In early January, I attended an information session about the new Law Practice Program. There were only around 20 students there, along with a handful of Osgoode Hall Law School staff and Law Society of Upper Canada representatives. I was shocked — I expected a full room. After all, the program details remained quite mysterious until very recently. Didn’t students want to know more about the proposed solution to the great articling crisis?
Perhaps more surprising was the lack of emotion in the room. I expected, given the antagonism surrounding this proposal, a room full of protest or at least skepticism. Yet the atmosphere wasn’t at all antagonistic or overly inquisitive. The sense I got from most was the LPP was a practical option to get licensed. I didn’t note extreme optimism by any means, but nobody seemed too fussed either — just indifferent.
I, however, found my own attitude shifting in a way I didn’t expect: I got excited. Upon learning more, I see great potential in the LPP for those seeking an unconventional path. I wouldn’t call myself the program’s strongest proponent, but I do see it as a unique opportunity.
Before I delve into the great potential of the LPP, let me first acknowledge it is not, in my opinion, going to solve the problem of the articling crisis. It is a Band-Aid solution that will delay imbalanced hiring practices for another year. It is going to create (or perhaps exacerbate) hierarchy among junior lawyers based upon the licensing process they completed. It is going to make competition on Bay Street even greater for new law grads. And, it will force some students into ever-deeper debt if the LSUC doesn’t provide enough aid to cover the costs.
Given these downsides (although not an exhaustive list), I doubt the LPP will last for more than a few years. However, I don’t think the traditional articling process will either. I believe this new program is going to lead to an entirely new method of lawyer licensing in Ontario.
Frankly, I’m not quite sure what the ultimate solution will be, but proposing alternatives is not the point here. The LPP is an option for now, so it is time to see what good might come of this. Or, as the saying goes, to make lemonade when life hands you lemons.
In my view, the LPP is ideal for those with “unconventional” plans for career or personal situations that require accommodations. The fact the coursework term will be delivered online is a game-changer. This makes physical location much less important. For those that want or need flexibility, here it is.
Students planning to set up shop outside of Toronto can actually do so, as long as they can make it back to Toronto for Ryerson University’s 10 in-class days — if taking the English version of the LPP. New parents can spend more time with their young families and create a schedule that works for them. Law students who thought about part-time legal practice to pursue other business opportunities can do so right off the bat.
The flexibility continues in the second half of the program. While the LSUC couldn’t say definitively if students would be able to set up their own placements rather than choose from pre-established options, it did seem very feasible. Really, the LSUC and Ryerson cannot deny anyone who is able to secure a spot on their own. This is less work for them and frees up a position for other students.
The type of firm, clinic, or organization is also extremely open. As long as there is a supervisor in good standing and the position covers basic skills required by the LSUC (client interviews, drafting, advocacy), the placement will likely be approved. Envision a public legal education organization that isn’t seen as “typical” legal practice — that counts here.
What’s more, a student could potentially complete the second half of the program abroad. Whether you’re interested in indigenous rights in Chile or international tribunals in The Hague, this might be your opportunity to pursue a passion overseas and get licensed for it. This international option is, in fact, possible for articling — so why wouldn’t it be open to students in the LPP? After all, the point of the program is to remedy the articling crisis and provide more opportunities, not restrict them.
I’m not sure if the LSUC is going to love me or hate me for endorsing this program the way I have. Admittedly, a lot of the options I mention are still lacking a concrete answer, but I think they are absolutely worth pushing for if that is what suits you.
Moreover, in addition to facilitating some unique paths to licensing, the LPP has practical benefits as well. First, it is two months shorter. It’s no secret articling is a rather gruelling process. A couple of extra months off might be a great relief.
The first-term course is also likely to include lessons on how to open and run your own firm — ideal for those with ambitions to become a sole practitioner. For some, this form of licensing is simply more appealing. While the true quality of the training remains to be seen, Ryerson is a leader in online education. If the right teachers are appointed, this could be a very fascinating and exceptional time to be graduating from law school.
While I don’t deny the challenges the LPP presents, the possibility of this opportunity excites me. I fully support opening up legal education to become more inclusive of “unconventional” career goals and interests. A transformation of the legal field is necessary to address the challenges facing our profession and the LPP is one step in that direction.
It won’t solve the problem entirely and it will probably have to be readdressed, but for those law students who can and want the chance to try something different, the LPP might be just the right fit.