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Manitoba law students, firms prepare for new articling process

|Written By Bryan Smith

The arrival of the month of April brings with it another round of articling recruitment for law students and firms in Manitoba.

Students in Winnipeg and throughout the province will be submitting their resumés, cover letters, and transcripts to law firms, in the hopes of landing that important articling position.

This year, however, the system has changed. The recruitment process for the 2011-12 articling year has several new rules that were brought in by the Law Society of Manitoba last June.

“The main change is that there is no longer a match process in Manitoba,” says Monique St. Germain, director of professional development and alumni relations at the University of Manitoba Faculty of Law.

The “match process” consisted of students interviewing with several law firms, up to a specified date. At the conclusion of these interviews, the students would submit a list of their preferred employers to the law school. The firms would then submit their own list of preferred candidates for the positions available, and the law school would match students with firms based on their preferences.

“I think we may have been the last jurisdiction to use that process,” says St. Germain. Now, it’s an offer system, similar to what the other provinces do.”

It is now up to the law firms to choose which students they want for the articling positions. After reviewing resumés and conducting interviews, firms can extend an offer to the student and the student must decide which offer he or she wants to accept.

The new articling recruitment rules say:

•    Only approved principals or their delegates may offer an articling position — any lawyers wishing to become a principal must submit an application to the law society.

•    Offers cannot be made to first-year students — a student must, at minimum, be in their second year of study.

•    Once an offer has been accepted by a student, neither the offerer nor the student may back out of the agreement without the chief executive officer’s permission.

•    There are no prescribed salaries for articling.

Additionally, a rule that is applicable only to the city of Winnipeg states that any offer made to a student cannot be made before 4 p.m. on May 17, 2010, and any offer made must remain open for 24 hours, or until the student accepts. “The new rules are really quite simple, and they’re beneficial to both the students and the law firms,” says Brenda Silver, director of professional education and competence at the Law Society of Manitoba.

“The students no longer have to worry about accepting an offer from an unapproved principal, which is very stressful and can set the student back severely. And law firms no longer have to worry about a student accepting their offer, only to back out a few weeks later because they found a position that they preferred.”

The concerns of both the students and the principals were taken into account when the new rules began to take shape.

“There was a lot of lobbying from students who wanted changes to take place, especially in regards to the way that offers were made,” says Silver.

“Many students would feel pressured to take an offer early, even if they hadn’t interviewed with as many firms as they would like. Now, they can receive all of their offers at one time, and choose the one they feel would be best for them.”

While the changes may take some time for all parties involved to get used to, law firms like Pitblado LLP acknowledge they are an improvement.

“The biggest change is the fact that the faculty of law and the law society no longer connect the students with the law firms,” says Catherine Howden, executive in charge of professional development at Pitblado. “This is a major change, but we feel it’s a positive one.”

Both the law society and the law school are confident the new rules will improve the articling recruitment process. However, they also acknowledge there may be a few “growing pains,” and even some backlash from those who preferred the match process.

“Some of the larger organizations that recruit greater numbers of students may not like this system as much,” says St. Germain.

“It may take the firms some time to get used to the changes, and I expect we’ll get a lot of feedback, both positive and negative. Based on that, if any changes do need to be made, we’ll sit down and make those changes for the following year.”

The faculty of law is holding a reception and meet-and-greet on April 21 for students, faculty, and the legal community that will serve as a launch for the province’s new articling recruitment process. The event runs from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Manitoba Club in Winnipeg.