A minimum wage for articling students would worsen a bottleneck

It will only reduce the number of positions, restricting who can enter the profession

Jared Brown

There is a crisis in articling.

That was 2017.

Fact check - articling is still in crisis in 2022.

There are not enough articling positions available for people entering the licensing process in Ontario and elsewhere. Over the last three years alone, 500 licensing candidates have been unable to find an articling job. That’s 500 people and counting unable to enter the legal profession, unable to be called to the bar.

The lack of articling positions is a barrier to entry into the profession. It’s a bottleneck keeping otherwise qualified people from becoming lawyers.

This bottleneck disproportionately impacts communities without established networks within the legal profession, including new Canadians, foreign-trained law graduates, and minority communities.

It is in the public interest to ensure that any competent person wanting to provide legal services can do so. If competent people are kept out of the profession because they can’t find an articling job, the LSO is not meeting the public interest.

In 2016 and 2017, the Law Society of Ontario studied the crisis in articling. They purported to address the shortage of articling positions by implementing “enhancements” to articling. These enhancements included mandatory training for articling principals in fashionable political topics like equity, a compulsory practice audit for all lawyers wanting to hire an articling student, and a mandatory wage floor for all articling positions (employment standards legislation does not cover lawyers and articling students).

These “enhancements” did nothing to enhance the number of articling positions available. They did nothing to help the 500 people currently kept out of the legal profession and will do nothing to help those who follow.

For any lawyer considering hiring an articling student, telling them that they now get the pleasure of a mandatory practice audit and political training will hardly make it more likely they will create a new articling position.

Similarly, mandating a wage floor based upon the LSO’s downtown elites’ sensibilities will not increase the number of positions available. Its basic economics 101.

It is estimated that less than 15 percent of all articling jobs are paid below the statutory minimum wage. At least some of these positions are paid in non-traditional means such as honorarium, commissions, bonuses, or expenses paid.

In 2017, the last Convocation decided to make these articling opportunities illegal. To regulate them out of existence and prevent licensing candidates from seeking out opportunities and contracting on terms other than those considered sensible by the LSO.

In 2021, the current Convocation decided to do the opposite and address the articling crisis by increasing the number of articling jobs. They did this by eliminating stifling regulations. They made the training for articling principals voluntary and eliminated the mandatory practice audit. Convocation reduced the duration of the articling term from 10 to eight months, giving a candidate the ability to apply to abridge articles further. The professional development and competence committee recommended eliminating the wage floor as well.

This last issue will come before Convocation for approval in April.

A wage floor only reduces the dwindling number of articling positions remaining. It exacerbates the crisis in articling and will keep certain groups and communities outside of the legal profession looking in.

While I believe that the LSO should abolish articling outright, until it is, the public interest demands that we strive to increase the number of available positions to meet or exceed demand.

While some in the legal profession have taken to cheap virtue signalling in support of a wage floor and pushing to outlaw non-traditional articling arrangements, the public interest would be better served if the legal profession put its money where its mouth is and met its social responsibility to the public by creating enough high quality good paying articling jobs.

Ironically, mandating a wage floor and strangling articling with regulation will only accelerate the abolishment of articling in the long run. Good riddance, I say.

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