This article was originally published on www.LFTI.ca
The Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC)’s articling task force has released its final report on its proposed solution for what has been dubbed the “Articling Crisis” facing recent law grads in Ontario. The report directly concerns current law students, new graduates of law programs, law firms, and those considering entering the legal profession. Its main recommendation is the creation of a new Law Practice Program (LPP) — a blend of coursework and co-operative work placement — to co-exist with the current 10-month articling requirement. If approved, the program would start in the 2014-2015 licensing year, and run for five years. The full report is accessible here, titled Pathways to the Profession: a Roadmap for the Reform of Lawyer Licensing in Ontario.
In addition to writing the bar exam, law students in Ontario must currently complete a 10-month position as an “articling student” with a practitioner certified by the LSUC within three years of graduation to become a licensed lawyer. Slow growth in articling positions has failed to keep up with the swelling number of graduates from law programs in Canada, and has left as many as 15% of law grads without an articling position.
A minority of the LSUC’s task force recommended abolishing the articling requirement altogether (for an interesting take on the issue, see Dean Lorne Sossin of Osgoode Hall, “Should Articling Be Abolished?” 2010). Instead, they would prefer to see articling replaced with a two to three month-long transitional licensing program, consisting of online courses on both substantive legal issues, and business, professional, ethical issues.
The Report’s Main Recommendation: the Law Practice Program (LPP)
The LSUC’s report recommends the creation of an approximately eight-month training program to replace the articling requirement. It would be composed of four months of training on specific competency areas, and a four-month co-operative work placement.
I. Training Program Component
The training component of the LPP will be delivered by one or more “third parties” who will deliver an approximately four-month (or longer) program on the “established competencies” currently contained in the LSUC’s articling goals and objectives. These include professional responsibility, interviewing, advising, fact investigation, legal research, file and practice management, drafting, negotiation, and advocacy. The LPP is also recommended to incorporate the use of practising lawyers as instructors or support staff.
The LPP will conclude some form of assessment or test, but that remains unclear. One possibility is the creation of an in-person practical skills test, where candidates interview a client, negotiate, analyze an ethical problem, draft an opinion letter and write an affidavit. In the words of the task force, “further analysis of this issue is required” (para 167).
II. Co-operative Placement Component
One of the goals of this co-op work placement is to help relieve access to justice issues in the country by making new legal graduates more available to work in high-needs areas. The other aim is to keep a “practical work experience” component in the lawyer licensing process, which is one of the primary benefits of the articling experience.
It would consist of 17 weeks, or about four months’ work at a site that “meet[s] the goals of transitional training” (para 154). The third-party deliverer appears to play a role in securing these co-op opportunities for its registrants, similar to post-secondary institutions who partner with employers to offer four-month placement opportunities. The report does not specify how this would work.
Changes to Articling
The LSUC task force also included recommendations to reform the articling process. Currently articling students’ progress in skills development during their 10-month placement is unmonitored.
For greater progress appraisal, the report recommends the creation of new documentation requirements for principals: a training plan, a mid-term evaluation, and a certification that the articling student is a “fit and proper candidate for licensing.” The articling student must also contribute to the mid-term evaluation, and complete a final self-evaluation. The task force postponed making recommendations on timelines, e.g. when students would choose to apply for articling positions or the LPP, and how this would fit with bar examination sittings.
The LSUC task force recommends that the two alternative requirements, articling and LPP, begin to coexist in two years — during the 2014-2015 articling term. All currently enrolled law students who plan to graduate 2014 and later are affected, and may enrol in the LPP as an alternative to articling. Third-party LPP providers will have to be identified and approved. The assessment measures used to test graduates of the LPP will also have to be crystallized.
Issues and Concerns
The report’s recommendations raise several important issues and concerns.
I. Increased Financial Burden on Law Graduates
Less articling placements are available in part because training a new law graduate is expensive. Articling positions are traditionally paid, and the salary of a legal practitioner in training can be a heavy burden, especially on private firms of less than 10 lawyers. The task force recommends that the LPP become an alternative to articling. Who will pay for what will essentially become a post-graduate online training requirement? Law graduates, after paying for a degree that isn’t enough to get them a job.
