Resounding support from Ontario lawyers for the articling program has ensured the 10-months of supervised practice will remain at centre stage in a revamped licensing and accreditation scheme adopted by the Law Society of Upper Canada.
“Respondents overwhelmingly rejected the abolition of articling,” read a report to Convocation from the licensing and accreditation task force.
“They emphasized that a competent profession requires practical training before call to the bar. Articling should not be characterized as a barrier, but rather as a core component of the licensing process.”
County and District Law Presidents’ Association chairman Randall Bocock says the articling program distinguishes Ontario-trained lawyers from those licensed to practise in other parts of the country and internationally.
“It has really been a hallmark of excellence in legal education,” he says. “More importantly, it’s a very important tool in terms of succession in the profession, and also the discharge of all practising lawyers’ obligations to educate upcoming lawyers.”
University of Toronto Faculty of Law Dean Mayo Moran says the articling program provides a key bridge between the academic and professional wings of law in the province.
“It’s created a great legal profession,” says Moran. “I wouldn’t be keen on just putting students out into the world without the support of some kind of structured professional mentoring like they get in articling.”
The future of the articling program came into question earlier this year when the task force reported the current demand for about 1,300 articling spots is estimated to rise to 1,730 - a 30 per cent increase - by 2009. It’s believed much of that increase will come from foreign-trained lawyers.
The task force’s consultation report also flagged the possibility of up to three new law schools in the province. (The Ontario government has since stated it will not provide funding for those proposed institutions.)
Ontario Bar Association president Jamie Trimble says, while the organization is on board with the law society on improving articling, more action is needed than LSUC has planned. He says, for example, that the law society must do more to sell young lawyers on the merits of practising outside of major centres.
“There has to be an education function directed at students, not only to say this is what we expect, no guarantees in the world, but don’t think of Toronto as the be all and the end all,” says Trimble. “Because it is a multi-faceted issue.”
Trimble also suggests the law society allow more than one lawyer to act as principals to a single articling student.
“Think more creatively. For instance, in a small centre, no one lawyer may be able to pay $50,000 or $60,000 for one articling student for one articling term,” he says. “Five lawyers may be able to pay $10,000 or $15,000.”
The task force received about 100 responses from institutions and individuals during its consultation on articling, during which the idea of abolishment was firmly on the table. But it’s clear from the task force’s final report just how vital lawyers think the articling experience is for budding lawyers.
“Respondents acknowledged the challenges the program faces, but believe that radical change is not warranted,” read the report. “The law society should make further efforts to increase the number of jobs available, appeal to the profession to assist, and streamline the program.”
The task force suggested, however, that those who were vehement in their defence of the articling program will have to put their money where their mouths are. It noted in the report that, while there are currently 1,171 approved articling principals, some 31,000 lawyers are currently working in the province.
“While the enthusiasm with which the profession supported articling in this consultation process is heartening, it will be of limited value if not accompanied by a commitment among those who have not traditionally hired students to now do so,” the report stated.
On top of agreeing to hold on to the articling program, the law society agreed to a number of provisions aimed at increasing placements.
They include working with other legal organizations on the issue, conducting a survey on articling opportunities, creating an online registry listing placement opportunities, lobbying for more funding for articling positions, the creation of a new staff position dedicated to articling initiatives, and streamlining the administrative process to make it easier for articling principals to participate.
The law society hopes the Law Foundation of Ontario - which currently funds five public interest articling spots - and the provincial government will open their purses for articling students.
The report suggested the province could help pay for new articling jobs in legal clinics, which could also help ease access to justice challenges. A spokesman for the Ministry of the Attorney General says it has not been approached by the law society with such a proposal, and declined to comment to Law Times on the possibility of new funding for articling spots.
Some of the things the task force kept in mind when producing the report, chairman Vern Krishna told Convocation, were the needs of minority groups entering the profession and the requirement to meet calls for “transparent, objective, impartial, and fair licensing processes” within Ontario’s new Fair Access to Regulated Professions Act.
Krishna said the task force also hopes the measures will help create articling spots beyond major cities. He said about 87 per cent of current placements are in Toronto and Ottawa, a discrepancy he suggested is linked to access to justice issues in rural communities.
The law society also adopted the following measures to enhance its licensing and accreditation program:
• Exemptions or shortened articling terms for foreign-trained lawyers. For example, those with a minimum of 10 months of practice “that addresses the law society’s articling competencies” may be exempted, but would have to finish a three-day course on professional conduct. Candidates will be able to do their articles outside of Ontario, with LSUC’s approval.
• Before being called to the bar, candidates must finish a professional responsibility and practice requirement in tandem with their articles. After being called to the bar, lawyers must finish 24 hours of professional development within the first 24 months of entering a practice area.
• A stronger communication plan to promote the articling program and, among other things, make it clear that candidates are in charge of finding their own placements.
The full report of the licensing and accreditation task force is available on the law society’s web site at