Articling Placement Program sees increased demand, more law firms needed
The Law Society of Alberta is recruiting law firms to join its program to support articling students who have experienced harassment and discrimination.
The Articling Placement Program, launched in 2022, was created as a solution for articling students unable to complete their articles with their law firm due to harassment or discrimination. The program became permanent earlier this year and is experiencing growing pains with increased demand.
“As the regulator, we have set a requirement for students to complete articles, and we have a responsibility to help students who are not in safe environments,” says Cori Ghitter, deputy executive director and director, policy and education at the Law Society of Alberta. “While we focus on proactive measures, we also knew there was a need to have this program.”
Articling students facing harassment or discrimination
This program is in response to the 2019 articling report assessment. Nearly one-third of articling students said they experienced harassment or discrimination and believed resources were unavailable to deal with their concerns. They also felt that reporting their concerns would result in negative consequences. The report found women and minorities are most likely to experience harassment or discrimination.
Two of the key recommendations from students were for the LSA to consider helping students who quit because of discrimination and harassment to find another articling position and for students to be empowered to deal with these issues.
“There are informal networks where lawyers help place students in new positions, but that process is inequitable,” says Ghitter. “We wanted to have something formal to help people who didn’t have access to those networks.”
The program is already having an effect. One student who went through the program said the support helped them reinforce their commitment to justice and the community.
So far, 35 students contacted the LSA about the program, and eleven have been accepted. For those accepted, nearly all students say they experienced workplace harassment, and some also experienced discrimination. On average, students had eight months left in their articling term when placed with a new firm.
With the help of staff, students accepted into the program go through the roster to find a placement. Law firms don’t have prior knowledge of the student’s experience. Students receive mentorship from their firms and an equity ombudsperson checks in with the student and law firm.
One principal who worked with articling students in the program said they found mentorship particularly special and rewarding.
Longer wait times due to demand
One of the challenges facing the LSA is placement. People are becoming more aware of the program, even with lawyers referring articling students in their firms to it. Increased interest has led to longer wait times for students accepted into the program and seeking placements. Ghitter says the law society is working on recruiting more law firms with an emphasis on northern Alberta, where the majority of students are placed.
“The reality is roster firms can’t take articling students all the time,” says Ghitter. “We try to give students a choice of firms if possible because it’s important for students to have agency in this process. The more firms we have, the better we can place students.”
The program's goal is for students to have a way to continue in the profession. “Fundamentally, the program is about giving these students a better start,” says Ghitter. “Articling is difficult, and our profession wants to welcome students and make sure they have a good start.”