Furthermore, the report suggests that the co-operative work experience placement will be unpaid. Increasingly, unpaid articling positions are offered to those unable to find paid positions. Combined with the swelling costs of a legal education in Canada, this will only further burden law students with debt post graduation, and limit their options. The LSUC task force puts financial responsibility for debt squarely on the shoulders on new entrants to the legal profession.
The problem is that heavily indebted law students may not be able to financially justify working on access to justice issues, working for vulnerable populations, moving to rural areas, or other areas that do not support high legal costs. Students who work in those areas as part of an unpaid articling position or co-op term will quickly move on once their debts require repayment.
Does this justify abolishment of the articling and LPP requirement? No, because quality concerns about the newest entrants to the legal profession should remain a primary consideration of any reform. However, the LPP cannot be said to be a solution to access to justice issues in Canada when it only adds to the costs of legal education.
II. Introduction of a Two-Tiered Licensing System
Another concern mentioned by the report is the creation of a two-tiered licensing system in Canada, where some law graduates have a full 10-month articling opportunity with a law firm, and others have to pay for an online course and a four-month unpaid co-op placement. Ensuring both paths remain consistent, and produce equally competent legal professionals, will remain a challenge over the next five years.
This challenge can be met by detailed evaluation methods that emphasize practical skills. The quality and cost of the proposed LPP program remains to be seen, but there is potential to create a system that produces better legal professionals than it does today. The existence of two programs will be temporary. After a five-year pilot, I think it will result in the combination of a single result that combines the best components of the two.
III. Isn’t there a role for law schools?
The most surprising omission from the report was the brevity of the section on law school reform. Let’s look at the problem from another perspective: students now pay to attend law school for three years, graduate, and then rely on law firms to offer them a paid 10-month articling term to learn all the practical skills they need to become lawyers. Law schools have essentially discharged their responsibility to train legal professionals. Along with the LSUC, up until now they have put that duty on private and public legal practitioners. Private practitioners can no longer afford to train the increasing numbers of law students that schools are graduating.
These graduates, depending on the richness of their summer experiences, know how to study, but may never learn in law school how to negotiate, interview, draft legal documents, or advocate for clients. This report provides law schools with an excellent opportunity to enrich their educational experience, by offering practical skills development courses (in person or online) that satisfy the demands of the LPP. The LSUC task force has said it out loud: these skills can be taught outside of a firm.
Law schools will remain valuable as institutions of higher scholarship with opportunities to study legal philosophy under academic supervision. However, most law students choose to attend law school to become lawyers, not academics. Let’s hope Canadian law schools take up this opportunity to lead from the front.
Call for Action
What do you think? Is this requirement enough of a change? Who should offer the LPP requirement, and how should it be evaluated? Or should articling be abolished altogether? Comment here, tell the LSUC, contact your alma mater or current Canadian law school. This may change the face of the legal profession in Ontario, and could be the beginning of changes across Canada.
The way legal services are delivered in Canada is changing. Increased competition and a demand for lower prices has pressured law firms to slow hiring and deliver their services more efficiently. After finishing my first year at Queen’s Law I started thinking about how law students can help firms meet the demand. It starts with an open-eyes look at where our industry is moving.
The reality is that corporate in-house clients are demanding routine process work be done for less, putting pressure on law firms to deliver their services faster with less overhead. 2012 also marked the first year that non-lawyers are allowed to own law firms in the UK, dramatically expanding the capital available for those firms’ investment and growth.
Here at home, lawyer-only firm ownership still reigns in Canada, but mergers with international players push our largest firms into ever-greater levels of competition. Lawyers-turned-entrepreneurs in Canada are in turn growing their shares in the consumer market by launching online legal services.
New entrants to the market still haven’t quenched the demand for lower legal costs. Canadians face serious access to justice issues, and even middle-class litigants find themselves increasingly forced to represent themselves in court.
