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LSO endorses proposed Ryerson law school

|Written By Alex Robinson
LSO endorses proposed Ryerson law school
Lisa Feldstein says the Law Society of Ontario should tackle the articling shortage before approving a new law school.

As the Law Society of Ontario has endorsed a proposal to create a new law school at Ryerson University, some lawyers are questioning whether the province needs more law students at a time when there is a shortage of articling positions.

A majority of LSO benchers approved a recommendation at their February meeting to endorse Ryerson’s proposal, which gained preliminary approval by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada at the end of 2017.

Some lawyers say the law society should do more to tackle the articling crisis before approving a new law school.

Lawyer Lisa Feldstein says she is concerned there will be a flood of graduating students with limited opportunities to article.

She says Ryerson would probably create a great law school, but adding more students to the market would make the supply and demand balance for articling positions even more difficult than it already is for graduates.

“Let’s deal with the articling situation first and, once the supply-demand issue is a little more stable, then it may make perfect sense for there to be another law school,” she says.

“I’m sure there are many people who get rejected from law school that would be thrilled for there to be another school to go to in the province. But I think at this point the answer should be no, in the interest of these future law students.”

The law society has been conducting a review of the wider licensing process, which could result in changes to articling.

In 2016, the law society extended a licensing pilot project called the Law Practice Program, which is an alternative to articling, run by the University of Ottawa and Ryerson University.

Feldstein says it confuses her that the same institution would be trying to add more law students to the market.

Those behind the Ryerson proposal say the school is necessary as there are a lot of Ontario residents that study abroad because they cannot get into the province’s existing law schools.

“The number of seats available is not there for them [so] they end up studying abroad,” says Anver Saloojee, the dean of record for the university’s proposed law school.

Saloojee says the Ryerson law school would capture some of that market and will better position those graduates to be an important part of the legal service delivery in Ontario.

He adds that lawyers should not be scared of the competition that will come from the new law school’s graduates.

“As in every other profession, graduates will compete with each other and hopefully the best and the brightest will actually get what they are looking for and seeking,” he says.

Saloojee says there is also a need for another law school in Ontario “of a different kind” with an emphasized focus on innovation and technology.

Pending the necessary approvals, Saloojee says, he expects the school will open its doors in September 2020.

The first cohort is expected to be 150 students and annual tuition will be $20,000 depending on whether the university obtains funding it hopes to receive from the provincial government.

When the FLSC granted preliminary approval of the new law school, it identified three concerns with the proposed program, which included a concern that the law school would need consistent funding from the provincial government to be sustainable.

Ryerson responded to this by saying that if provincial funds are not available, it will have to increase the $20,000 fee.

Other concerns questioned whether the law school would have adequate physical resources and the fact that the proposal did not have a target student-to-faculty ratio.

Ryerson’s proposal was approved at Convocation by a show of hands with at least two benchers voting against — Raj Sharda and Jeffrey Lem — after some discussion. The law society does not keep an official tally for votes when there is no roll call.

Life bencher Bradley Wright, who does not have a vote at Convocation, voiced concern about creating a new law school at a time when the number of students is increasing at a rate far above the population growth of the province.

“The reality is that if you have too few lawyers per capita that’s bad for society [and] if you have too many lawyers per capita that’s also bad for society,” he said. He said many young lawyers are having a hard enough time making it into law.

Others said there was no meritorious reason to stand in the way of the new law school.

Bencher Christopher Bredt said the law society does not exist to regulate the number of people in the profession but to ensure that the people who are licensed to practise are competent in the areas in which they are licensed.

He said there is demand among Canadians who want to go to law school in Toronto and that the proposal is a sound one.

He also pointed to the fact that many Canadians are going abroad to go to law school at considerable expense and without good results.

“Putting in place a Canadian law school that will give Canadians an opportunity to get a high-quality legal education here in Canada to me makes eminent sense,” he says. 

The proposed law school still needs more internal Ryerson approvals, which Saloojee expects will be obtained by mid-summer. At that point, Ryerson will be sending the proposal to the provincial government, which also has to grant its approval.

  • Thanks LSO!

    Samantha W
    Prime proof that the LSO has no interest in either pleasing junior lawyers or even representing them adequately. Our voices have not been heard. People have made complaints to the LSO about lack of articling and associate positions, unpaid articles (why won't the LSO ban them? or at least make a statement about this sisue?), deficiencies with the LPP program etc. None of it matters to the LSO and our concerns are again swept under the rug.
  • Underemployed Grad

    Sure, lets follow the American model and open more schools. Why not? It works so well over there. Access to justice is a much improved and the legal market is doing amazing. Can the LSO next approve a law school for OCAD and Trent?
  • Crisis? What Crisis?

