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Time for law schools to face the music

Osgoode student weighs in on LSUC articling report
|Written By Cameron Bryant
Time for law schools to face the music

Law students awaited the release of the Law Society of Upper Canada task force report on the articling crisis with great anticipation because, after all, the problem directly and immediately affects us.

I’m pleased the law society has recognized the shortage of articling positions and has chosen to address it. The report drew from the submissions of a diverse range of individuals in the legal community and is thorough in scope.

The majority of the articling task force wants to establish a parallel articling process involving co-op placements, termed as a law practice program. The minority would like to do away with articling altogether and create a two- to three-month pre-licensing training program.

These solutions are well reasoned and their enactment falls within the scope of the law society’s powers. That being said, I agree with the minority’s opinion that the creation of a parallel co-op articling program creates a two-tier system of training.

Those students who can’t get articling positions will be forced to pursue LPP training, oftentimes in unpaid positions. With the debt load of students being so high, this doesn’t appear to be a practical or fair solution.

Doing away with articling seems to be too tempting and simple a solution. Articling still has a place. Not only does it provide crucial hands-on training and opportunities for client interaction, but it also allows students to become accustomed to working in an office environment. There is little other than articling that can prepare you for interacting with lawyers and support staff, as well as learning the etiquette of working in a firm or clinic on a day-to-day basis.

For me, however, the biggest problem is that the law society is unable to determine what the role of law schools will be within these proposals, and I believe law schools are at the centre of the problem.

Part of the solution to the articling crisis should be scaling back class sizes at law schools. If there are too many students seeking too few positions, schools ought to admit fewer students. This is not an option the law society investigates because, as it says, it lacks control over the admission numbers at law schools.

It also doesn’t seem to be a solution the law schools are interested in. Class sizes at several schools across Canada are increasing every year, and new law schools are opening up, including Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia and soon Lakehead University in Ontario.

I believe law schools mean well in wanting to increase class sizes. Cynics might suggest they are allowing more students to enter their hallowed halls because they want more tuition dollars. I prefer to think law schools are attempting to increase the diversity of the bar by admitting students from different backgrounds.

But is it not cruel to admit so many new students, let them believe they will become lawyers, and then have them discover after three years they can’t article and therefore can’t become licensed?

This is particularly unjust to students from impoverished backgrounds who have had to scrimp and save for years and now find they are without job prospects.

Because let’s face it, students attend law school to get a job. We all entered expecting to secure a paid articling position. Since articling was deemed a necessary part of the licensing process, we naturally assumed that we would all leave school with a position. But we were wrong.

Another question remains: if this LPP process goes ahead as proposed, who will shoulder the burden of supporting those students in unpaid positions? The law society will not, nor will the law schools. The majority recommends law students with articling positions share their salaries with those in unpaid co-op placements. While those with paid positions certainly must feel sympathy for their unpaid colleagues, it seems a cruel twist of fate that those earning money be asked to pay up, when this is not a problem they created.

In the meantime, law schools continue to admit more students, increase their tuition fees, and we, the debt-addled law students of this country, are the ones who must pay for the solution to the articling crisis. Is this really fair?

I await the response of the law schools to this report. Hopefully, they will do what is fair and scale back their class sizes, and in doing so contribute to solving this problem — because if students are being asked to sacrifice, why shouldn’t they?

Cameron Bryant is a third-year law student at Osgoode Hall Law School.

  • Another point of view

    Reading this article and the comments I find very surprising. There is a huge sense of entitlement among law students in Canada, apparently. I have a law degree from Australia where 50% of people with law degrees will never practice law. Articling positions are few, less than 10% of students would get one, only the very top of the law classes from the top law schools would even get an interview. An alternative to articling is a practical legal training course, costing several thousand dollars. No one suggests anyone should help the students pay for the course, it is what you do if you are not good enough to get articling position. That is why I find it so surprising that people expect law schools to make sure there are jobs for law students. Law schools are there to teach, students have to make their own way into the field, and pay their own way.
  • RE: Time for law schools to face the music

    On the other hand, there are a large number of areas of law that are underserved. Like criminal and family. Especially criminal and family for poor people.

    You think it's hard to get a job? Try trying to get through two-hour 100% social skills-based interviews when you're a high-performing autistic and not obviously "mentally handicapped". Prepared for months and still didn't get a job. Had practice for hours on making and maintaining eye contact and it was still really hard.

    And then I see the sons and daughter of partners with C averages getting the job instead. Or the super-social party boys getting six job offers. And the CDO hosts events talking about "making the right choice out of your job offers."

    At the end of the day it's an arbitrary, capricious process. I think I would be an amazing student and associate and I just gotta find somebody who believes me. That, or I'll have to article at some hole and become a sole practitioner afterwards.
  • YES!!

    You are absolutely correct. Law schools need to take responsibility for the problem they created or significantly contributed to. $20,000+ of tuition and fewer jobs, why not take more students?
    Makes no sense.
  • Well said

    You have expressed exactly my thoughts after reading the executive summary of the report. I, too, agree with the minority in that setting up a practical program alongside thearticling experience will result in a group of graduates that will continue being less desirable to potential employers after the fact and will be saddled with more debt and diminished prospects.

    The answer, I think, lies in the hands of law schools who need to rein in their admission numbers in order to truly affect change with respect to this "articling crisis". If they are unwilling to do so (because this is a question of collective willpower and nothing else-money can always be found and expenses can be cut), the only fair alternative is to get rid of the articling experience altogether or shorten it to become manageable and budget-friendly to firms. Instead of 10-months, perhaps a 3-5 month cycle will do, perhaps allowing students to begin in Aug. & in Jan.,thereby doubling the amount of placmeents.
  • Agreed

    I completely agree with your article and Sue342's comment. I hope universities will step up and take some responsibility.
  • legal education needs to be restructured

    I agree with this commentary, but I would take it a step further. The current legal education system we have in common law Canada is a massive investment for students in terms of time and money. When a Canadian law student cannot find an articling position, this is devastating loss in terms of money and time spent on getting this degree after completing one or two degrees previously.

    The Canadian LLB/JD should be turned back into a true undergraduate first degree. After four years of law school, students could then apply for articling or continue on with more education. This is much like the English system, where many LLB students do not end up working in law if the market cannot sustain them. At least, however, it is not the same loss that Canadian law students face after being in university for at least seven years.
  • buyer beware

    This is the first legal lesson you should have learned. Buyer beware. I challenge you to show me who ever promise dyou a job just because you got an education. Does htat mean if i have a delivery van i must be guaranteed that people will hire me. Clearly your undergrad degree was not in economics or business. It is not th elaw schools who have created this mess but the eager students who are ever ready to throw their hard earned or borrowed tuition fees away without the slightest forthought as to whether the price being paid is a fair one.
  • Good Commentary

    Excellent commentary. If the law societies and law graduates are doing what they can to deal with the articling "crisis" then so should the universities. That's especially so given that it is the universities that created this mess and have been making money from increased enrollments.