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Law deans straddle line on future of articling

Main issue for law schools is to remain at arm’s length from regulators
|Written By Heather Gardiner
Law deans straddle line on future of articling
‘We don’t necessarily have an answer to this, because we’re also concerned about the students who can’t place,’ Bill Flanagan says about articling.

With the upcoming debate at the Law Society of Upper Canada this week, the pending solution to the articling crisis is on everyone’s minds. Particularly troubled are those at the helm of legal education in Canada — the law school deans.

The Canadian Council of Law Deans held its bi-annual meeting Nov. 9 and articling was certainly the hot topic.

Just as the LSUC articling task force is divided, so too are the deans, says Bill Flanagan, Queen’s University Faculty of Law dean and president of the CCLD’s executive committee.

“We don’t recommend a particular proposal; we’re not either supporting or not supporting the majority report. There was not consensus among us on that point,” he tells 4Students.

The majority of the task force has recommended a law practice program, a five-year pilot project to begin in 2014, as an alternative path to the current articling system. It would combine a skills-training component and a co-op work placement for a total of eight months, and be administered by one or more third-party providers.

A minority of the task force is against this proposal. It suggests getting rid of articling altogether and implementing a two- to three-month comprehensive transitional pre-licensing program that would consist of online learning and exams to assess the core competencies that lawyers need to have.

“On one hand we’re concerned about the LPP as additional cost and two-tier,” says Flanagan. “On the other hand, we might be concerned about the elimination of articles if it requires yet more involvement of the law societies in regulating what’s done in law schools.

“So we’re concerned all around,” he adds. “We don’t necessarily have an answer to this, because we’re also concerned about the students who can’t place. Their access to the profession is obviously a core value for us as it is for the law society.”

In the report, the minority also calls for additional experiential education programs at the law schools in order for students to gain the practical skills they need to enter the workforce. This has some deans worried, says Flanagan.

“If the law society moved to eliminate articling and require more experiential learning in law programs, this would be a matter of concern for us because we don’t want yet further law society regulation of law schools,” he says.

“Our sense is that we went through that process and we are now in the middle of complying with that process, and that was a long, somewhat protracted, and occasionally difficult discussion with the law societies. And so, we’d like to not reopen that.”

He is referring to the ongoing accreditation process with the Federation of Law Societies of Canada for new national academic standards that all common law schools will be required to have by 2015.

Flanagan predicts the LSUC will pass the majority’s motion at Convocation on Nov. 22, but no doubt with a variety of views expressed.

Once again, the law society will air a public webcast of the debate.

Also at the CCLD’s meeting, there was controversy around Trinity Western University’s application for a new law school. The private Christian university in Langley, B.C., is hoping to offer a three-year JD program to students starting in September 2015. But the CCLD is not on board.

It doesn’t agree with the school’s requirement for students to abide by a community covenant. Flanagan says the deans take particular issue with the point that states students will abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”

“As law schools we’re committed to non-discrimination and equal treatment of our students, and we certainly would not purport to discipline students who engage in extra-marital activities or same-sex activities,” says Flanagan. “So there was quite a bit of discussion about that with the federation.”

The CCLD plans to submit a public letter to the FLSC on this issue.

Flanagan says he hopes to get back to legal education at their next meeting in the spring since the group has been so preoccupied with articling and accreditation lately.

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