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FROM THE EDITOR - Plan for the future

|Written By Gail J. Cohen

Last month, the Law Society of Upper Canada reaffirmed that articling is a core component of licensing lawyers to practise in the province. The Ontario law society had been looking at various options for reforming its licensing and accreditation system, and on the table had been the possibility of axing articles altogether. But lawyers across the province who responded to the law society’s study overwhelmingly rejected the idea of abolishing articles.

Good call — articling with its opportunities to work in a law firm and get the training and feel of working in the law is important on many levels.

The U.S. system of simply having young lawyers write an exam and then start working as a full-time associate would appear to be less effective than the Canadian system for both lawyers and the firms that hire them. In fact, the LSUC is planning to make new calls even more “competent” by adding a new professional responsibility and practice course as well as a requirement for 24 hours of compulsory professional development in the first two years of practice.

All of this is great except the forecast is that there’ll be more law students requiring articling positions than there are law firms willing to offer them. Part of the solution offered up by the LSUC is to set up an online articling registry — it’ll still be up to individuals to find their own placements. The B.C. branch of the CBA launched its articling registry a few months ago, also in response to the need for more ways to connect those in need of articles with those willing to offer articling placements.

It also set up a shared-articles registry in co-operation with the Law Society of British Columbia and the province’s two law schools. That registry is probably the more important for both lawyers and law firms because it will allow and even promote more connections between small-firm and small-town lawyers and articling students.

Canadian Lawyer Associates and our sister publications including Law Times newspaper and Canadian Lawyer magazine have all had stories in the last year about the need for more young lawyers to join the ranks of small firms outside of the country’s major urban centres. Others have highlighted the problems soon-to-be-retiring lawyers are having finding young practitioners to transition their firms and clients to.

For smaller law firms it’s often too expensive or difficult to provide a full-length articling position. That creates a two-fold problem: for the law firms it means they can’t easily bring in new talent; and for lawyers who want to work in smaller centres, it means training positions aren’t available for them. The shared-articles plan allows that more than one firm can split the bill and the time with other firms so articling students can get a complete articling experience. No longer will one articling student be tied to one firm and one principal.

Registries are a first step though. Law organizations, law firms, and any lawyer interested in the future of the profession should be getting involved in their provinces to help organize systems that will assist new lawyers in making sure they can get complete their articling requirements.

Most law societies require articling but don’t take any responsibility in helping those who can’t easily get placements. But the reality is lawyers and law firms in smaller centres need to attract and retain new lawyers and getting involved is the best way to make sure that practices thrive and communities get the access to justice they deserve.