Hot debate over future of articling

Hot debate over future of articling
Catherine McKenna, co-founder and executive director of Canadian Lawyers Abroad, participated in the online discussion.
Despite the Law Society of Upper Canada’s decision last Thursday to defer the contentious debate on articling until next month, a vigorous public discussion took place simultaneously online.

Lawyers, journalists, law students, and other members of the legal profession weighed in, sharing their thoughts on various issues raised in the Law Society of Upper Canada articling task force’s final report.

Some were in favour of giving the profession more time to consider the 100-page document, while others argued that a decision was imperative.

Lisa Wilder, a 2L student at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law who attended the screening of Convocation at Osgoode Hall last week, says another month to deliberate the issues is reasonable.

“These are fundamental changes that we’re talking about, and to have a 10-day turnaround in between the final report and then a decision seems irresponsible,” she says.

Catherine McKenna, co-founder and executive director of Canadian Lawyers Abroad, tweeted: “While @LawSocietyLSUC can’t delay forever, good decision to delay a decision on #articling until November. Need more input from stakeholders.”

Toronto lawyer and author Mitch Kowalski disagrees.

“So Bencher Raj [Anand] says that many stakeholders were part of the preparation of the report — and now stakeholders want yet another kick at the can?” he tweeted. “I still don’t understand this distorted sense of democracy. Benchers were elected to make decisions and govern — they should do so.”

Although the delay will allow for more input from the profession, Wilder suspects that law students may not be so engaged.

“I don’t think that students will weigh in very much because they will probably not start taking this issue seriously until they’re articling themselves. My year is the first year that would be affected by the pilot and we’re focused on summer jobs right now,” she says.

In its report released Oct. 16, the majority recommended a five-year pilot project, to begin in 2014, for a law practice program as an alternative option to the current articling system. The LPP, to be delivered by one or more third-party providers, would combine a skills-training component and a co-op work placement for a total of eight months.

Four members of the task force disagree with this proposal and instead suggest replacing articling with a two- to three-month comprehensive transitional pre-licensing program that would consist of online learning and exams to assess the core competencies that lawyers need to have. They also call for the law schools to have additional experiential education programs in order for students to gain the practical skills they need to enter the workforce.

Along with McKenna and Kowalski, those who took part in the online discussion included former Ontario Bar Association president Lee Akazaki; Western University’s director of community legal services Doug Ferguson; University of Windsor law professor Jasminka Kalajdzic; and Toronto lawyers Omar Ha-Redeye, Antonin Pribetic, and Garry Wise.

While the benchers presented the task force’s majority and dissenting reports, the panellists provided their own solutions to the articling crisis via Twitter.

“Experiential learning [is the] way of the future. If I had to cough up tens of thousands of dollars for law school, I would expect it,” tweeted McKenna.

Akazaki suggested looking at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s method. “Check out Carnegie model at CUNY law school as a way for law schools to emulate #articling,” he tweeted.

“Build a Carnegie law school in Canada and it will be the envy of the planet,” he added.

Ferguson echoed Akazaki’s comments. “I agree. We need one law school to be a leader in implementing Carnegie. Students would flock to it.”

“If law schools implemented Carnegie curriculum to integrate theory and skills, transitional training would not be needed,” he added.

McKenna also gave her two cents on the issue: “Problem: @LawSocietyLSUC can only recommend that law schools require experiential learning. Can’t force them.”

However, “law schools will not transform without pressure from external forces,” said Ferguson.

And as long as students continue to enrol in law schools, they will see no need to change, said Kowalski, who was clearly in favour of the dissenters’ opinion, tweeting that the “majority report substitutes a co-op crisis for an articling crisis — AND as an added bonus creates an (expensive to manage and impossible to keep consistent) two-tiered system that will create two classes of lawyers.”

Bencher Wendy Matheson, a partner at Torys LLP, told Convocation the majority’s intention is not to create two tiers, but to make practical training available to those without articling positions. She asked the benchers not to “prejudge” the proposed LPP.

Others argue that a two-tier effect is inevitable. “BigLaw will discriminate between Tier 1-articling and Tier 2-LPP candidates, the same way it does among law schools,” tweeted Pribetic.

Bencher Jacqueline Horvat, one of the articling task force dissenters, argued the LLP will result in a group of new lawyers being considered “second class.”

Bencher Peter Wardle, also a member of the minority, pointed out that the current articling system presents an even greater barrier to equality-seeking groups.

Ha-Redeye said it’s important to hear from equality-seeking groups, and that the law society should not adopt the LPP unless these groups are convinced that it will not create two tiers.

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