A turning point

A few years ago, one of the biggest issues law firms were dealing with was associate retention. Well, you won’t hear anyone talking about that anymore. Now, the topic on everyone’s lips is articling. There have been rumblings about it for years; in 2008 the Law Society of Upper Canada looked at the future of articling, reports were written, nothing much happened. The status quo continues to this day. However, in December the LSUC put out a 134-page consultation report again looking at the future of articling.
It offers up five ways to deal with the current crisis: maintaining the status quo; the status quo with quality assurance improvements; the replacement of a pre-licensing transition requirement with a post-licensing transition requirement; a choice of either articling or a practical legal training course; or only a practical legal training course.

The law society is in the midst of consultations with the profession on which option is the best to move forward (you have until March 15 to submit your thoughts to the LSUC or attend one of the consultation meetings). From attending a recent consultation, one would get the impression the society already has made up its mind on what’s best: the combo of articling and a practical legal training course. While on first glance that may seem like a good idea, I think in the long run, it probably won’t be.

Firstly, it will mean that in terms of bureaucracy, the LSUC will have to run two systems to monitor both streams. I think we can all agree that is not what the LSUC needs. Secondly, how will there be equality between a training course and articling? And even if that gets worked out, will a young lawyer who has taken the course instead of articling be treated the same by prospective employers? Will there be inherent biases creating roadblocks to success for lawyers who take the course? All I can foresee is problems and inequity in that approach. It apparently works in parts of Australia, but I say choose one or the other.

The reality is that there are articling position shortages, not just in Ontario but in other provinces as well. Although from what I hear, Saskatchewan firms are thriving and looking for articling students. It would seem that the option of maintaining articles as they are or with some extra checks and balances wouldn’t work. The idea of a course, likely costing prospective lawyers more money on top of their law school and other student loan debt, may work. But what you don’t see is the U.S.-style option of letting students write bar exams and then go out into the world as licensed lawyers to either find employment or start their own firms.

Personally, I think there is great value in articling but the system is broken. We’ll see in a few months, how the LSUC thinks it’s going to fix it. This is undoubtedly a turning point in the future of the profession.

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