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Articling crisis gets worse

|Written By Kendyl Sebesta

The Law Society of Upper Canada’s articling task force has reported a three-percentage-point increase in Ontario’s articling shortage this year in a grim forecast that has left law students and lawyers grappling for answers.

The shortage of articling positions is even greater given the number of graduates from past years who couldn’t find one and are still looking, says Albert Lin. Photo: Robin Kuniski

Task force chairman Tom Conway made the announcement during Convocation proceedings on April 26. According to his update, 15 per cent of applicants were without an articling position this year.

That’s up from 12 per cent last year. That means roughly one in seven law students will be unable to find an articling position by 2013.

“Articling is an issue in which the profession is fully engaged and we need time to consider everything we heard during the consultation process and thoroughly study all the submissions we’ve received,” said Conway.

“The task force is very pleased with the interest shown and with the quality of written submissions.”

The law society created the articling task force in June 2011 in a bid to address a continuing decline in articling positions across the province.

Since then, it has released several reports with the most recent submitted to Convocation in February.

In addition, it has held 10 consultation sessions across the province and received more than 100 written submissions for consideration in its final report.

It has now put off releasing the final report until this fall after earlier planning to do so this spring.

While the latest figures are concerning, the incoming president of the University of Toronto Students’ Law Society suggests they could be masking an even larger articling crisis.

“The number may not seem like much but it could actually be quite misleading,” says Albert Lin.

“The effects of the articling shortage occur over time and when you take into account the number of students who weren’t able to find articling positions last year, combined with those who will not find them this year, the number could really be much larger.”

According to a draft report for the law society’s professional development and competence committee, alternatives to articling, such as a practical legal training course, may help close the gap.

Ontario Bar Association president Paul Sweeny says that while a course and other solutions offered by the task force may help with the shortage in the interim, the profession needs to come up with more permanent answers.

“It seems to be a problem that is growing and it has to be addressed,” says Sweeny. “We’ll have to look into how deeply the shortage is impacted by the economy and what role the increasing number of law students plays in the current articling shortage.

I think right now articling experiences can be varied, but consistency and care will have to be taken with any new approach.”

According to the draft report, large- and medium-sized law firms currently offer the bulk of articling positions in Ontario with smaller firms failing to play a significant role in the job market.

The law society has attempted to change that but hasn’t been successful so far.

“Law students are left facing a wall with no real ability to scale it and it’s getting worse over time,” says Osgoode Hall Law School dean Lorne Sossin.

“When they’ve tried everything they could think of and nothing works, perhaps its time to turn to the model itself. That model is currently creating a bottleneck between supply and demand and perhaps it’s time we find a different pathway to address that issue.”

But Sossin says that as more and more students enter Ontario’s law schools, the profession should resist the urge to simply create positions in the interim that won’t meet their needs.

“We have to be careful not to create articling positions just for the sake of creating positions,” says Sossin.

“That being said, there really is no advantage to having 15 per cent of law students looking for an articling position only to discover there are none.

Other provinces don’t seem to have this problem and I think Ontario could benefit from alternative pathways to articling that would expose law students to more choices.”

According to Sossin, those options could include a merit-focused approach to articling based on grades and the creation of a more structured and supportive program that would offer an alternative to the 10-month articling position currently required.

“I think a number of things are possible here with the right amount of planning and political will,” says Sossin. “I don’t sense there’s any appetite for maintaing the status quo.”

In the meantime, Lin says he’ll continue to focus on what he can do to give himself a competitive edge on the articling front even if the shortage continues to grow.

“Right now, I think a lot of students are just focusing on what they can do and are trying not to concern themselves too much with the statistics,” he says.

“Perhaps we take a rather myopic view of the situation, but what can you do when it’s something you’re really passionate about?”

For more, see "Articling crisis set to grow" and "Time to ditch sacred cows in addressing articling crisis."

