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Bid to force articling positions shot down

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|Written By Yamri Taddese

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 idea of choice in articling positions ‘is illusory,’ says Peter Waldmann.

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."

  • Benjamin Ries
    Sure, firms are not be hiring as many new lawyers as there are new graduates - but treating the legal market as a static composition of existing firms is endemic to the current aritcling crisis, and tells us very little about the true public demand for legal services (e.g. much greater demand, if at lower cost).

    Our articling system gives existing firms an oligopoly. Hence: firms filled with overpaid lawyers; high supply of law students who want to earn those salaries; low demand from clients (who would rather pay less).

    Moving competition forward from articling to first year calls features one massive difference: those who aren't hired by firms could at least start practicing on their own and compete. If this competition drove down the price of legal services (and legal salaries too), demand from clients and supply from law students might be expected to move toward each other.
  • New Call
    This would be brilliant but for the fact that no one is teaching law students how to set up their own practice. There's not enough practical education in law school.

    Don't get me wrong, I love theory (I did an LLM for that very reason), but the process doesn't set you up for doing the nuts and bolts stuff, and certainly doesn't inform you how to set up your own practice (not to mention that doing so is impossible if you can't afford the start up costs, which are not inconsiderable, especially if you want to do something that requires money early on but doesn't pay out for quite a while, like say... personal injury).

    I also think it endangers the interests of clients to have a defacto situation where the least experienced among us are operating with the least amount of oversight. New calls need guidance and experience before going solo, and would have a better foundation for it if law schools offered more practical instruction alongside theory.
  • Benjamin Ries
    [quote name="New Call"]This would be brilliant but for the fact that no one is teaching law students how to set up their own practice. There's not enough practical education in law school.[/quote]

    ...yes, that's what articling is for; that's why the motion didn't call for the elimination of articling, but rather increased standardization of articling so that existing firms would be obligated to provide these types of universal practice skills (being arguably better-placed to do so than law schools).

    Right now, firms only seem to provide articling experiences that mostly equip new calls to be... associates in that same firm, if they're lucky enough to be hired back. That's natural self-perpetuation.
  • Stephen Scott
    The authors of this scheme certainly know how to start a discussion, if that was their purpose. So did Jonathan Swift with A Modest Propsal. This articling proposal is in the best tradition of Swift's, and just as plausible.
  • Ian Wick
    The proposal did not deal with the problem. The problem is a profession that is saturated with young lawyers/articling students. The law schools are pumping out graduates that have no chance of getting a meaningful job in the field. Instead of focusing on ensuring a high level of service from the profession, LSUC has avoided confrontation with the law schools.

    The notion that the problem could then be dropped on lawyers/law firms by forcing us to take students we do not need/want and pay them what LSUC would tell us would be laughable if the proposal had not been serious. I am sure it would have been followed by a subsequent policy demanding that we hire them and pay them a set salary. A tax by any other name....etc.

    Perhaps the best solution is for all of the supporters/authors of the proposed bill to each individually fund an articling student. Baby steps in the right direction, I am sure.
  • David Hager
    In response to Ian Wick's suggestion of "baby steps" it should be noted that Peter Waldmann, who drafted and proposed the motion, is a sole practitioner who employs two articling students. He is well beyond baby steps.
  • Paula M. McGirr
    In my opinion, the problem starts with the law schools admitting far more students then the market can reasonably handle upon these students' graduations. It is abysmal that a student should incur the already outrageous costs of a law degree (and the student loans many are saddled with) only to then be precluded from the licensing process due to an inability to get an articling position. I graded the Ryerson program papers this year and contrary to the laudatory comments some benchers have been making about that program, I found the calibre of many if not most of the papers that I marked to be sub-standard. The Ryerson program, with all due respect, is not the panacea that it is made out to be. Again, this begs the question of what is being taught at law schools and how it is being taught. Perhaps there should be some uniformity of standards among law schools. This might impede on professorial independence but would ensure a more transparent evaluation process for students.
  • New Call
    The reason most of those papers were "sub-standard" (and I imagine you're actually being gracious with that term. I'm certain you saw more than a few that were absolutely appalling) is because most of those students didn't graduate from a Canadian law school.

    A large number of licensing students (growing at an alarming rate every year) are those who could not get into a Canadian law school and so went abroad where the standards for getting in are much, MUCH lower (lower grades, no LSAT required, and you can get in right out of high school, no undergrad degree necessary).

    You want to know where a lot of the glut in the market is coming from? There you go.

    Not that law schools haven't let in too many at times themselves, but to fix that you'd need to get the provincial ban on tuition increases lifted from them. U of T and Osgoode haven't increased because they were able to increase tuition. Let the other schools do so to prevent admission inflation.
  • New Call... Old News
    I hope for your sake that the arguments you make in practice and in life are more original than the one made above.

    After writing my LSAT, I was accepted into several Canadian schools, Queen's included, and CHOSE to travel abroad. Given my background in IR this decision was a no-brainer. There is life outside of Canadian borders- as a new call you MUST know that there are globally respected law schools that provide PRACTICAL legal education, unlike the Canadian model.

    I arrived home and was offered three Articling placements at reputable firms. Sometimes a personality and international experience goes a lot farther than having 'utoronto' on your resume.

    Do not blanket every international law graduate with your narrow judgment until you do your research... you did learn to research in law school, correct? As for me... given my earning power I am off to Berkley in the fall. Congrats on your degree, you do seem far more intelligent than us foreign grads.
  • Outside in
    Ah yes the anti-international troll rears it's head and so soon in the comments! Contrary to popular belief, Canada is not the leading provider of legal services in the world, student hiring committees will affirm that our law schools produce plenty of their own idiots. And for the weaker students you refer to, who you think took the 'easy' way out by studying abroad, they just spent an additional 3 years writing accreditation exams without a modicum of transparency or industry support.

    Yes we are already producing too many lawyers, but what are we doing for the lawyers that we do produce? The lack of articling positions is due to the mix of law schools not preparing students for the legal market, students refusal to leave city centres, and law firms' inability to invest and train students when their own futures are commercially at risk. Little of this has to do with the 'mass influx of international lawyers', get off your protectionist high horse.
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