How are law students responding to these challenges? Traditional not-for-profit work in legal clinics like Queen’s Legal Aid and Pro-Bono Students Canada is popular while in law school, but how many students continue their pro-bono efforts post graduation? How does this solve the problem for clients who aren’t poor but still can’t afford legal advice?
I believe the change starts with how legal services are delivered. I believe it starts by getting students thinking about innovative ways to bring the law to Canadians.
Law-students for Technology and Innovation (LFTI) is a student-run organization Nikolas Sopow and I created this year at Queen’s Law. We’re passionate about finding better ways to deliver legal services. We’re law students, but we’re not afraid of the changes coming to the Canadian legal scene. Within three weeks we recruited four more executives to our team, and we’re still growing. By 2015 we plan to have LFTI clubs at every law school in Canada.
Our projects this year are as diverse as our leadership team. We’re hosting a speakers’ panel in Winter 2013 titled Technology on the Legal Frontier: Current and Future Ways to Practice Law. We’re fundraising for computer literacy skills in Kingston by hosting a LAN party for video-game enthusiasts. We’re blogging on the latest legal tech to hit app store shelves. And we’re letting everyone know how the delivery of legal services is changing, so our classmates are prepared when they graduate.
If you’re a law student, consider starting a group like LFTI for your class. Being prepared for the changing legal environment in Canada is about more than making a living as a lawyer. It’s about making legal counsel affordable, providing greater access to justice, and ensuring Canadian firms remain competitive in the global market for legal services.
What areas of legal service delivery do you think could be improved? How does legal education need to change in order to keep up? Be creative, and ask tough questions. The innovative advocate is Canada’s legal future.
If you are starting law school this fall at the University of Alberta, you’ll have a celebrity of sorts in your class.
Helena Guergis, the former MP who unsuccessfully sued Prime Minister Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada, is starting law school this year according to the Toronto Star,
Her first year of legal studies in Edmonton begins less than two weeks after a judge tossed out most of a $1.3 million conspiracy and defamation lawsuit she filed against Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Conservative Party and others after she was expelled from caucus in 2010.
No word yet as to whether she plans to get extra credit during law school for the appeal she’s supposedly planning.
Dean Spade of Seattle University School of Law gets lots of inquiries from people considering law school. Here are some points that he emphasizes they may have overlooked:
- Most legal work maintains systems of maldistribution, it does not transform them.
- Lots of legal work that needs to be done to help poor people can be done without a law degree.
- Law school is expensive (in most cases) and it’s worth thinking about what impact the debt may have on your future.
- Law school is a very conservative training and rarely a critical intellectual experience.
- If you go to law school, it’s most important to go to a school where you will have allies and support and where the learning experiences you want are actually being offered. Don’t get caught up in the quest for prestige.
You can read the entire piece here.
In 5 minutes.
Do law school student loans have you feeling down? Well here’s a story to make you smile, of the UofT law graduate who paid off his student loans in cash.
Alysha Hasham of the Toronto Star reports:
There is only one way to pay off a $114,460.30 student loan in one go: in style.
For University of Toronto law graduate Alex Kenjeev, that meant strolling up to the bank and dropping a Longo’s reusable bag stuffed with bills of varying denominations onto the counter.
“I would like to make a deposit,” he said to the cashier.
The cashier was floored — and so was the Internet, after an unknown friend took Kenjeev’s Facebook photo of the bank receipt and posted it on Reddit, a user-generated news website, where it got thousands of comments.
“It was a spontaneous decision,” said Kenjeev. “It’s a milestone in your life to be debt-free all of a sudden and I thought: Why not have a bit of fun with it?”
The law students at Queen’s University recently celebrated their annual talent show “Lawlapalooza”, and kicked things off with this parody of Drake’s “Headlines”. To all those law students preparing for final exams (and everyone who remembers what that’s like): enjoy.
Recently Omar Ha-Redeye and Simon Borys (that’s me) (both contributors to this blog) were interviewed by Michael McKiernan for Articling How To, an article in the Canadian Lawyer4Students magazine. In it, Michael discusses how students can set themselves up for an articling position in the midst of this present articling crisis.
