The question of how to fix the articling problem has been a ubiquitous topic of discussion among lawyers. From the Law Society of Upper Canada’s controversial Law Practice Program to calls from many lawyers to scrap articling all together, the debate has become particularly vigorous in recent years.
A group of 15 Ontario lawyers are about to shake the debate up even more with an extreme proposal that, if put into practice, would have disastrous outcomes. On May 13, they will be tabling a motion at the LSUC’s annual general meeting that proposes making it mandatory for law firms of eight lawyers or more to hire an articling student selected at random.
The rationale is that it will make things fairer for everyone and cut back on the rivalry and anxiety felt by law students as they compete for coveted articling spots.
This is the most flawed solution proposed so far in the great articling debate.
Firstly, it kills competition, and that’s a bad thing. A healthy dose of competition motivates people to work harder and be better. It goes without saying that law school is a competitive environment. It is the natural outcome of putting bright students together for three intense years. From grades to moots and even law rugby, students compete with one another from Day 1 and strive to come out on top.
It should come as no surprise that law students are competitive when it comes to job opportunities, too. Just like there are only so many As to go around, there are only so many jobs available, too. Students, then, need to ensure they are doing the right things both inside and outside of the classroom to give themselves a competitive edge.
Secondly, the proposal wrongly assumes every student is entitled to a job. Getting a university degree does not mean you deserve to have a job waiting for you at your doorstep the moment you graduate. A degree from a good school certainly gives you an advantage, but you still need to go out and hustle to land a great gig.
Law graduates, like all job seekers, need to make their own opportunities. When I was searching for articles, I ended up getting a job at a firm that hadn’t hired a student in nine years. I was able to convince the firm that taking on a student was a great move and that I was the right person for the job. Students shouldn’t expect a job to land in their laps; they should get out there and network, hit the pavement, and even make cold calls if necessary.
Thirdly and most importantly, the proposal strips both the students and law firms of their free choice. Many articling jobs lead to permanent law positions. One of the most important factors in hiring an inexperienced lawyer is whether that person is a good fit for the firm. Personality plays a big part in that. With random assignments, neither the firm nor the student has any say in the hiring process. Students cannot seek employment at firms they gel with and firms cannot hire students they feel would fit well with their culture. This is a recipe for unhappiness in the workplace and could have a very detrimental impact on the legal profession as a whole.
Hopefully, lawyers will scrutinize and vote the motion down. While there is no doubt a problem with the articling system in Ontario exists, going to the extreme and forcing students on law firms in a random lottery system is not the answer.
Kathryn Marshall is a lawyer and columnist. She tweets about all things related to the law in Toronto at @TOLawsome.