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Speaker's Corner: Lawyers should reject LSUC articling motion

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.

  • Karen Ann Reid
    Simply stunning assertion that the profession should bow down to a so-called 'reasonable expectation of employment' by law students. If such an expectation exists it is presumptuous. Is this entitlement being inculcated in law students' minds? News flash - it IS a free market.
  • Marco Sciarra
    While I disagree with the motion compelling firms to hire Articling students, I am astonished that more firms and sole practitioners are not benefitting from the increased supply of Articling candidates. I personally have hired and benefitted from many students over the years who have studied both locally and abroad and are willing and able to work at a mutually agreeable rate. In my experience,the increased supply has created a culture of students who are appreciative of the opportunity, happy to learn the ropes, and aware of the importance of hard work. Mentoring these students and training them is something I am proud of and will continue to do provided my practice can sustain it.
  • Mike Lamb
    Odd that the law has not been considered on this issue. The basic principle of freedom of contract entrenched in the common law comes to mind. I doubt the Law Society has any authority to impose contracts of employment on law firms or students. Even if that was a possibility how would it address issues such as lack of office space, financial inability to pay students and lack of work. Finally, if students were randomly assigned to law firms some of them might be forced to relocate to other cities only to find they would trained in area of law they were not interested in.
  • Greg Rogers
    Bill King thinks that law students should be assured jobs. His weak argument is that the taxpayers have a right to expect a payback.

    Yes, because as we all know lawyers and their larvae law students are so much more deserving than other,...you know..."little people". Those unimportant people like truck drivers, (who pay for thier training), carpenters, plumbers, glaziers and electricians (who pay for their trade classes), nurses, technicians and pharmacists.

    All those..."little people"? Who cares right?

    But LAW STUDENTS!!??? Well now they are just so important they much be assured jobs!
  • Stephen Scott
    Let me understand this. A student selected at random is forced into a law firm. There is no basis for the firm's ascertaining or assessing abilities, interests, fit, or character. Suppose that,-- as sooner or later will occur,-- the student causes loss or damage through negligence, incompetence, breach of trust, or other crominal conduct.

    Can the firm escape liability to third parties? Who will indemnify it for its liabilities or its own losses and danage? Will the LSUC agree to indemnify it absolutely for all losses direct or indirect, proximate or remote, foreseeable or not?

    Who has proposed this? Monty Python?
  • Bill King
    Ms. Marshall treats the supply of lawyer-labour as a free-market issue. It isn't. The restrictions on entering the profession, including the limitation of places in law schools, are intended to equate supply and demand. Law students have a reasonable expectation of employment in their profession and the taxpayers who have subsidized their (very expensive) education have a right to expect that their investment will not go to waste. The profession also has a responsibility to ensure that this takes place. If must create sufficient articling opportunities for all graduates.
  • Bob Smith
    It what universe is the restriction on the supply of lawyers intended to balance supply and demand? First, there are no limitations on places in law school, hence the ever icnreasing enrolment and, not coincidentally, the oversupply of articling students. This has been made worse by the practice of many students who can't get into law school to head off to law schools in Australia or the UK to get degrees

    Second, students don't have a reasonable expectation of employment in their profession and haven't for a few years (see the aforementioned over supply of articling students).

    This idea is so mind-blowingly stupid it actually speaks poorly of the profession that 15 of our members thought that it was an idea even worth considering. I imagine it was done to stir debate, but they would have been better to promote debate with a proposal that wasn't prima facie ridiculous.

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