  • Shams Shamsuddeen
    In order to keep legal profession in its place of prestige and to get back its great traditional value, the concerning organizations has to take into consideration the following points :
    1. All Canadian law schools should cut 1/3 of their enrollment
    2. In order to train the law students, a 4th year class should be opened for 2 semesters. 1st semester at law school and the 2nd semester in the court. All well professional trained lawyers of different ares of law will train them instead of a 10 months of articling at a law firm.
    3. FLSC should be more strict in legal credential assessment process. They have to entertain the foreign trained lawyers the previous result of whom are very brilliant and they should cut it down at half.
    4. The FLSC have to take responsibility to provide their students articling facility and practical courses.
  • WorklinginCalgary
    This may be a crisis of Ontario articling students, looking for work exclusively in Toronto or Ottawa. Any Ontario law student grad can move to any other province in Canada to article. In Calgary/Edmonton, there's no such shortage or articling positions, and no shortage of positions in small-town Alberta either. It's not a crisis to say that every single Ontario law grad can't work in downtown Toronto or Ottawa. Look at Medical schools. Not all grads can work in big cities, in fact, students near the bottom of their class have to work in small cities/towns after they finish medical school, since the resident-positions in big cities are the most sought-after. This 'articling crisis' may not exist if students unable to find work in their preferred city or province take the step to move where there is work.
  • Frustrated Employer
    I took a chance on an articling student, devoted a lot of expense training him with a view to having him join me as an associate on his Call. He did, for a year, which did not compensate me for the outlay of expense. For a small law firm just east of Toronto, that was a huge investment. Now I have to replace him. From my point of view, I am glad that there is a well trained lawyer out there, and I was glad to do it. But, before I consider another articling student (I am advertising for a New Call or Junior Laywer), what does an employer do to protect themselves without having an articling student sign a contract for indentured servitude? As students posting to the crisis article, what would you suggest?
  • Saad A. Saidullah
    7:15 PM, Monday, 15th April 2013, Toronto, Canada
    19:15 Hours, Monday, 15.04.2013, Toronto, Canada

    Sa'ad A. Saidullah's email
    Sa'ad A. saidullah, Barrister, Solicitor & Notary
    Called to the Ontario Bar, Canada (LSUC 2001)

    Sa'ad A. Saidullah, Advocate, High Court of Her Imperial Majesty (H.I.M.) Queen Victoria at/in Allahabad, United
    Provinces/ Uttar Pradesh/ U.P. 211001, India/ INDIA

    7:19 PM, Monday, 15th April 2013, Toronto, Canada
    19:19 Hours, Monday, 15.04.2013, Toronto, Canada
  • JP
    Pay your articling student more money. The fact that there is oversupply of law graduates and no articling jobs, means they cannibalize each other and many even resort to working free. Modern day slavery in many cases, the way articling students get treated.

    Then when they are done their articling, they are not to be blamed when they take off for an offer of real money, or a job closer to home.
  • Victoria Lehman
    This should actually be a boon to our profession, as the average age of our rural lawyers is 58 years, and there is grave concern that critical lack of succession is leaving huge areas of Canada unserviced. Grads should "think outside the box" of heavily urban areas, and would make very decent livings in rural practices that are often a stone's throw from the amenities of the City, as well as having the opportunity of the frequently-touted "work-life balance". This applies to doctors and other professionals as well, apparently.
  • Another Graduate
    What does boon mean???
  • Recent grad
    It's blatantly obvious that the problem is the increasing number of law school graduates who want to practice in Ontario, including the yearly flood of students who couldn't get into even a single Canadian school and had to go to Australia or the UK.

    No matter what is done about this so-called "crisis", we should not let the legal profession in Ontario continue to move in the direction where anyone with a pulse can practice law. Currently, getting into a Canadian law school is not difficult, failing a law school's program is virtually impossible, and the jokes that the LSUC calls licensing exams have a pass rate of 85% within a single try.