He talks about doing something to set yourself apart from the crowd by “thinking small” (Omar’s topic), “taking the initiative”, “knowing your options”, “embracing old technology”, and “embracing new technology” (my topic).
In terms of “thinking small”, Michael wrote:
Bay Street firms run their articling programs like a well-oiled machine and provide a large chunk of the available spots, so it’s no surprise that they’re front of mind for law school career counsellors, says Toronto lawyer Omar Ha-Redeye. But the 2011 Ontario call advises more students to think small. “I think for people who are going into litigation, smaller firms are better options. I was in court more than anybody I know. I was really thrown into the mix and was on my feet the whole time,” he says.
In terms of embracing new technology, Michael wrote:
In a competitive articling environment, you have to make yourself stand out. And the earlier, the better, according to Simon Borys, a second-year law student at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., who has put a great deal of effort into building his online profile. “Everyone comes to the table with law degrees, so you have to demonstrate to future employers what you bring in addition. Online activities are a great way to showcase that,” he says.
Borys highlights his own history as a police officer on his blog, which he uses as a platform to link up with fellow students, senior practitioners, and potential future employers. He’s also active on Twitter and participates in online legal discussion groups. And it’s paid dividends, because he’s already secured a summer position at a criminal law firm, with a strong chance to return to complete his articles. “It’s been very well received and I’ve made lots of connections,” says Borys.
All of the things Michael discusses in this article are highly relevant to students currently seeking articling, especially considering the present scarcity of articling jobs. It’s not enough in this day and age to come to the job market with just a law degree and your hand out and expect that someone will give you a job. You don’t have to use new technology, like I do, but you have to do something! Read Michael’s article and think about what might work for you.
Simon Borys is a law student at Queen’s University in Kingston. He is also a former police officer and an an aspiring criminal lawyer. His Blog, Simon Says, focuses on dispelling policing myths and demystifying the law.
Recently Alexandra Kozlov wrote a great article for Canadian Lawyer 4Students on how law students can boost their job prospects with a good online profile.
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.
The decision whether you should go to law school is fraught with complicated pros and cons, including opportunities, finances, salaries, and personal goals.
Finally some anonymous law student has created a comprehensive site to help potential law students in evaluating all of these different factors.
Read more about Should you go to law school on their website here.
Most law students are not strangers to the limitless potential of the internet. The internet has been tamed for us to apply to write the LSAT(s), apply to law schools, receive our acceptance(s), select our courses, pay our tuition, download slides for some classes (which offer them), networking, blogging, applying for jobs, et cetera.
However, that list is currently missing an important use of the internet that law students should (arguably) have access to: online lectures of law school classes (in audio, video, or both).
If law students had the option of physically attending class or virtually attending class, which do you think they would prefer? Think both. Why should law students be “falsely imprisoned” into choosing how to attend class. The real issue here is that law students should have the CHOICE of attending class either virtually or physically.
The technology to enable this important choice is prevalent throughout our society. Podcasts, YouTube videos, and even online universities have allowed online learning and education to become reality – just three clicks away – instead of three kilometres away.
But who would benefit? Many mature students have revealed to me that law school is like an insatiable hunger that ravishes their time. I would even assert that the same comment applies to traditional students straight out of university. Law school undoubtedly sprints by and the pace can approach the speed of sound; hence, online lectures would allow students (mature or traditional) to choose the pace at which they can run (or walk) through the lectures. How I wish I could pause the professors in some of my classes and press rewind! Moreover, online lectures would offer students the flexibility to “attend” class according to their preferred time. Many nocturnal students would agree. Even the law school administration would potentially benefit from admitting more students, albeit some law students currently looking for jobs would raise an eyebrow to this.
While there is a plethora of advantages and disadvantages to carving out this choice for law students, the discussion should begin to take place and not be left to future law school administrations or students to tackle.
In essence, why not allow law students the freedom to choose how they want to attend lectures (virtually or physically) and learn the curriculum in law school? Just because something has been engraved in the past for centuries, logic (appeal to tradition) dictates that old is not always gold.