    Andy Waltz
    Its time to stop kidding ourselves that there is an 'articling crisis' - there is just an ongoing articling reality for the last 10-15 years. There's a noticeable surplus of law school grads and a lower market-driven number of articling positions, but there is no lawyer shortage in Ontario, so there is no crisis. Period. Its only a crisis if there is a perception that articles are an entitlement rather than a demand-based opportunity. There was never any right to articles or a job as a lawyer. The decision to approve Ryerson law school is just a symptom of a deeper confusion about regulation of the profession that will likely just continue to drag on. As long as articles (or work terms for the LPP) are supplied by the private sector, the market will decide who moves forward and who does not, just like every other job field. The problem is that the industry absorbs what it wants and needs as it always did - as the article says the best and the brightest will actually get what they are looking for and seeking.” Given the economic reality of diminished corporate spending on legal services since 2008 and the increase in law school enrollment by universities before and since then, the rest will not, and there are more - many more - students left behind than there used to be. This issue has been over a decade in the making - its news only to the oblivious. Law students can't claim wide-eyed naivete on this anymore. All we are seeing is a systemic bubble in the production of law grads and shifts the constriction point of the bottleneck point. It may well resolve itself in another 10+ years when people start to recognize the reality that going to law school is not the sure ticket to a high paying job and status in the same way as it was to the generation before. It has not been an in-demand profession (at least at the low/starter level) for some time now. Once that sinks in, people will weigh their options with more insight and other opportunities or paths may become more appealing to them. The bigger systemic concern here is two-fold. Firstly, the Law Society of Ontario needs to decide whether or not there is an 'articling crisis' or not, and act accordingly. Pick one, any one, and act consistently on the policy side. As it is, you have some Benchers using the term 'articling crisis' and others saying its not their place to regulate the profession. I appreciate the diversity of sentiments among members, but if its really not the LSO's place to regulate the number of people in the profession, why did they create the LPP? All this does is create more lawyers (assuming they finish the process, which most do having invested considerable time and money in the LPP) and bypass the natural market barrier that regulated entry to the profession which was articles. Nobody ever in the history of articling said was perfect, but at least, like lawyer job positions, it's also regulated by industry demand. The LPP simply generates more un/underemployed lawyers - that is, law grads who spent more money and time to chase a still elusive dream at significant opportunity cost. Instead of finding something else to pursue, it invests them more in a an overcrowded field where they will likely have to take on lower paid or non-lawyer work, if they get legal work at all. (Its telling that just today the LPP sent alumni a job posting for a position that requires no legal training, let alone a JD or license to practice law.) Secondly, how is having a Ryerson law school NOT a conflict of interest with its current role as primary supplier of the english-language Law Practice Program? Whatever 'different kind' of innovation and technology school it is, the new Ryerson law school program will still pump out another 150 more law school grads into a very limited articling market that cannot absorb them. Their only alternative if they want to get licensed without indefinitely waiting for an elusive articling position is... wait for it... the Ryerson LPP. One of the chief concerns and reasons for terminating the LPP in 2016 was that it was not attracting enough students to sustain itself. It was around 250 at the time and needed 400+ to keep going. You do the math. The LSO funds the LPP through the $100 levy that members pay, and students enrolled pay $2800 each. I've yet to find a full accounting of the actual cost of the LPP, but it appears there are significant revenues opportunities for Ryerson on both ends - great for them. Is it as great or at least OK for the wallets and prospects of law grads/licensing candidates? Ryerson will have a new law school operating soon. More law school applicants will have a chance to earn their JD's in Canada, rather than spend their tuition money out of country. That's good for Ryerson and Ontario. Whether those students will have an opportunity to article/get licensed and become lawyers who with a meaningful and well remunerated practice is another thing. At the very least, they will be competing in a much more competitive and over-saturated pool of articling (licensing) students and first year associates than ever before, in part because the market balance that usually keeps supply and demand for specific labor in balance is still being overfed for whatever reasons. Apparently innovation and technology will save them and their careers from economic disaster because future. Just don't call it a crisis. (Disclosure: I'm an LPP grad, and I'm conflicted about all this.)
  • Who needs another Law School?

    Gerry M. Laarakker
    Do we really need another Law School? I know it's inexpensive to teach law and very profitable for the school, but shouldn't we absorb what we've got, first? I'm not scared of the competition, I just feel sorry for the students!
  • Ignoring the Elephant in the room - too many law students & lack of articling positions

    J. Gary Greenan
    Sure, go ahead add another Law School, if it brings in significant revenue for Ryerson, regardless that there already is a significant problem with existing graduates finding articling positions. So if there is more demand for law studies positions than places , and they must go abroad to study law - let that be the deciding factor. So 'flood the market', and end up with desperate grads who later 'hang a shingle' and see how that benefits the public, as long as Ryerson gets it $9,000.000.00/ annum in annual student fees ( after year 2 , there are 450 students @ $20,000.00/ student or more). You can be sure the medicine , dentistry, engineering,architecture and other professional schools and governing bodies will not follow this disastrous policy, on the theory that just because people who apply cannot gain entry, that more schools should be added and positions created. In summary , l agree entirely with Lisa Feldstein and others opposed to this, and suggest that A. Salvajee's curious comments ( the rejected applicants would otherwise need to go abroad) do not assist his vested position.