    Having this feel-good mentality that everyone deserves to be a lawyer does not benefit the public; we should push for high standards.
  • civic minded
    What about articling interships with earning opportunities? Everyone wins where a law grad can article, a law firm or organization obtains legal services and the grad can keep a portion of all fees they earn. In this way low-overhead firms could take on articling students without adding to their overhead costs or creating any unfunded obligations. Flexibility would be needed, for example, as ome students might do better with two part-time positions and by adding in some law clerk duties, or a longer term of articles might be needed where grads needed to hold down unrelated jobs or meet other obligations.
  • Unemployed Law Grad
    The FLSC/LSUC need to stop sitting on the sidelines and start playing hardball with the schools. Immigration rules aside, the number of lawyers coming in from abroad can't be controlled, but there's no reason to permit the opening of new schools and the expansion of class sizes in what is very clearly a stale market for legal services. Close Lakehead preemptively, cut Ottawa's enrollment in half, and -- what the heck -- do some slashing at Windsor while you're at it (God knows how they ever thought they could justify an intake of over 200 in a small, recession-stricken city).

    By the way, the LSUC can go ahead and nix the proposed course-based alternative; there's no way in hell a debt-strapped law grad such as myself who's just spent seven years in school would be even remotely interested in some silly class-based lawyer training, presumably requiring further fees without offering any of the benefits of true on-the-job experience.
  • Dave, a lawyer
    This seems like a classic situation of over supply. We don't need this many law grads at the moment. Trouble is, the law schools, who make their money pumping out grads, don't care, because they want the enrollment. The Law Firms, who employ most of the articling students, don't care because they get a bigger pool to cherry pick the best students from and they are hungry. The Law Society tries to balance interests, but ultimately, there are no articling positions and so they shave this and patch that. The articling system protects the existing bar, because it restricts entry to an already over saturated market, so its not likely to get dumped soon. The law schools should probably anticipate the inevitable class action by getting all first year law students to sign a waiver acknowledging no guarantee of a job after three years. Perhaps they already do. I would.
  • jaded 2L
    Dave, how can this be a classic situation of over supply when so many Ontarians cannot afford basic legal services and therefore must rely on Legal Aid or act as unrepresented litigants? The supply of legal services needs to increase in areas of law that are currently undersuppled in the market. Increased supply and competition would lower the price of legal sevices, allowing for greater affordability and access to justice.

    Let's be honest here. LSUC is a cartel that primarily represents elite interests within the profession. LSUC will drag its feet on an issue that opens the legal services market to greater supply. Licensees do not want enterprising young lawyers from using ABS and other business models that would increase competion and drive down the price of consumer legal servies. We need to be honest here that it is NOT in LSUC's interest to change from the status quo regarding the present articling crisis.
  • Charles Ball

    Overhead at my office is over $200.00 per hour. I don't practice family law or criminal law because poor client's can't even pay overhead. It's not a cartel - it's is the economic reality of modern life.

    Do you think any patient would pay for nursing at the rate we pay nurses today if the government didn't pay it by taking from the rich to pay for the poor? Not a chance. Don't confuse the issues. Poor people could never afford good lawyers.

    Licensing is about standards. There are two options. Make it hard to get into law school and cut the numbers or make it easier to get into law school and toughen up licensing.
  • Usman Hannan
    Articling should be optional, period. Law schools should admit their failures, period.

    Ontario should adopt the US model of lawyer training where there is no articling whatsoever. Canadian law schools ultimately always adopt the US style, breaking away from the UK tradition: 4-year degree requirement, JD designation etc. The name Juris Doctor should keep its weight to the public.

    Law schools should be professional lawyer trainers, instead of just liberal arts oriented legal discourse emphasizers. There can be a BA in law for the later academic pursuits. With such an approach, the number of professional lawyer students (not ‘law students’) should drop, because it takes resources and care to train a lawyer just like it takes to train doctors, but it is mass production to give lectures to a 100 student class or double it again for profit seeking motives. The entire third year should be hands on professional lawyer training as a substitute for articling.
  • Alan
    Hiring an articling student should be thought of as a moral obligation of licensed practitioners. However, if that obligation becomes an economic burden which affects the finances and time of the principal then the Law Society should find a way to level the equation particularly for sole practitioners. While that exists in terms of CE requirements -- why not further incentives in terms of a waiver of membership fees etc. Think outside the box.
  • A Partner in a Firm
    Moving back to full articling years will do more to fix the problem than any other solution.

