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The dawn of a new licensing age

Ontario’s new law practice program has taken flight providing budding lawyers with the opportunity to get their licence to practise law outside the traditional articling structure. Ryerson University and the University of Ottawa will be running the concurrent three-year pilot programs in English and French. There has been much fanfare, discussion, and gnashing of teeth about the LPP but the rubber is finally hitting the road on this seismic shift in legal licensing.

Both universities are offering an “experiential learning” opportunity through a program consisting of four months working in a virtual/simulated law firm and then four months of placement within a real firm or law department. The objective of both the French and English LPP is to “enable candidates to master all of the skills necessary to provide quality legal services,” as the University of Ottawa touts in its program description. They will include guidance and mentoring from working lawyers as well as simulated practice situations including “taking clients and files through interviews, strategy and approach, legal and factual research, preparation, drafting documentation, negotiation, legal arguments, trials and tribunal hearings, and reporting to and billing clients,” according to Ryerson’s description.

The introduction of the new LPP has the profession and students split as to its value. There are those who argue the two streams of licensing will create a two-tier system where those who get articles will be the major leaguers who get the good jobs and those who don’t will be the farm team relegated to lesser positions in the profession.

On the other hand, the LPP was born from the crisis law students had in finding articling positions in Ontario and the LPP provides an opportunity for those who don’t want to or cannot find articles to make their way into the bar through an alternate route. As Matt Hopkins, a Western University law grad who is doing the LPP wrote in an online piece for 4Students: “In challenging times, we can choose either to sit in despair or to think outside the box. We weren’t all meant to get the big job on Bay Street. Don’t misunderstand me. I applied for those jobs, but in retrospect I know I probably wasn’t thinking about the work as much as the paycheque.”

With access to justice a growing concern in the justice system, having more lawyers like Hopkins, who want to work in smaller centres and provide family and criminal law services to the public who really need it, can only be good news. So let’s keep a close eye on the LPP and the lawyers who go that route and assess it again in a year to see if it’s living up to its promise.

— Gail J. Cohen