Until now, all Ontario lawyers had to complete the traditional articling process before being called to the bar. But last November, the Law Society of
Upper Canada announced it would be running the law practice program, a pilot project intended to give aspiring lawyers an alternative pathway to the Ontario bar.
Ryerson University in Toronto will deliver the English-language LPP and the University of Ottawa will deliver it in French. The experiential legal training program will consist of a four-month training course and a four-month work placement. The LSUC outlined the competencies for the foundational skills it requires students enrolled in the LPP to develop. They include: negotiation, drafting, interviewing, strategy, tactics, ethics, professional responsibility, and an understanding of how to manage a law practice. The LSUC estimates the total licensing fee for the LPP will be $5,311 per student.
However, the law society approved a $1-million lawyer licensee contribution, or $25 per member, to
reduce the cost per student by about $500 to somewhere around $4,700. Every student, whether they take the LPP program or not will have to pay it. Last year the licensing process cost a little more than $2,700.
The LPP is set to begin in September and both schools are well underway with preparations.
Ryerson plans to deliver most of its content via online simulations. The university is using the expertise at its Chang School of Continuing Education to offer “innovative online delivery methods.” “What the Chang School can help us do . . . is bring those simulations to life in a realistic way,” says Chris Bentley, executive director of Ryerson’s LPP. “[Students will] get a sense that you’re really in a negotiation and that there are external factors that creep in that complicate it.”
Ryerson will organize its LPP students into virtual law firms of four to six students who will be expected to set up a law firm and conduct business together.
“Those four to six students may be all over the province,” says Bentley, a former attorney general of Ontario. “There may be two in the GTA, there may be one in London . . . they’ll all work together online as a law firm and they may be negotiating something with another law firm of four to six students spread in other communities.”
The four months of virtual training are intended to give students the practical skills required in a real-world setting. “It’s not going to be simply a collection of people speaking online and watching — that’s not what this is. This is a skill-based, practice-based approach to learning,” he says.
Ryerson has also developed a relationship with the Ontario Bar Association. “They want to work with us to make sure that the training program is as strong as it needs to be to meet the needs of the public through the profession when these lawyers are licensed — and we want that, too,” says Bentley. “So, getting ongoing input and advice from people who are practising law now is at the heart of the success of the training program.”
The OBA is ensuring the program is delivered so it is reflective of the priorities of people in practice. “Because lawyers are licensed to practice any type of law once they are called to the bar, we’re consulting with all of our sections and some of our 17,000 members across the province to get feedback on the program as it develops,” says Doug Downey, OBA treasurer and head of its LPP advisory committee.
The OBA is looking forward to seeing how the LPP turns out, says Downey. “It’s going to be a much more effective process than a lecture format — an individual student will spend three years either in class or doing some hands-on, but it’s very minimal,” Downey says, noting the LPP thrusts students into real-life scenarios. “It’s a simulation, but you’re acting on actual fact-scenarios, you have to make decisions, you have to draft documents. You’re really virtually in the trenches.”
Ryerson has also begun building partnerships with the legal community across the province to support the work placement opportunities in all areas of practice, size of firm, and type of organization, including those where articling positions are not as common, such as in-house counsel, NGOs, legal clinics, small firms, rural firms, and criminal and family practices.
“The key for a work placement is that the student gets some exposure to how legal principles are applied in practice,” says Bentley. “It doesn’t necessarily mean the student will end up doing that type of work, but it is important to get some exposure to how you apply your legal knowledge in practice. That’s one of the exciting things about this approach to the transition year between the end of law school and the beginning of licensing.”
Ryerson says it plans to secure paid placements for all of its LPP students.
University of Ottawa
One of the first things the University of Ottawa did to prepare its proposal for the LSUC was consult the francophone community to identify its legal needs. This included legal clinics and the Association of French Speaking Jurists of Ontario. “They told us, for example, that a mentorship program was really important to help students transition from the role of students to the role of lawyers,” says Anne Levesque, director of the University of Ottawa’s LPP. “They also said that for francophone lawyers, it was really important to be aware of community groups and the services available in French to allow clients to be served in French from A to Z — from the time they enter the lawyer’s office to the time they walk into the courtroom.”
Through its consultations, U of O realized it was important to build relationships with northern communities lacking French-speaking lawyers. The school is considering holding some of its modules at Laurentian University in Sudbury to build ties with the Northern Ontario francophone community. The University of Ottawa and Laurentian have already developed a relationship, according to Levesque, who notes running a module there could be fitting because the AJEFO is holding its annual conference in Sudbury in October 2014.
The University of Ottawa will encourage its students to take placements in Northern Ontario to respond to the needs identified in consultations. The university has a moral responsibility to provide assistance to the francophone community and has always felt it to be integral to its mission, says common law dean Nathalie Des Rosiers. “We are committed to creating an excellent program that will respond well to the needs of the community and provide lawyers that are ready, willing, and able to deliver right away services that are needed.”
The University of Ottawa is still sourcing placement locations. “We’re still in the process of contacting firms to identify where we’re going to place our students,” says Levesque. “But we’ve been told that there are quite a few communities that are underserved in French, so we’re looking at creating those ties.” Like Ryerson, Ottawa U says its priority is to find paid placements for its LPP students.
The University of Ottawa has also begun hiring its staff, including administration and supervisors, for its virtual law firm. “They’re not only the experts in their areas, but they’re also lawyers who are particularly known for being engaged in the community,” says Levesque. “It will help the students understand how to network and how to build a clientele.”
The University of Ottawa’s program will also be primarily online-based. Students will “meet with clients” and then have an assignment to complete. “It’s going to be to recreate the law firm experience,” Levesque says.
As they work through the case, they will be able to refer to online tools to help them through the process. “In the same way that you’re a junior associate or an articling student, you sometimes go off and you have to write a factum and while you write, you don’t really know what you’re doing and you knock on someone’s door and you ask a few questions,” Levesque says. “We’re going to recreate that experience by creating podcasts that students can access while they’re working to provide them with guidance on their assignments.”
When the LSUC approved the programs at Ryerson and the University of Ottawa, it also approved another option for fulfilling the experiential training component of its licensing requirements — the integrated practice curriculum at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont.
The law program at Lakehead is in its first year and inaugural students qualify for the program. Graduates of its JD program will only need to pass the licensing examinations and satisfy the LSUC’s good character requirement to be eligible to be called to the Ontario bar. They will not be required to article or complete the LPP, allowing them to be fully licensed in three years.
To make up for the difference, students will be putting in more hours. It should be equivalent to one extra semester — which works out to three additional hours per week, according to Steusser.
Law professors and practitioners will teach skills-based tutorials and classes in each year. “We integrate skills into all of our courses,” says Lee Stuesser, Lakehead Faculty of Law dean. “We’ve looked at what the law society requires for their lawyering skills. We map them and we can show the law society that, for example, negotiation is covered in this particular course at this particular time.”
In the third year, students will complete a four-month work placement in Northern Ontario. While placements may not take place at traditional law firms, students will need to be properly supervised, says Steusser. “That would mean that their supervision would have to come from a lawyer and not, for example, from a paralegal,” he says.
Lakehead’s placements will not be paid. “The reason for that is that university placements cannot be paid. It’s as simple as that,” says Stuesser. “These placements are like medical residencies or medical placements, teaching placements, nursing placements — none of those are paid.”
Lakehead students will be permitted to article if they choose to do so. “If they have done a placement, for example, and they’re now doing articles, wow, they’re going to be way ahead of students from other laws schools,” says Steusser.
Lakehead’s program does not have additional costs beyond annual tuition.