Former treasurer touts 3rd option for articling crisis

Former Law Society of Upper Canada treasurer Gavin MacKenzie has jumped into the articling controversy by criticizing the current options on the table and positing a new alternative for Convocation to consider when the debate resumes this week.

In a letter addressed to current Treasurer Thomas Conway and all benchers, MacKenzie, who currently practises at Heenan Blaikie LLP, expresses concern that an approach to the issue that “rightly enjoys widespread support in the profession” isn’t one of the options offered to Convocation.

His option would continue to require applicants to article while increasing the number of articling positions through financial incentives to students or employers, or both, if necessary.

As MacKenzie sees it, this option isn’t before Convocation because of a concern that it would be unfair to students unable to find an articling position even if the number of positions increased.

“This concern is legitimate but overstated,” he writes. “The dramatic increase in the number of applicants who wish to practise law in Ontario is a problem that we neither created nor encouraged. We should do all we can to accommodate the increasing numbers of applicants by making as many articling positions available as possible, but it would be a serious mistake for us to compromise our high standards of competence to do so.”

The options now before Convocation find their origins in the recommendation of a task force commissioned by LSUC.

A majority on the task force suggests that licensing could be accomplished in two ways: by articling, a course expected to be pursued by a majority of students, or through an eight-month law practice program.

The minority on the task force suggests that articling has run its course and should be abolished and replaced by a two- or three-month transitional training program.

MacKenzie finds the suggestion that articling be abolished particularly disturbing.

“I think we would be making a serious mistake if we were to do away with articling as a requirement of admission to the Ontario bar,” he said in an e-mail.

In his lengthy missive to the benchers, MacKenzie provides detailed reasons for consideration of an increase in the number of articling positions to be supported by financial incentives.

Confidence that “articling is an effective transitional training program,” MacKenzie observes, was expressed by lawyers in large and small firms, in large urban areas and rural communities, and in most if not all practice areas.

As for the law practice program, MacKenzie isn’t confident that it will ensure competency among new lawyers.
 
Indeed, he notes that even the majority recommending the program recognized that, given the lack of experience with the option anywhere in Canada or the United States, “there is a large degree of supposition” in the analysis of its adequacy.

For more, see "Dissent on articling task force" and "Articling D-Day set for November."

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