The in-house argument for Ontario’s Law Practice Program

Is it baffling to anyone else that at a time when so many aspects of the legal profession are being reconsidered in terms of how work gets done and what lawyers learn in law school that the Law Society of Upper Canada is suggesting it wants to cut short an innovative new model to train lawyers for the future?

In Ontario, Ryerson University and the University of Ottawa are in year three of providing the Law Practice Program, the alternative to traditional articling, which includes a four-month practical training component and four-month work placement program designed with support from both law firms and in-house legal departments. It has an alliance with the Ontario Bar Association to deliver a program that prepares law school grads for a career.

The LPP was launched as a three-year pilot with the possibility of a two-year extension to make sure enough data was gathered.

In September, an LSUC subcommittee report suggested the LPP should end this year. Benchers will vote on that recommendation in November. It has prompted several in the in-house community to speak out in support of the LPP including Marni Dicker, EVP, general counsel at Infrastructure Ontario, who has served as both a mentor and employer to the program, as well as Fernando Garcia, general counsel at Nissan Canada, who has provided placements for LPP candidates.

That the law society would want to end the program is particularly perplexing to Yonni Fushman, vice president and deputy general counsel at Aecon Group Inc. Aecon took an LPP candidate placement two years ago and in January 2017 will hire the individual full-time. Fushman says the individual is “a rock star.” 

Fushman says he’s bothered by how “patronizing” the LSUC is being by “depriving a lot of people of the opportunity to get called, and telling them it’s for their own good.”

He acknowledges he has a different perspective than some Canadian lawyers. Having gone to law school in the United States where there is no articling program he thinks clinging to the articling model is “preposterous.”

The LPP is seen by many as providing a more consistent process. “From my perspective, just because someone has articled by no means does that put them in a higher tier or make them more qualified than someone who has done this more rigorous process.”

Even though Fushman says the LPP curriculum wasn’t directly transferable to what Aecon does, it didn’t seem to him that the candidates were going to be any less qualified than an articling student from a Bay Street firm who has done document review or other repetitive tasks for articling. “This guy was ready to hit the ground running. Not like a fifth-year associate but certainly more than someone who had done random articles in a law office,” he says. “I think the program is clever — it’s circumventing the market limitations on articling.”

Perhaps it’s the business-focused nature of in-house counsel that has prompted them to be so vocal about the value of the LPP. Many of these same lawyers have come from big Bay Street firms so they know the differences between the programs. Perhaps it’s time the LSUC also sees that difference.

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