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Legal profession in turmoil: Let’s blame the law schools

|Written By Bruce Feldthusen
Legal profession in turmoil: Let’s blame the law schools

No wonder the legal profession is in turmoil. Between 10 and 15 per cent of fully qualified law school graduates, about 400 students, cannot find articling positions. Currently, if one cannot article, one cannot practise law in Canada.

Proposed solutions range from ignoring the problem to abolishing articling. A divided Law Society of Upper Canada has just approved a three-year pilot program to provide alternative instruction for those who cannot find an articling position.

A crisis requires a whipping boy. Many lawyers have found one: legal education. Everything would be fine, they pronounce, had the law schools not increased enrolment. Everything will be fine again, they dream, if law schools restrict enrolment.

Ironically, the law school bashers seem unaware of the federal Competition Act. Restricting admission to law school to protect mandatory articling, itself probably an unlawful barrier to entry, is against the law! The profession can’t do it and neither can the law schools.

In the absence of robust competition, the legal profession has priced itself beyond the means of ordinary Ontario citizens. Access to justice is an important statutory mandate of the Law Society of Upper Canada. If lawyers want to retain the precious right to self-regulate in the public interest, reducing the supply of legal services to the public is unwise.

We could close every law school in Ontario and still have an articling crisis. Between 500 and 1,000 students who obtained their legal education in a foreign law school now annually seek admission to the Ontario Bar. Many are Ontario residents who were unable to find a place in an Ontario law school. If the Ontario law schools were to reduce enrolment, those who could afford to would simply study abroad. Less wealthy Ontario students would be forced out altogether. This would not make a meaningful dent on the demand for articles.

The number of foreign educated law students seeking to work in Ontario is only going to grow. Despite concerns expressed by legal educators, the LSUC has endorsed an “approved law degree” that effectively consists of nothing more than a list of about 10 mandatory courses. Any law school in the world can easily qualify to grant an approved Ontario law degree. The civil law schools of Montreal and Sherbrook already have acquired that right. Next in line are Bond, Australia and Leicester, England. They will soon be Ontario’s largest law schools.

The other way some lawyers whip the law schools is to pronounce that today’s graduates are poorly trained and unsuited for practice. Many should not have been admitted let alone graduated, they say. There is often a subtext.

Legal education is far from perfect. But it has changed a great deal. Today’s students are better educated and more committed than ever. They are preparing for a much more complicated employment market than existed even a few years ago. They enjoy experiential learning opportunities in clinics, work-study placements, and through innovative active learning in the classroom. Legal education can improve further. But Ontario should be proud of its current graduates.

For more than 50 years, the LSUC assumed the responsibility to deliver, through the Bar Admission Course, substantive practical education and skills training to graduated law students — for a fee. Then, without consulting the law schools, the LSUC walked away. University law schools cannot fill this entire void, no matter how hard they try.

Ontario’s law schools did not cause and cannot cure the articling crisis. They cannot alone address the profession’s training objectives. The law schools could work as equal partners in co-operation with the profession to help address real problems. They have never been invited to do so. LSUC Treasurer Tom Conway has promised the Ontario law deans he is willing to work with us. We look forward to it. Meanwhile please help us call off the dogs.

Bruce Feldthusen is the dean of the Common Law Section of the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law.

  • LSUC Scamartists

    The illness can’t be swept under the rug by pendulum analogies. The over-saturation was there in the late 1980s grows worse each year. Only now, there’s this thing called a “blog” so it can be discussed in public. This pendulum ain’t swinging back when the Downturn goes away. The over-saturation has permanently altered the climate and the landscape. Law schools are responsible for the over-saturation, the over-saturation has killed the legal jobs market, and that’s the problem that has killed the prospect of law school for all but the very top of the heap.
  • "Anthony Hugh" is Jealous

    Analytical Counsel
    RESPONSE TO: "Sadly, though I try not to, I look at Ottawa students as less worthy than other law students"

    Oh yeah? I wonder if the Sheila Blocks of the world and so many of the partners at BLG, Gowlinsg and the like should really be viewed as less worthy counsel?

    This comment likely comes from another Ontario law school student as any lawyer with half a brain who actually works at a firm with Ottawa calls knows this is bunk. You're a joke.

