“We’ve had about 30 students switch over to the new plan, and sign up under the new plan,” says Cori Ghitter, director of professionalism and access at the Law Society of Alberta.
With a typical number of just 500 law students in Alberta per annum, Ghitter says that the results are positive so far. The biggest uptake is yet to come with most students starting their articling position in mid-July and August, “certainly by next year it will be completely mandatory for any new articling student to use the new education plan.”
For now all law students who have already submitted their application documents have the choice of following either the new or previous plan.
Steven Breslauer, who has been articling with Rodin Law Firm since February, could not be more pleased with his decision to switch over to the new education plan as soon as it came out.
“It’s more of a functional approach than a theoretical approach I suppose, the old education plan where you did the five rotations is probably the biggest difference between the two,” says Breslauer.
Previously, students had to fulfill a minimum of two mandatory weeks in five different areas of law during their 12-months of articling.
Under that plan, however, “there are very few environments where you could have all of those areas of law really substantively covered,” says Ghitter.
As a result many firms, especially smaller ones, were not willing to take on law students for articles.
“The issue is, it’s hard enough to get one person to hire you, let alone to have four others [to] allow you to come in,” says Breslauer. “In bigger law firms you could probably get three or four of them done,” but in smaller firms like the one Breslauer is articling at, which specializes only in civil litigation and personal injury law, the principal would have to go out of the firm to ensure articling students could fulfil the requirements of five different practice areas.
Because Breslauer had worked for the firm in the summer he was able to get an articling position, but some of graduates in his year are still looking for articles he says.
“It comes down to numbers and you look at the amount of students that have come out of law school and don’t have articling positions and still don’t have articling positions maybe two, three years down the road after graduation, really it’s unacceptable. You invest seven years of your life into becoming a lawyer or a future lawyer you get out and there are always barriers to entry to the profession.”
Although some students benefitted from dipping their toes into various practice areas, like another student Breslauer knows who fell in love with family law following his articles, others were not so fortunate.
“I really think that the plan is a step in the right direction and it is definitely going to create a lot of opportunity for upcoming articling students,” says Breslauer.
Both Ghitter and Breslauer agree that the stringent criteria no longer in place will make a huge difference in the articling job market.
“The reality is that really is not how the law is practised these days,” underlines Ghitter.
“I believe that the reason that they did this is to make articling more accessible to students,” says Breslauer. His articling experience so far truly speaks to that. Not only do highly specialized firms have to find four other placements for their articling student out of firm, since they only specialize in one, “at the same time he is paying me and I am sure he would rather teach me the ins and outs and allow me a more hands on functional approach then to send me out for a matter of two to three months just to experience other types of law that realistically I probably won’t practice in the future.”
Another important aspect of the new education plan is to align competencies with the national standard outlined by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada: “because of national lawyer mobility we wanted to make sure that there were consistent entry-level competencies across the country,” says Ghitter.
Competencies like ethics, professionalism, and practice management are areas that young lawyers tend to need help with.
“We know the areas where lawyers get into trouble. It is rarely because they didn’t find the right section of the Will’s Act as an example; it is usually more connected to how they communicated with their client. Issues around professionalism and ethics,” she notes.