At the beginning of February, the Law Society of Upper Canada put out its request for proposals for its new law practice program pilot project. In November, the LSUC had approved the LPP as a licensing scheme both parallel and alternative to the current articling system. For now the program is a trial but will probably include a four-month teaching section followed by a four-month co-op. Much has been made about whether the co-op will be paid; the RFP notes it would prefer if the provider set up paid co-ops, particularly in underserviced areas, but payment is not mandatory.
The law society has suggested it will cost students in the range of $5,670 each — from the current $2,950 — including the final licensing assessment. For students already burdened by debt, that’s a large sum of money to have to put down in order to get licensed. One can only hope they’ll get paid co-ops but in the face of a severe shortage of current articling positions, how likely will that be? Concerns over a two-tier system, where those who end up in the LPP will be considered second-rate compared to students who were able to secure articling positions, is bad enough. Having to pay extra for that seems like adding insult to injury — particularly if those students don’t get paid for their co-op work.
Potential providers don’t have long to get detailed plans for their legal education and co-op programs to the LSUC — proposals must be filed by the end of May — so it will be interesting to see what comes of this process. The timelines are short to create a program from scratch. Will it mean foreign companies, such as those in the United Kingdom, with experience in legal education will end up teaching law in Ontario? Might it even be the law schools themselves, as Lakehead University’s new dean of law Lee Stuesser suggests?
In the meantime, changes to legal education in this country are necessary. Some law schools, such as the University of Victoria, are already providing a more training-based education. Others are focusing on more experiential learning through clinics and other programs. But at the heart of it, there is a need for more innovation. Law schools can’t bury their heads in the sand and say, “We are not here to train lawyers to get law jobs.” They obviously can’t guarantee jobs and while law school may not be a technical college, students should be taught practical skills so they’ll have some sort of solid base to start a career.