    Bruce: if restricting admission to law schools in order to protect mandatory articling is against the law, then artificially deflating law students' grades using a stringent pre-determined grade distribution system (SE: Semantics Excepted) in order to give a law school more perceived credibility, warrants the death penalty. Not only is it immorally destroying the morale and sanity of law students, but it is also discrediting their efforts and reducing their competitive appeal in the marketplace.

    Before you shine your shield and raise your dagger, take a hard look in the mirror and reflect on your legacy. This is not your brightest point, Bruce.

    2. Students who were accepted into the U of O Common Law program in January, February, or March of the year 2009 earned a position in the program that given year. While subsequently enrolled students may have been qualified for a spot, the above-mentioned students definitely deserved to be in the program.

    3. U of O students, especially ethnic minorities of the male sexe, are particularly affected by the articling crisis. These students paid their dues and worked equally as hard as other students, but for some reason law firms drool at the sight of vanilla ice cream over the more flavourful taste of neapolitan. Here come two (2) scary but perhaps necessary words: Affirmative Action.

    Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea. This article wreaks of a guilty mind with a poor deflective defence mechanism:

    1. The U of O drastically increased its admission numbers for the 2009-2010 academic school year. Allegedly, this was due to a pile of misplaced applications that were not properly considered in that given admission year. Assuming this is true, then why have class sizes remained so large in 2010-2011, 2011-2012, and 2012-2013? Not only is this practice flooding the market with surplus labour, thereby compounding the articling crisis. but Fauteux Hall cannot physically tolerate the number of increased bodies. For the sake of enlightenment, you had to reduce already limited student space and plug a gaping hole to build one (1) new classroom.

    Boom, Bust, No Echo
    The UO law student paper Inter Pares did a couple of full page articles about this in 2010 and 2011 when the increased numbers began to show in FTX. Everyone knew the population bomb was going affect articling and 1A jobs soon. Admin blamed the Australians.

    FYI, there's more than 400 who can't find articles: they just aren't counted until they register with LSUC. Many don't register until they actually find articles cuz of the 3yr time limit to finish both bar ads + articles.

    Counterpoint: U's job is to educate people to get their JD's. They're doing volume sales lately. The days of the self-regulated law guild are over. Law is just a business. For the firms, there is no problem: they get to pick the best grads. Basic supply and demand. They don't owe anyone a job.

    BTW, the law jobscape is pretty brutal these days. 1A hiring is lower than articling hiring - there's way more unemployed new calls right now than anyone cares to admit.
  • RE: Legal profession in turmoil: Let’s blame the law schools

    "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."
    -Upton Sinclair

    I graduated with average grades this past spring and am currently forced to article without pay, despite a heavy debt load that continues to accrue interest each month, which wouldn't be all that bad, I guess, if I actually had good prospects of obtaining a decently-paid legal position upon being called -- which I figure I don't. I'm just another embodiment of the massive oversupply at the entry level of our profession, and I don't even show up in the LSUC's articling figures.

    Dean Feldthusen and his ilk really only only think in terms of dollar signs. They don't care how many people they've left financially burdened as long as there's a new crop waiting with cheques in hand each year. Their defeat, ultimately, will come in the form of banks refusing to continue funding their degree mills after too many graduates begin to default.
  • RE: Legal profession in turmoil: Let’s blame the law schools

    Lol, yeah right.
  • Embarrassing2

    More importantly, why are we assuming that every law school graduate is entitled to an articling position? There are many alternate careers for law school graduates - suggesting that law school graduates that have to article and become lawyers in order for their education to be meaningful is devaluing of the legal education that they receive. There are many law school graduates that never "practice", but have meaningful and socially important careers.

    This goes back to the fundamental problem with society – a lack of personal responsibility coupled with an unfounded sense of entitlement. If you study hard and do well in law school, you will compete for and likely obtain an article. By determining that we no longer want our legal professionals to be the brightest and best, we are creating a society that is handing our participant ribbons to everyone, and ignoring the fact that not everyone is equally successful.

    Cream only rises to the top, if there is whey.
  • RE: Embarrassing2

    "There are many alternate careers for law school graduates"

    Really? How many of these "alternate careers" are worth incurring an additional three years of eductional debt, plus the opportunity costs of removing yourself from the labour market for the same period of time, to obtain a qualification one never uses?

