Ontario has the unique position of having more applicants for articling positions than available positions. A panel at the Second Annual Conference Association for Canadian Clinical Legal Education discussed the future of articling in Ontario on September 24, 2011 at Osgoode Hall Law School.
Tom Conway of the Law Society of Upper Canada Task Force on Articling shared some of his personal views on the subject. He indicated there were 1,700 people who registered for articling in 2010-2011, and the situation is expected to get worse with UofO expanding its common law section, and the new law schools recently launched. The University of Montreal has also applied to expand their common law program, which may result in even further increases of law students.
The vast majority of articling positions are in the Toronto area (55%), and the majority of those positions are with large firms. Most practitioners in the province though are sole practitioners or in firms with less than 5 lawyers. For most articling students in the province the articling experience is a big firm Toronto experience. In 2008, the LSUC recommendations were overwhelming in favour of retaining articling as part of the licensing process, and focused on increasing the number of articling positions. They streamlined the process for articling principals, provided an articling registry, and conducted an articling survey. But despite all of this, not a single additional articling position was created.
André Bacchus, Director of Professional Development, Heenan Blaikie LLP, noted that a number of small practitioners are dying to have an articling student, but the applicants are reluctant to relocate to remote or rural locations where these practices are located.
Kim Brooks, Dean, Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University, indicated that market conditions are poor in society, generally. Interpreting articling data should be done with careful consideration of the unemployment rates outside of law, and that many individuals without articling positions will still have meaningful contributions to society in other capacities with their legal education.
Lorne Sossin, Dean, Osgoode Hall Law School, stated that the law society has no ability to actually determine the type of training that occurs during articling. The wide variety of types of articling positions defies the ability to qualitatively assess whether articling is actually achieving its goals. There are real skills that are required for practice, which may or not be obtained through articling.