While the legal community awaits the Law Society of Upper Canada’s report on the articling crisis, expected out this fall, a partial solution may be hiding in corporate law departments.
RBC, Hydro One, Ontario Power Generation, and the Bank of Nova Scotia all have articling programs, but it seems to be something that’s not widely talked about. But a perfect storm of over-taxed legal departments and students desperate for articling positions might be culminating in some creative solutions and an expansion of the idea that articling can happen in-house.
For example, this past spring I was visiting family in northern Ontario and saw an ad in the local newspaper for an in-house articling position with the City of North Bay. It stipulated that the candidate had to be a recent law school grad and a native of northern Ontario. The full-time, one-year contract position was being partially funded by the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp. and the Northern Ontario Youth Internship & Co-op Program. Candidates had to be grads of a Northern Ontario high school, 29 years of age or under, and a recent graduate from a Canadian law school. Anyone who had lived in the north for at least one year was also eligible.
The articling student would have the opportunity to work in municipal law, litigation, employment and labour law, prosecutions, administrative tribunal law, and real estate law. They would assist both the city solicitor and city prosecutor with the duties of operating a municipal legal department.
No doubt it’s a two-way street with provincial funding programs aiding a cash-strapped municipal legal team while also creating a position for a law grad.
Now, when I’ve spoken to some general counsel about the idea of articling students coming in-house right from law school some dismiss it, saying in
their opinion, a student still needs private practice experience to get a solid foundation in the law. Generally, if the in-house law department is small they may not be able to provide the same level of training a student might get in a law firm, one in-house counsel told me, adding that getting a firm footing the law in the early years is critical.
But consider that some in-house departments work on a broad range of matters. Rod Crown, the assistant general counsel at Hydro One, told me at a recent networking event that Hydro One has had an articling student position for the last 20 years. Crown, who is a member of the utility’s articling committee, is passionate about the program. With 17 lawyers in the Hydro One legal department, the articling student they hire each year is provided a network of mentors and can learn about many aspects of corporate-commercial law. This year Hydro One received more than 300 applications for its articling position — they hire one in August. While they typically don’t hire back, it can happen.
This doesn’t have to be limited to large legal departments. Lisa Skakun, the GC for Coast Capital Credit Union in B.C. recruited two articling students to fill positions she created in her small legal department of less than four. She felt the experience was beneficial for all involved.
Perhaps some smaller departments could consider these innovative models and build on what others have started.