    As one who left the practice of law and later came back, I can tell you that this is utter and complete BS. If anything an LLB is a detriment when you're looking for non legal work. "So why aren't you a lawyer" is the very first question you are asked. The assumption on employers' part was that you arent' a lawyer because you either weren't good enough to find a legal job, or couldn't hack it once you found one. They consider you an over educated flight risk. The fact that many people don't end up with a career in law most emphatically does NOT mean that getting a law degree was a useful or smart career move for those people.
  • RE: Embarrassing2


    Have you read the LSUC report? According to the report, those without positions are not students who have low marks or other poor credentials but rather those students who are minorities.

    No one is advocating that incompetent students with poor credentials should have guaranteed employment. Unless we want the legal profession to be open only to the rich and the white, we need to address the articling crisis.
  • Ask an Australian

    Michel Petit
    They've already implemented the so-called solution we're trying in Ontario. It created a two-tiered system where the first question legal employers ask is, "so why didn't you do the traditional articles?"

    But at least the law societies won't have to take responsibility for managing this profession. And it'll let Feldthusen's successor raise OttawaU's enrolment to 1000 by the end of the decade. Hell, why not just give every OttawaU graduate the option to add a JD to their Bachelors for an extra $40k or so? OttawaU could justify it by claiming to single-handedly solve the A2J issue by graduating more and more JDs!
  • RE: Embarrassing2

    Michel Petit
    [quote name="lxc"]More importantly, why are we assuming that every law school graduate is entitled to an articling position?[/quote]

    Because it's a requirement to become a licensed lawyer. Aside from the fact that a legal education prepares you for nothing except being a practising lawyer (and barely does that), a JD is *not* an advantage in non-JD fields. Especially if you haven't even managed to become a licensed lawyer. On the contrary, it's a detriment as every employer is, rightfully, going to expect you to jump ship at the first chance you get to actually apply your legal education.

    Regarding this so-called fundamental problem with society claptrap. Classic boomer babble. The most privileged generation in history complaining about their progeny's sense of entitlement.

    Embarrassing was a fitting screen-name choice.
  • Embarrassing

    Perhaps we should require all applicants to take a basic business course prior to entry in to law school, where they can learn the basics of supply and demand. We produce more law school graduates than we have articling positions. The solution is not to take away the articling process. That will simply inundate the marketplace with untrained and unmentored juniors, who will be unable to find jobs. Who will hire an unarticled associate over an articled associate? It's just passing the buck to the next stage in legal training, the juniors who need further mentoring from senior members to develop from their skills and profession.
  • RE: Legal profession in turmoil: Let’s blame the law schools

    The law schools are the only one to blame. Although, I do not know how practical this is, I believe that LSUC should demand an established practice or firm (probably 3 yrs or more) to hire about 2 students every five years or something like that. It is quite obvious that there are many law offices and firms in Ontario. But I feel that the general feeling that most lawyers have is that, they may not know if articling students will be useful or they may not want to assume liability for any screw-up that may be caused by the student. The LSUC should make this demand, and provide some sort of incentive, like making it count towards CPD hours. I am just shooting ideas...
  • This is embarrassing for UOttawa

    Kirby Smith
    This Dean is eager to point fingers at the foreign schools Canadian students flock to, but at this rate it won't be long until Ottawa and Bond are yielding comparably horrible employment prospects.

    Also, before you blame foreign graduates flooding the market, you may want to reassess your own joint degree program with Michigan State -- which is essentially a backdoor route into your school for the "Ontario residents who were unable to find a place in an Ontario law school" who you seem to deeply resent.
  • Trolled by a professional

    Michel Petit
    So the OttawaU dean says that increases in cohort sizes haven't caused the articling problem?

    You don't say...
  • legal education needs major reform

    Nick Sabo
    The fact is that the legal jobs market cannot absorb the number of law grads that are being pumped out at the current rate. This is a similar to many jurisdictions around the world. However, what makes the crisis so devastating for us Ontario JDs is the fact that we have been in post-secondary education for seven or more years and are often laden with debt, unlike UK, Australian, or European students who have taken law as a first degree. If these students can't get a job in law, which many don't, it is not nearly as devastating, since they often has only been in university for three or four years, compared to the 7+ years in Canada.

