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Law practice pilot shortened

|Written By Yamri Taddese

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.

Lee Akazaki, left, and Omar Ha-Redeye had lots to say as they tweeted during the Law Society of Upper Canada’s public debate on articling last Thursday. Photo: Laura Pedersen

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."

  • Sharma
    Many don't want to say the truth for purposes of political correctness. The truth is that canadian students who can't get into Ontario schools are essentially purchasing degrees from overseas. NCA's are flooding the market. They lack the intellectual horsepower and will invariably be relegated to being sole practitioners. As a result, fees will continue to decline and the quality of work will diminish. Articling should be longer if anything. And the NCA requirements need to be tightened like in medicine. They should make it nearly impossible for foreign schooled students. Law school to begin with is useless let alone those private schools in England and Australia and USA where the degrees are handed out to anyone with the funds. The prestige of law is going down and will continue to go down.
  • SolePractitioner108
    There's actually a lot of truth to what sharms is saying. Though he/she could have put it better. He's not saying anything about "immigrants" sunny, he's talking about Canadian kids who go abroad. And there's truth to it. They are going on the "sold-to" promise that they will end up on Bay St. The reality is that they would never get hired. Everyone in the legal profession knows why they went to private schools overseas. Because those schools will pretty much accept anyone who pays their tuition. Law School is big business. As a result, they will be left to start own practice, thereby diminishing the prestige of sole p's like myself.
  • Thinqr
    [quote name="SolePractitioner108"] "Because those schools will pretty much accept anyone who pays their tuition. Law School is big business. As a result, they will be left to start own practice, thereby diminishing the prestige of sole p's like myself.[/quote]

    That's why these young people need good articles and strong mentoring, to maintain the standards of our profession. I too am a sole practitioner. My student at law, who attended law school in England, is bright, willing and well-educated. I hope he becomes a very good sole practitioner, more of whom are needed in the profession.
  • sunny
    Sharma, I guess you must have purchased your degree. No matter how tight system you make to bar the immigrants from practicing their profession they will clear all the odds. I think you need to go back to school and learn some manners ! People like you are disgrace to the whole system !
  • Gerry Laarakker
    Sharma; as a sole practitioner I find your comment offensive. I see nothing wrong with being a sole practitioner and would not trade with my classmates who went to the big firms.

    Your arrogance is not becoming.
  • karen c
    In the meantime, the society could create a small-firm- friendly articling option to make having articling studens both attractive and cost-effective for smaller firms. This would be the ideal solution for everyone.
  • Gerry Laarakker
    Perhaps the adjustment should be made in law schools so that people graduating would actually have practice skills. This would be akin to becoming a notary in BC where notaries take a 10 moths course and can do many of the tasks a lawyer can. A more sophisticated version could be developed.

    As it is, I have always felt that my time in law school was interesting, but largely wasted. Quite irrelevant to the practice of law.

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