Members of the legal profession shot down a motion that proposed forcing law firms to take articling students at the Law Society of Upper Canada’s annual general meeting last week.
The articling motion “would solve nothing,” said newly elected Bencher Rocco Galati.
“It’s not focused and it doesn’t really address the real problem.”
The motion, moved by lawyer Peter Waldmann, would have compelled members of Convocation to consider assigning articling students to law firms on a random basis to ensure equal opportunity for all candidates. It also proposed requiring law firms with eight or more lawyers to provide articles to the students assigned to them.
Representing The Advocates’ Society, lawyer Brent Arnold said the idea was bad for law firms and even worse for students.
“Our primary concern is the absolute loss of autonomy for students in this process,” said Arnold.
“It’s bad enough what it does to firms, but the real harm is to the loss of autonomy for students going through this process.”
Arnold said many students go to law school with a clear idea of where they’d like to work upon graduation. Implementing the idea proposed in the motion would rob them of that choice, said Arnold, adding some students might feel “pigeonholed” in the area of law they landed in for their articles.
Sotos LLP lawyer David Sterns, who’s also the second vice president of the Ontario Bar Association, echoed Arnold’s concerns. The motion “would deprive students of choice,” he said.
But newly elected Bencher Anne Vespry pointed out that articling “isn’t a buyer’s market.”
“Law students are already deprived of choice,” she said.
“Law students take articles where they’re working for free. Law students take articles that are not in their area of interest. Law students sometimes can’t get articles in their area of choice.”
Waldmann agreed with Vespry. When it comes to articling, “free choice is illusory,” he said.
The competition for available articling positions “is very corrosive, not just at the time of hiring but it covers the whole law school experience,” according to Waldmann.
But to Arnold, the motion would do nothing to solve that issue. “It’s not going to eliminate rivalry or hostility between students. It’s going to defer that until they’re done their articles and then they’re going to be applying for jobs at the firms,” he said.
“You can’t assume that the firms, having trained these people that they’re forced to work with . . . are going to hire those people back,” Arnold added, noting there’s a “strong possibility” firms would later hire the people they would have taken in the first place had the regulator not forced them to accept an assigned articling student.
“That’s where the competition is going to start anew,” said Arnold.
Lawyer David Hager, who seconded the motion, asked the law society to keep an open mind. He said that instead of assigning law students randomly to law firms, there could be a matching program. “Think outside the box,” he added. “It’s time for a radical solution.”
Hager also criticized opponents of the motion who didn’t offer up other solutions. “Denigrating the motion without proposing anything in response does nothing,” he said.
At voting time, only a few yellow cards shot up in the air in support of the motion.
But for some of the lawyers who signed the motion, the goal wasn’t so much to see their proposal pass but was about alerting the law society to the fact that articling and legal education remain a significant concern.
Maryellen Symons, one of the lawyers who signed the motion, spoke about what she called “a strange disjunction” between theoretical legal education and the practice of law.
“My fundamental belief really is that the practical and theoretical or academic aspects of legal education need to be integrated rather than [be] in disjunction as they are now,” she told the meeting.
For more, see "LSUC AGM motion seeks to force articling jobs on firms."