In January 2008, the Law Society of Upper Canada (“LSUC”) Licensing and Accreditation Task Force issued a Consultation Report in which it predicted that for the licensing period 2009-10, there would be a gap of 400 candidates who would be unable to secure articling positions in Ontario. This prediction assumed the economy remained strong.
Fast-forward to August 2009. The economy is showing some limited signs of recovery but remains mired in recession. The formalized articling recruitment period regulated by LSUC for all intensive purposes has finished. The Ontario criminal defence bar is in the midst of a legal aid boycott with its membership suffering. And there are even more candidates looking for articles because of increased enrollment at international law schools and the legacy of the double cohort.
Although still early in the process, the increase number of students looking for articles in combination with fewer articling positions available due to the poor economy means that if you are still looking for articles, you may be in trouble.
Take comfort in the fact that the summer of 2010 when most articles begin is a year away. The economy may improve and many smaller firms hire on a needs basis. In fact, it is not uncommon for a firm to immediately hire an articling student when a big case comes along. But what happens next year when the heat of summer is bearing down and you have not secure articles?
Have you ever consider articling for free? Simply convince a member of LSUC to become your articling principal. The lawyer needs to be in good standing with the law society and has practice law for at least three out of the past five years and who is not currently the subject of a professional complaint.
After seven years of attending university, do you really need a paycheque? Think of it this way – you do not have to pay tuition – only living costs, dress clothing, loan payments, and a car. From your principal perspective, he or she is giving their valuable time to mentor you in the ways of the legal profession and the quid pro quo is for you to work for them without financial compensation. It is only for ten months after all and the banks will surely extend you more credit.
Undoubtedly some people will criticise the option of articling for free as the 21st century professional world equivalent of slavery. That such a barrier to licensing as the lack of paid articling positions only props up an existing oligarchy of privilege dominant in the legal profession. But these criticisms would likely only be voiced by those not desperately seeking their articles.
To be fair, LSUC has recognized the issue and has taken some action such as the creation of an articling registry, the streamlining the filing process, and the hiring of additional staff. However, it needs to do more. The registry is underused by employers and there are no alternatives to the articling requirement such as additional course work.
A failure by LSUC to adequately address the needs of the hundreds of law students who will be unable to secure their articles this coming year will certainly be noted by the Ontario Fairness Commissioner acting under her authority found in the Fair Access to the Regulated Professions Act.