OTTAWA (CUP) — Ontario law students will no longer have to article in order to becomes lawyers.
The Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC), which regulates the province’s legal profession, is revamping the way articling works in Ontario in an attempt to make up for a shortfall in available positions.
The LSUC has proposed a three-year pilot program that will give law students the option of articling for the usual 10 months or else take a 10-month Law Practice Program (LPP).
According to the LSUC’s Articling Task Force, 15 per cent of law students are unable to find an articling position.
“Articling cannot become a barrier to entry for licensing candidates,” said Roy Thomas, director of communications of the LSUC.
“Currently the number of candidates seeking an articling position is growing faster than the number of positions available.”
The program is separated into two parts: a licensing course that will provide training in skills commonly used within a firm and a four-month long co-op placement that would provide experience in the field. Unlike articling however, students in co-op placements will not necessarily be paid.
Thomas said that the LPP will provide more comprehensive learning for students that want to practice specific areas of the law.
“For licensing candidates who wish to practice in several areas of law such as family law, immigration law or criminal law, very few articling positions exist anywhere,” he said.
“Most of the articling positions are in large firms, and mostly in the larger cities, particularly Toronto and Ottawa. The LPP may make it possible for candidates to gain practical learning experience in areas not available through the traditional articling path.”
However, some are concerned that this program could create a two-tier system.
“If you look at the history of articling, it’s a very white, male dominated and elite profession. There are already problems with students from equity-seeking groups being able to obtain articling positions,” said Andrew Langille, a Toronto-based lawyer and a graduate student at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University.
“When you overlay another option such as the LPP, the law society is setting itself up for a lot of problems insofar as the legal practice program is going to be viewed and how it is already viewed as a lesser option. What is going to occur is that the LPP is going to be viewed as the program that people go into if they cannot find articling positions.”
The estimated cost of the licensing fee will be $5,670 per candidate. Langille argues that not only will the LPP create disadvantages in terms of preparing students for the labour market, but it will also result in increased student debt.
Joshua Mandryk, a second-year law student at the University of Toronto, is skeptical that students would voluntarily enter the co-op program when it doesn’t guarantee any pay.
“Tuition for first-year students at my law school is about $27,000. Each year the fees rise by eight per cent for the entering class and five per cent for upper-year students,” he said. “Putting graduates with over seven years of education and over $100,000 of debt into unpaid co-ops is simply not an adequate alternative to articling.”
Both Mandryk and Langille believe that student interest was not taken into consideration with the passing of the LPP. They think that other possible solutions, such as government funding to encourage law firms to hire students, reducing the number of students accepted into law programs and a reduction in tuition fees, were not properly considered. No law students sit on the LSUC’s board of directors.
“I think this was a missed opportunity to look at broader, systemic problems in the legal profession and with legal education,” said Mandryk. “There is an access to justice crisis taking place alongside the articling crisis.
“Not only is the legal profession failing to provide enough articling positions for graduates, it’s also excluding all but the poorest from qualifying for legal aid and pricing the middle class out of legal services.”
The LPP has been approved and will begin for 2014-15.