    Some firms make a choice to not bother with articling students and hire law clerks instead. Law clerks will not leave after 8 months of training and improvement. Law students will. If the goal of a firm is to not only train new lawyers, but get work done on their files, firms cannot afford to take this route where they are getting 2/3 of a year of coverage and 1/3 of a year of gap filling. Where the first half of the time spent is wasted as a learning curve, there is less time to measure the skills of these new lawyers to determine if they are worthy of hire back.

    I say move articling back to 10 or 11 months. Firms that are hiring clerks might hire students instead, especially where they could benefit from the graduates as new lawyers.
  • Soon to be Called
    Articling is 10 months.
  • Ontario Lawyer
    This is ridiculous. There is no need for Ontario law schools to admit so many students when the market can't take care of the number of current graduates. Osgoode, Windsor and Ottawa all need to lower the number of students they admit. And opening up a new law school in Lakehead was just the last thing we needed. We will be dealing with a lot of unhappy graduates in the years to come unless those with the ability to change this can smarten up.
  • Karen
    This is an artificial crisis fed by law grads' sense of entitlement to practice where they want to, as opposed to where they are needed. I am certain that there are positions that go unfilled in Ontario because they require a move to a "less desirable" town outside the Toronto-Kingston-Ottawa corridor. We know that small town and rural practices are dying for students and young associates - why aren't we hearing about that in this article? It's not that there aren't jobs - it's that there aren't enough jobs in Toronto to satisfy these grads. So move to where the jobs are, even if it means leaving Ontario!

    Be creative and proactive, just like you need to be in order to be a good lawyer, and stop feeding this sense of entitlement that "I can choose where I work and what type of practice I have."
  • Josh
    You may think its easy if we simply apply to small towns. The situation is actually not much better, sole practitioners and small firms can't hire in small towns for the same reason that they can't hire in large towns. They simply do not have the money to pay and train articling students. Sure, you may be desirable with 3+ years of experience in a small town, but unlike med students, law students have to persuade employers to take them and train them. Why should a sole practitioner making 70 K in a small town, pay a student 75% of his total income, only to see the student leave after 10 months?
  • lawpartner
    Hi Karen,

    My partner graduated from law school in 2011 with very good marks and was even given an award in professional conduct. We very much wanted to go to small town Ontario for his articling. In fact that would have been our first choice. In spite of scouring every small town job possibility we could find, sadly the opportunities just weren't there. Sadly we ended up in a very racist town on the prairie. As much as I am happy that this chance did come up I wouldn't want to raise a family here amongst this much hatred. I'm leaving this comment with the hopes that you may know of some towns off Ontario's beaten path that may be looking for a young(ish) lawyer for a permanent position. Please post any suggestions and they would be greatly appreciated.

    Law Partner

    P.S. Sorry there has been such a backlash to your comment but others like us have likely had very similar experiences when seeking a position. It can be very disheartening.
  • Unemployed Law Grad
    Yeah, I for one am fed up with remarks like Karen's. (Coincidentally it's the same non-evidence-based argument that's been used opportunistically by would-be faculty members to support the needless creation of schools like TRU and Lakehead in the face of stagnant market demand.) Usually these statements come from veteran lawyers who have no clue about the reality on the ground for new grads, let alone the demand for legal services in small town Canada.

    Have you tried applying for articling positions off the beaten path, Karen? I have. The few paid positions that exist receive dozens -- sometimes hundreds -- of applications. I'm a graduate of a Canadian school with average grades who's already applied to many of them, and I rarely even get interviewed.

    And if there's a propensity to apply to positions in the Toronto-Kingston-Ottawa "corridor", it might be because that's where about 97% of the jobs are, in case you haven't noticed.
  • Bob
    Unemployed law grad- ever consider working outside southern Ontario? There are plenty of jobs for young law students east of Ontario. I know, because I do a lot of hiring. Free your mind and think outside the box. Think outside Toronto. This is a big country.
  • Impi
    Disagree. My experience was that lawyers in small towns are aware of the problems articling students face in bigger cities/markets. So they offer them peanuts. Small town lawyers have a lot of overhead but they also are not averse to taking advantage of law students.
  • Good Grief
    'Sense of Entitlement?' Have YOU ever looked for an articling position in a less desirable town or a rural economy? You'd be surprised. They have a mental block against students. They want lawyers and they have never figured how to go about hiring articling students. Maybe speak to a few people who actually have struggled for an articling position before making patronizing remarks.
  • A
    This also doesn't appear to take into account the international lawyers who get accredited and can not get an articling position either... Maybe the blame should also rest on the Federation of Law Societies of Canada for allowing us to go through a costly and time consuming accreditation process, when there is little promise of an articling position at the end of it.. The same goes for Law Schools.
  • Jason
    It is NONSENSE that any internationally trainined lawyers are accredited at all in a climate in which CANADIAN law graduates are challenged in getting articling postions OR jobs.