    I say that make law a four-year, first degree in Canada, with one or two years of articling after that. Law schools wouldn't have to cut admissions, law students wouldn't be mired in debt, and I don't think that quality would be compromised - the UK seems to be doing fine.
  • This guy is completely off base

    This Dean has no clue what he is talking about. The number of articling positions has actually increased over time but the expansion of schools like his own have pumped out far more students than the increase in articling positions warrant. As such, there is no real shortage of positions - just too many graduates. As far as competition is concerned, drastically increasing the number of graduates has not brought legal fees down in the USA. In fact, legal fees are even higher. I also see self interest here. He wants to keep his lucrative degree mill going. As for as bashing the LSUC, they have been very accommodating of the law school's desires to pump out more unemployed grads by creating the non-articling programs. He is the one who should back off. Of course, it isn't established lawyers who will suffer from the ongoing increase in grads but this chap's own students.
  • Same old lawschool garbage

    Mark Rodenburg
    The title says it all - "fully qualified graduates cannot find articling positions". They are NOT "fully qualified" graduates, they are students who have graduated from law school who need to article and pass the bar ads and then, only once they do that, are they "fully qualified" to be a lawyer. Articling is no more a barrier to the profession then law schools, who turn down thousands of applicants each year. Plumbers attend school but then have to apprentice to be "fully qualified". What is so wrong with lawyers doing the same?
  • RE: Legal profession in turmoil: Let’s blame the law schools

    I would like to invite Dean Feldthusen to clarify what he means by saying that "Restricting admission to law school to protect mandatory articling, itself probably an unlawful barrier to entry, is against the law!" At a plain language reading, he seems to be suggesting that he alone, of every lawyer in Canada, has noticed that articling itself violates the law. I would like to know in particular if he means to accuse every bencher in every jurisdiction of incompetence or merely ignorance. And I would like to know, frankly, how he can make such an outrageous claim without collapsing under the weight of his own hubris.

    I am, frankly, embarrassed for the U of O Law School.
  • Life is not fair

    The shortage of articling positions is matched by a huge shortage of capable lawyers willing to provide legal services at a price that people can afford.
    And there is an acute shortage of lawyers at the very top levels of the profession to handle the most complex cases which impact on society and our democratic values.
    There is absolutely no shortage of lawyers to handle the work of banks, large corporations and governments who are not actually using money out of their own pockets to pay for legal services.
    It seems to me that the unfortunate students who do not find articles might actually be prepared to pay for a 1 year program in which they do nothing but learn practice and procedure and build up an archive of current precedents (in Word format) and checklists.
    If the law schools can't figure this out for themselves I suggest that the community colleges give it a go. If this program is advanced intelligently there is no way the LSUC can stand in the way.
  • Impartiality?

    A Law Student
    This argument is heavily tainted with the bias of its author... Of course the Dean of Ottawa Law is not going take responsibility for contributing to the articling crisis. That would mean having to admit that Ottawa increased their class sizes to make money off more students they knew were unlikely to get an articling position.

    That being said, this argument coming from another source may actually be persuasive. While we do have an articling crisis, we also have an access to justice crisis that may require more (dare I say less-qualified?) lawyers willing to work for lower pay. The traditional articling system isn't working for the public even more that it is not working for law students.
  • Reputation

    Anthony Hugh
    This article is more of a defense of Ottawa's overinflation than a real critique of articling. The reputation that Ottawa has gained throughout the other law schools is rampant with animosity, and in the profession as well.
    Sadly, though I try not to, I look at Ottawa students as less worthy than other law students.
  • Denial

    Ronald Thomas
    I hate to break it to you Ottawa fans but Ottawa's poor reputation predates this articling crisis. Ottawa's admission policies basically ignore the LSAT, and regularly admit throngs of students who score in the 140s(below average).

    Their recent increases in class sizes merely compounds the problem caused by their embarrassing admission standards.... which aren't much higher than the Bonds and Leicesters of the world.
  • RE: Denial

    "Their recent increases in class sizes merely compounds the problem caused by their embarrassing admission standards.... which aren't much higher than the Bonds and Leicesters of the world."

    I have a hard time accepting criticism of my school's admission standards from someone with such less-than-stellar grammar skills.
  • Mr.

    So Ottawa weighs the LSAT less heavily, therefore the school has a poor reputation? According to whom? Most Bay street firms would disagree with you.

    Similarly, the uOttawa medical school does not even require the MCAT. Yet, graduates of medicine are among the most coveted in the nation.

