the perception by some members of the profession about a program they know little of and candidates they know less of,” he says.