    This country lacks healthy boundaries. It's a betrayal of Canadian youth.

    The law schools should cut the number of positions to make up for the shortfall.

    Instead of promoting "diversity" which really means giving immigrants advantages in admissions, Canada should be recruiting immigrants into labour areas where the country actually needs help.

    Not doing so punishes Canadians who are already here.

    This is insane.

  • 1L
    What a joke. International students are excellent contributions to all respective professional schools - whether it be law or medicine. They have an unequivocally more difficult time securing articling positions, despite how good they may look on paper. Trust me, you ill-mannered, misinformed whiner, international students are the LEAST likely group to be pointing fingers at vis-a-vis sparse articling perspectives for law graduates. I'm curious as to which law school you're at.
  • Ontario Law Graduate
    I also wonder if 15% seems low. There isn't much elaboration, but typically don't the figures from LSUC likely only include students who have entered the formal licensing process? If that's the case, its missing all the law grads who opted not to enter the formal licensing process until they can secure articles. According to LSUC regulations, once you start any part of the process, such as writing the bar exams, you have only 3 years to finish all of it. There are many grads who have put off registering for the process until they secure articles, so they have yet to be counted. Judging from the number of colleagues I know from my class alone who are still looking, the numbers are probably higher. As far as UO, anyone who's been there recently knows its overcrowded. Students have been writing about it for years in their law student paper. Admin response has been essentially "Its your problem, not ours." The whole education & certification system needs fundamental change... yesterday.
  • Ontario Law Student
    Once again, no one is willing to place the blame squarely where it belongs: law schools, mostly Ottawa and Windsor. When the University of Ottawa's law school more than doubles its enrollment over the past 10 years, it's pretty obvious where all those excess lawyers are coming from. Even if the articling crisis was better known among law school applicants (it's not at all known), there would always be more people willing to enroll at those schools. Shame on them for accepting more students than the profession can handle.
  • Windsor Law Student
    [quote name="Ontario Law Student"]Once again, no one is willing to place the blame squarely where it belongs: law schools, mostly Ottawa and Windsor. When the University of Ottawa's law school more than doubles its enrollment over the past 10 years, it's pretty obvious where all those excess lawyers are coming from. Even if the articling crisis was better known among law school applicants (it's not at all known), there would always be more people willing to enroll at those schools. Shame on them for accepting more students than the profession can handle.[/quote]

    I have to ask why Windsor is to blame? They have not increased their student body for years? It is U of T and Western that are currently increasing their student body as well as the two new Canadian Schools. Seems to be that those schools are to blame far more than Windsor.

    Was your opinion just ill-informed or just out of sheer ignorance?
  • stephen webster
    we need to accept more students that live in rural Ontario and will agree to work in rural Ontario for a period of 5 years after finishing school
  • Michael
    Perhaps you should do a little research before name calling. The statistics are easily available by an internet search:

    Western Law first year students 1998: 159
    2012: 157

    U of T first year 1998: 168
    2012: 179

    Windsor 1998: 151
    2012: 214

    Ottawa 1998: 179
    2012: 377
  • Emmy Smith
    [quote name="Michael"]Perhaps you should do a little research before name calling. The statistics are easily available by an internet search:

    Western Law first year students 1998: 159
    2012: 157

    U of T first year 1998: 168
    2012: 179

    Windsor 1998: 151
    2012: 214

    Ottawa 1998: 179
    2012: 377[/quote]
    Late to the game. But nevertheless: Might I ask why you blame Windsor and Ottawa but not Osgoode? Your comment smacks of elitism.
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