    So what does this imply? There are other ways, besides the weight placed on the LSAT or MCAT, to measure quality of education. Maybe try looking at the "output"-- how students perform after graduation. Then let's see if you change your mind about uOttawa's "poor reputation".
  • RE: Reputation

    Scout Finch
    Punishing Ottawa students for something they had no control over is just as bad as Mr. Felthusen's buck-passing, in my opinion.
    As a student, I too am extremely disgruntled with my alma mater's contribution to the articling crisis and its failure to accept responsibility (and I have articles, for the record). Our halls are also 'rampant with animosity', especially because we don't all fit in them. This does not make us less deserving, any of us. We write the LSATs, survive 1L, suffer under the socratic method, take the same courses as everyone else, and ultimately pay bar fees. One might even argue that we are getting a better legal education at Ottawa given the large, diverse base of professors and practitioners who teach us - and the number of SCC and Federal court judges who pop by to say hi on the regular! There may be WAY too many of us, but that's not our fault and we are no less deserving of respect in the legal profession as a result.
  • seriously?

    while i do agree that inflated admission at uOttawa is a problem, how does that make the students "less worthy?" each one of them was still assessed against standards that are similar across the board. and a vast majority of the students i know were accepted at other schools in Ontario. if they had attended one of those other schools they would be more worthy, you say? no logic whatsoever, IMO.
  • Reciprocity

    Luckily for us, we loathe you right back =)

    Dean Feldthusen isn't my favourite, but Ottawa is still a good school.
  • Ridiculous

    Proudly UofO
    [quote name="Anthony Hugh"]Sadly, though I try not to, I look at Ottawa students as less worthy than other law students.[/quote]

    Your position on University of Ottawa alumni 'worthiness' is clearly as valid as your inept understanding of the articling crisis. Are you aware that the University of Ottawa's English Common Law program admits less students per annum than Osgoode Hall's Common Law program? uOttawa's cumulative admission numbers also include National Program and Droit Civil students but many of these graduates are not even oriented towards an English-language market. While Dean Feldthusen's comments are not a comprehensive answer to law schools' role in the current articling crisis, making disparaging comments about an extremely capable and bright group of individuals speaks to your inability to critically analyze the underlying problem facing the legal profession. I hope one day you encounter one of these 'unworthy' candidates across the bench from you.
  • Grammar People!

    That would be "...admits fewer students per annum..."

    And, yeah, hello? What's with all the Ottawa bashing?
  • What load of hogwash

    Wesley Forgione
    Solution: Cut classes to keep graduates commensurate with demand in the marketplace. The alternative, keep classes bursting at the seems, and keep graduating debt-ridden, dis-illusioned law students.

    Students don't sign up for this farce. They sign up to study hard and to work into a meaningful career.
  • Grammar People!

    That would be "...bursting at the seams..."

    Well, no one guarantees employment or articling positions just because you have a law degree.
  • RE: Legal profession in turmoil: Let’s blame the law schools

    Mr. Feldthusen, how long before your school announces that its JD program will expand to 1000 students?

    The law schools cannot fix this problem alone but they did create it (mainly your school actually)and they should play a key part in fixing it.
  • What load of hogwash

    Wesley Forgione
    3) We've established that articling positions are finite. It stands to reason therefore, that law schools, in their attempt to maximize enrollment and profit, are pumping out record amounts of students that the market neither needs nor wants.

    4) NCA students - why are we allowing so many admission? We have a general right to legal education, but there is no corresponding right to become a lawyer
  • RE: What load of hogwash

    4) NCA students - why are we allowing so many admission? We have a general right to legal education, but there is no corresponding right to become a lawyer[/quote]

    I'm afraid I have to disagree here. I believe those who are qualified have the right to become a lawyer. Whether they be Native to the country or not.
  • What load of hogwash

    Wesley Forgione
    1) Is articling necessary to create competent lawyers who are able to serve the public professionally? Yes. This is incontrovertible. Naysayers are probably seasoned counsel who have't experienced the difficulties of young lawyers in a long time.

    2) Are articling positions defined by market demands? Yes. If lawyers, who are already established in both practice and marketing, are unable to afford taking on articling students, how can we expect fresh graduates, who learn nothing about real lawyers in law school to compete?

    Effectively, these fresh graduates, without articles, would be saddled with tremendous debt, with no experience to competently practice, and without the experience of skills to effectively market their practice.

  • RE: What load of hogwash

    It is not clear however, how other countries so far have managed to produce competent and able lawyers without this requirement. So, yeah in my opinion this is a little bit controversial.