Law Society of Upper Canada benchers have approved a law practice program as an alternative to articling under a three-year pilot project instead of the original five-year time frame.
Despite concerns over a two-tier system for law graduates, Convocation elected through a 36-20 vote last week to go through with the pilot project recommended by the law society’s articling task force.
Part of the law practice program will see law school graduates who don’t article take licensing courses for three to four months.
Proponents say the rest of the program will be spent in a co-op placement, although the details are currently unknown. The estimated cost of the licensing fee will increase to $5,670 per candidate from $2,950 after factoring in a final assessment.
Benchers who sided with the articling task force minority’s call to abolish articling vehemently fought the proposal for a law practice program last week, saying it will ensure that those who have a harder time finding articling positions, such as minorities and older graduates, will now face the additional burden of paying the costs of a new licensing course.
Beth Symes, one of the benchers who voted against the motion, said the law practice program would ensure “the haves” will get paid more than $75,000 to article at Bay Street firms while the “have-nots” are doubly penalized by the increasing costs to become licensed as lawyers.
The minority group wanted to see all graduates attend a transitional training program before being called to the bar.
Proponents of the minority option also said the law practice program would create a two-tier system where candidates who go through it will be seen as less competent than those who articled.
“In our view, it is inevitable that the LPP graduates will be stigmatized by the profession on the basis that these are the candidates who couldn’t find articles and therefore are somehow less qualified,” the minority members on the articling task force said in their report.
But in the debate that followed, the phrase “two-tier” itself was a double-edged sword. The majority used the same expression to justify the law practice program.
“We currently have a two-tiered system with those who can and can’t find articling,” Bencher Adriana Doyle said, hinting that the law practice program is in fact an opportunity for those who aren’t able to find positions in the existing flawed system.
Bencher Janet Minor agreed. “Although it is two streams, it is not second class,” she said in reference to the majority’s motion.
Minor, who announced the change to the majority motion that would shorten the length of the pilot product to three years, emphasized that “this is not meant to be a final blueprint.”
The fact that discrimination based on race, educational background, and class is entrenched in the industry wasn’t a matter of debate.
Those who are troubled with the existing system are not “people that are white and are summering at Bay Street firms,” Bencher Julian Falconer said. He supported the majority report.
Bencher Sydney Robins echoed a similar sentiment. “Top students can get articling, average students can get articling positions. . . . . It’s poorer, minority” graduates who struggle, he said.
Bencher Barbara Murchie contended that there’s no evidence that abolishing articling will lead to more competent lawyers.
She also said the majority’s motion “strengthens and consolidates” the standards expected of new lawyers.
Large numbers of viewers watched Thursday’s debate online via a webcast. During the debate, the articling topic trended on Twitter as anxious law students, lawyers, and members of the public weighed in.
Shortly after the vote, the Ontario Bar Association gave its blessing to the law society’s decision.
“The OBA believes adoption of the majority opinion which allows for articling and a law practice program to be the right way forward for the profession and the public,” said OBA President Morris Chochla in a statement released on Thursday.
Chochla added the OBA “is looking forward to working with the law society as it irons out the details to best protect the interests of the profession and the public in this exciting pilot project.”
The decision before Convocation was “unprecedented,” said Bencher Linda Rothstein. “So much blood has been spilled on those two positions. It has been a charged, emotional, and difficult journey.”
For more, see "Articling crisis gets worse" and "Dissent on articling task force."