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Articling crisis runs much deeper than just articling

|Written By Christina Fitzmaurice
Articling crisis runs much deeper than just articling

Often apocalyptically referred to as “the articling crisis,” one of the hot-button issues in the legal world today is the increasing disparity between the number of articling positions offered versus the number of new law graduates seeking articling positions.

The Law Society of Upper Canada has made significant strides in bringing interest and attention to this issue, attempting to create additional articling positions and considering long-term significant changes to the system. However, the larger problem facing Ontario lawyers goes much deeper than articling. In my opinion, the current “articling crisis” is symptomatic of a larger problem that won’t be easily eradicated by creating additional positions or abolishing the articling requirement.

For starters, not only is there a lack of articling positions, but there are fewer positions for young, newly called lawyers. Clearly law students clamouring for jobs will not be excited to hear that after articling they may still face an uphill battle. In my experience, job postings consistently advertise positions for candidates with two to five years of post-call experience. That’s not good news for recent calls such as myself. While some areas of law like real estate, personal injury, and family law will sometimes offer positions for newly called lawyers with less experience, this does not pave the way for lawyers who are interested in different areas of law.

There seems to be a mismatch between the length of the articling term and the preferred tenure of marketable young lawyers. Every year there will be a sizeable number of candidates looking for jobs after being called to the bar — and they will inevitably face a host of job postings desiring candidates with a few more years of experience then they have under their belts. At the three-to-five-year range there are a ready supply of lawyers looking to fill the available positions, therefore firms and organizations offering in-house counsel positions aren’t forced to hire new calls.

The fact of the matter is that law firms and organizations aren’t willing to put in the time and money to train young lawyers because they cost more than they are worth.

Lawyers themselves are well aware that they aren’t marketable in their first few years of practice, which is why securing an articling position with hire-back potential becomes supremely important. If there aren’t positions for all articling students post-call, the problem has been alleviated in successfully getting lawyers called to the bar, but not in allowing them to embark on a gainful career path post-call. Encouraging law firms and organizations to accept more articling students is a definite step in the right direction, but these efforts are only the first steps towards a tenable solution.

In simple economic terms, the number of law school graduates outpaces the market demand for new lawyers. With Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., set to welcome it’s inaugural law class in 2013, this disparity is not likely to decrease.

Each year some law students are unable to secure articling positions and as a result pursue alternate career paths, and each year newly called lawyers leave the practice of law for careers with more fruitful options for upward mobility. The unfortunate reality is that young lawyers admitted to the bar may still have to look outside of the practice of law for employment. As I increasingly see friends and colleagues resort to alternative careers, non-practising positions, or other jurisdictions with better employment options, I wonder if creating new articling positions in Ontario will really alleviate the problems facing young lawyers.

This problem is further complicated by yet another issue in the legal realm: the greying of the bar. In 2011, it was estimated that 41 per cent of all lawyers in Ontario were over the age of 50, with this percentage predicted to grow in 2012. By holding onto their jobs, older lawyers are creating a bottleneck in the upward mobility of lawyers. The younger generation is being squeezed out, and until significant retirement across the profession happens, upward progression will be stagnated. This tension won’t lessen until experienced lawyers direct their attention to training the next generation, honing their successors, and making way for natural flow of succession.

In human terms, an aging population is caused by low fertility rates and increased life expectancy. In the legal realm, this translates to a dearth of positions for new lawyers and delayed succession in the profession. The legal profession cannot keep pace in the coming years with an aging bar and without a focus on mentoring the next generation of lawyers. Clearly, the solution to the articling crisis will require more than the creation of new articling positions and the effort of all lawyers spanning the generations.

Christina Fitzmaurice graduated from the Dalhousie University Schulich School of Law in 2009 and was called to the Ontario bar in 2011.

  • natural selection

    I am five years at the bar now, and along the way I have seen some friends from law school either couldn't get through articling, or couldn't get re-hired, or just quit/fired after a few years. If this was another profession, people will just call it a natural part of their career. But since law students/lawyers invested so much in their career, they have a hard time accepting this simple fact of life: it's not always fair. The most brightest student don't always get the job, and the best lawyer doesn't always get promoted. You can make it mandatory for students to be hired, but a year or two down the line, a percentage is going to be out on the curb. It's not a crisis. It's not a systemic problem. It's just life.
  • RE: Articling crisis runs much deeper than just articling

    If formal education is otiose, then I'm gobsmacked because grades and the law school attended seem to be the two top deciding factors that employers use to decide on whom they will hire. Although I'm sure that using words like otiose impresses clients, or at least Conrad Black, formal education, and succeeding within the parameters of that education seems to be the number one factor in weeding down the hundreds of applications received for each position for new lawyers and law school grads.
  • indignant much

    dear g,

    how is it then that most of the applications we have received for 2012-2013 are from those who graduated from law schools in ontario. and when i say applications, i'm referring to more than a mere handful.

    formal education has become for the most part otiose.

  • It should be difficult to become a lawyer

    The majority of law school graduates who cannot find articling positions are students who couldn't get into a single Canadian law school and had to go abroad. There has simply been an increase in these types of back-door students, and this is causing the articling shortage (in addition to the U of O's recent money-grabbing exploit). I wouldn't call it a crisis.

    I hope that the LSUC does not take an "everyone deserves to be a lawyer" approach. If they eliminate articling, it'll just open up the flood gates and send us down the path of the U.S. legal profession, where anyone with money to pay tuition can join the profession. I wouldn't be surprised if English and Australian schools opened up private campuses in Ontario.

    The LSUC needs to find a way to allow only the best and brightest to become lawyers. The elimination of a practical articling experience will not serve the public interest; it'll just allow for the existence of more members to pay dues.
  • I hope you're wrong

    Canadian Law Student
    I wholeheartedly agree with everything you just said. I hope more people wake up and realize that these 'back door' foreign cooleybondleicester students are the ones who are responsible for the Articling Crisis, the LPP, the lack for first year positions, etc... They are killing the profession and it won't take long until our market turns into the U.S.
  • RE: Articling crisis runs much deeper than just articling

    "By holding onto their jobs, older lawyers are creating a bottleneck in the upward mobility of lawyers."

    To be fair, a lot of these lawyers are situated in small towns where a lot of new lawyers don't want to go. They have no choice but to stay.
  • Great article

    I resonate with your article, Christina. I'm a 2011 call who has yet to find a first year position. Some of my colleagues found a position quite quickly. Others, like myself, are still looking. The competition for these scarce positions are fierce. And some of these positions are quite sketchy, which makes the desperation seen from new calls quite evident. I hope the market improves soon.