The County & District Law Presidents’ Association is shaking up Ontario’s articling debate with a call for a new type of licence without the requirement to article.
As the Law Society of Upper Canada’s task force on the issue gets set to release its report this spring, the association is recommending the creation of an L4 licence that would allow candidates to practise law in environments where they’re not providing services directly to the public.
According to CDLPA vice chairwoman Janet Whitehead, that could include people working in corporate law departments or in government or Crown law offices. The proposed licence would apply to law graduates who have passed the bar exam and completed the professionalism course.
Whitehead notes the proposal is a response to CDLPA members’ concerns about the need to maintain an articling requirement for those in private practice while providing an option for others in the profession and addressing the shortage of positions. She points out that there are some aspects of private practice, such as maintaining trust accounts, that involve serving the public and don’t apply to those working in places like government departments.
There would also be a mechanism, she adds, for those holding an L4 licence to move into the L1 category. “We weren’t envisioning that they’d be stuck in that category,” she says, noting lawyers holding the L4 status would be able to article later on or have their experience evaluated in some fashion.
The proposal would get around one of the options that appears to have found some favour in the run-up to the articling task force’s report: a practical legal training course that would serve as an alternative to the requirement to article. According to Whitehead, those working as L4 lawyers would still benefit from the internal training that many corporate and government departments provide.
CDLPA’s proposals also aim to address another issue that frequently surfaces in the articling debate: the supply of lawyers and positions in Ontario’s smaller towns and cities. Its solution would be to provide a “modest” subsidy to articling principals in “specific remote, high-needs areas,” says Whitehead. The program would involve a subsidy from the LSUC that would provide an incentive for lawyers to take on articling students, she notes.
The proposal comes as the profession has been taking note of the lack of interest often shown by law graduates in articling in smaller towns and cities. But given the shortage of articling positions and the need to respond quickly, Whitehead says CDLPA’s subsidy and licensing recommendations would be an easy way to address the issue in comparison to the job of setting up a practical legal training course.
“It’s going to be an interesting time,” she says, noting the profession’s intense interest in the issue right now. “We’re all trying to come up with something that’s going to work.”