A proposal to resolve the articling crisis

There is an articling crisis in Ontario. Many students enticed to law schools by the prospect of being a lawyer, can’t overcome the final hurdle because they can’t find an articling job. Ten months of working for an experienced lawyer is a prerequisite to joining the legal profession, in addition to a law degree, the bar exams, and a “good character.” But most lawyers don’t want to hire articling students despite cajoling from the Law Society. They probably have a good reason. Supervising an articling student is expensive: it costs a lot in salary (though often still meager), liability, time, and office space. I propose that students pay for their own articling instead of paying for the third year of law school.

First, articling is training, often far more useful than law school. We are used to paying for training, and teachers generally expect compensation. Articling students usually don’t compensate lawyers who supervise them, but lawyers make up for it by working articling students to death. This is not true for all articling principals, but articling has a reputation for long hours. Reverse the flow of money between articling students and principals, and the relationship between them will become healthier.

Second, the third year of law school is nothing special, and many law students don’t need it. Second and third year students take courses from the same pool. Some of these courses are purely academic, and students who want to be lawyers don’t need them. After all, a general undergraduate liberal arts education should be a pre-requisite for law school admission so valuable lawyer training time is not wasted on academic subjects. Students who do not wish to be lawyers (for example, students who want to be law professors) should be able to take a third year of law school.

Third, replacing the third year of law school with an articling year will shorten the path to becoming a lawyer by exactly one year. The cost of training a lawyer to the public will be less because the less time it takes to train a lawyer, the less subsidies, grants, tax breaks, and other forms of government assistance will be required.

Fourth, it will not cost anything extra to law students because they would have paid for that year to law schools anyway. Now they will pay to the Law Society that will compensate selected lawyers. Lawyers will no doubt compete for articling principal gigs since they will make money instead of losing it. The quality of articling principals will also probably increase because their pool will widen and the Law Society will have the money to select better ones.

Fifth, the law firms who wish to snatch the “best” (whatever that means) articling students will have another form of incentive to offer in addition to higher salaries—reimbursement of articling tuition charged by the Law Society.

Sixth, the profession will get more control over lawyer training and more actual lawyers will teach future lawyers how to practice law.

Seventh, articling students will be less vulnerable as they will be paying for articling principals’ services instead of serving articling principals in exchange for wages. The Law Society will also have a greater control of working conditions and the nature of training.

Eighth, articling students will be exposed to a far broader rager of lawyers. Many fascinating lawyers doing amazing work for their clients and for the public never hire students because of the cost. If these lawyers get paid for hiring a student, more of them will probably do.

Ninth, law students who want nothing to do with law practice will have a chance to identify themselves and get better attention from law schools. Law students who do want to be lawyers will work in real lawyers’ offices instead of competing for scarce legal clinic spots in law school.

Tenth, Ontario will finally have more articling jobs, which is at the heart of the articling crisis in this province.

Pulat Yunusov is a Toronto litigation lawyer.


(Post sponsored by AdviceScene)


4 Comments on "A proposal to resolve the articling crisis"

  1. “After all, a general undergraduate liberal arts education should be a pre-requisite for law school admission so valuable lawyer training time is not wasted on academic subjects.”

    So, those of us with engineering, business, science, math degrees should not be admitted to law school?

  2. I hope Canadian undergraduate engineering, business, science, and math programs give students a general liberal arts education.


  3. Well, they don’t. Engineering and business degrees, though taught at an undergraduate level, are considered professional programs. Then when you get into science, you typically further specialize in a certain area, e.g. organic chemistry, biology, physics, though you have a “science” degree.

  4. Michelle Chan | October 20, 2011 at 3:08 pm |

    I applaud the author’s efforts to find a solution to Ontario’s apparent articling crisis. However, at the moment, it does not appear that law schools will change their curriculum to include articling anytime soon. In the meantime, we are caught in limbo. I’m talking about paid vs. unpaid articling. Until there is major systematic change to articling, we have to deal with uncertainty in the market. Right now, some candidates are left with no option but to consider unpaid articling positions. I think this is unfair as candidates lack a free choice, and their position is being taken advantage of. The following reasons also apply:

    1) Articling is a form of employment. You make a salary, pay taxes and as far as the Canada Revenue Agency is concerned, you are employed. So working the same job without getting paid is against employment law principles.

    2) Articling students who choose to work unpaid are not making free decisions. They consider this option at the last resort. If you were presented with the options to work unpaid or paid, which would you choose?

    3) Articling principals who offer unpaid positions are for-profit entities. This would be a different argument if we were talking about legal aid clinics, or charities for vulnerable clients. Therefore, there is no justification for working unpaid except for the fact that some principals choose not to find funding.

    I don’t want to liken unpaid articling students to child labourers, foreign-trained professionals working as taxi drivers, or women who are not paid the same as men who do the same job but continue to work quietly anyway. I don’t want to refer to the Bar Council of England’s decision to forbid unpaid ‘pupillages’ (articling equivalents). I’m curious to know what others think. If I’m just another disgruntled voice, so be it. I welcome all comments, insults, suggestions, etc.

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