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Articling D-Day set for November

|Written By Michael McKiernan

Law Society of Upper Canada benchers set the stage for a D-Day on articling this November after proponents and opponents of its complete abolition laid out their cases at last week’s Convocation.

Law society staff were busy moderating last week’s public debate that ran simultaneously with Convocation’s discussions on articling. Photo: Robin Kuniski

Overwhelmed by the response to the articling task force’s 100-page report, benchers agreed to defer the debate and decision on it to their next meeting on Nov. 22. “Ten days does not permit stakeholders enough time to fully appreciate,” Virginia MacLean told fellow benchers at Convocation on Oct. 25.

Benchers from the two distinct camps on the divided task force had the chance, however, to present their proposals.

Raj Anand spoke on behalf of the task force’s majority that proposed a five-year pilot for an eight-month legal practice program that would absorb the overflow of licensing candidates unable to secure articles. He anticipates that about one-fifth, or 400 out of 2,000 licensee applicants, would take the course in its first year.

“We recognize that there is no perfect solution,” said Anand, who emphasized that all members of the task force agreed that the status quo was unacceptable. “This has led to our recommendation to provide optional pathways to licensing and thereby eliminate the unfair situation in which many candidates cannot demonstrate their ability to meet competency standards.”

The majority option, he said, allows the profession to retain and enhance the “widely accepted experiential process” of articling while at the same time “testing it openly and transparently in a manner that has not been done before.”

Candidates from both streams would receive the same assessments at the end of the process, allowing for “evidence-based conclusions at the end of the pilot project whether one or both of the two streams of qualification should continue,” according to Anand.

But Bencher Jacqueline Horvat, speaking for the four dissenting members of the task force, said benchers should bite the bullet and scrap articling altogether.

“It’s human nature to react this way. . . . The first question every one of us will ask of a new lawyer who comes to us looking for a job is where did you article,” she said. “In our view, no one should be consigned to a second-class status by a licensing process.”

The majority proposal calls for an equalization payment of $1,320 by all licensing candidates to cover the cost of those going through the legal practice program, but Horvat said there would still be inequity since many articling students are paid for their work and may even have their licensing fees covered by their employers. The minority group’s alternative calls for a two- to three-month intensive practical program for all applicants plus post-call mentoring and assessment to ensure competence.

Bencher Wendy Matheson, another member of the task force majority, dismissed fears about a two-tier system.

“The proposal is to study two pathways to licensing and to evaluate and compare them. . . . As soon as you study more than one pathway, whatever you do will be described as two-tier,” she said.

But Bencher Peter Wardle, who supported the minority proposal on the task force, said the length of the study, combined with the nebulous character of articling, would help entrench the two-stream approach no matter what the results of the pilot are.

“Once we build it, we will find it very difficult to tear it down,” he said of the proposed law practice program.

Despite Convocation’s decision to defer the debate on articling, a vigorous public discussion took place simultaneously online. Lawyers, law students, journalists, and others weighed in with their thoughts on the issues raised by the benchers. Some agreed that the profession should take time to consider the report while others argued it was time for a decision.

Catherine McKenna, executive director of Canadian Lawyers Abroad, tweeted: “While @LawSocietyLSUC can’t delay forever, good decision to delay a decision on #articling until November.”

But Mitch Kowalski, a Toronto lawyer and author, disagreed in a tweet. “So Bencher Raj [Anand] says that many stakeholders were part of the preparation of the report — and now stakeholders want yet another kick at the can? . . . Benchers were elected to make decisions and govern — they should do so.”

— With files from Heather Gardiner

  • Allan
    The problem, in my estimation, is the number of students that law schools graduate and the number of foreign-trained lawyers coming to Canada. If people want to attend law school and come to Canada with their credentials that's fine, but they must do so knowing that there may not be a job as a lawyer at the end of their education/travels. A law degree is versatile and many organizations can benefit from an employee with a law degree/legal training.
  • J.Miceli
    NCA's, particularly Canadians who studied abroad, are flooding the market. There will always be a two-tier system. The U of T and Osgoode students will always be considered first and distinguished, then other Ontario school graduates, and then those that studied abroad. That will always be the reality. I make no judgements as to whether they deserve that distinction, that's for others to decide. But the problem isn't articling, it's the business of law. I learnt more in 3 months of articling than 3 years of law school. Nothing compares to real world experience like articling. Not to mention I have met many contacts through articling for future job prospects. You get rid of articling and you will have a lot of kids that will never find a job and will never get any experience at all. Claims will increase, the prestige of law will disappear, and with it the ability to earn a decent living. The problem isn't articling.
  • Robert Eady
    Is it not obvious that the lack of sufficient articling positions means a lack of need for an increasing number of lawyers. It seems to me that is irresponsible to encourage
    very intelligent persons to commit 5 years of their life to enter a profession with diminishing returns and diminishing need. I can't expect Law Schools to agree but surely any tax payer resources available to law schools might better be utilized in education areas that are more appropriate to our country's needs now and in future, ie more resources to train medical and related personnel in our aging society-
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