We need to create an Ontario Legal Corps composed of lawyers and articling students to address the access to justice crisis in this province and we need to do it now. An Ontario Legal Corps will also go a long way to addressing the current deficit in available articling positions.
The articling crisis in Ontario is a supply-side program. It deals with the issue of the scarcity of supply of articling positions. As many judges and now the Governor General have reminded us, we have an Access to Justice crisis which is a demand side problem. The demand for legal services far outstrips the available supply as the Ontario Civil Legal Needs Project revealed.
Why not come up with solutions that attempt to match the two problems?
Clayton Ruby recently mooted the creative suggestion of paying a legal aid “articling student bonus” for legal aid work done by articling students. This is a great idea except that the prospect of any significant infusion of legal aid dollars coming from either level of government in the near future is remote. We need to keep working on governments but that is a long term strategy. In the short term, government is simply not the answer.
If we are to address the twin crises of articling and access to justice we must do so on our own. And it is in our collective interest as a profession to do so because as the Governor General warned us in August, if we fail to meet our obligations under the social contract “Society will change the social contract, and redefine professionalism for us. Regulation and change will be forced upon us—quite possibly in forms which diminish or remove our self-regulatory privilege.”
An Ontario Legal Corps – modeled along President John F. Kennedy’s Peace Corps – would provide legal services by lawyers and articling students to underserviced communities across Ontario. The idea of articling students providing legal services may be new to Ontario but it has recently been accepted by the Law Society of British Columbia.
It seems that lawyers in Ontario support articling in their rhetoric but not in their actions. In 2008, the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Licensing and Accreditation Task Force reported that that lawyers overwhelmingly wanted to retain articling. It also reported that there were only 1171 approved articling principals out of approximately 31,000 lawyers in private practice, government and corporate practice and other employment available to serve as articling principals. That is less than a 4% participation rate. The rest of the profession – including myself – is freeloading on the work of that 4% who are shouldering the burden of training the next generation of lawyers. If we believe in the need for practical training for new lawyers, we should all share in this responsibility.
Thus, out of necessity, the funding for an Ontario Legal Corps would come mostly from us, from lawyers. Under this proposal, each lawyer in Ontario would pay a $200 Access to Justice levy. With 40,000 lawyers, this will create 200 fully-funded Access to Justice Articling positions paying annual salaries of $40,000. In short, my idea is 200 articling positions for $200 per lawyer in Ontario. Or simply “200 for 200”. I think this is a fair price to pay to promote access to justice, train the next generation of lawyers and protect self-regulation.
The University of Ottawa proposed a similar idea in its submissions to the LSUC’s 2008 Licensing and Accreditation Taskforce as one of its nine suggestions that it made to that Task Force. It proposed instituting a “lawyer levy” that the LSUC would impose on the 30,000 lawyers who do not employ articling students in any given year contributed $100 each year, the LSUC could provide two hundred articling subsidies in the amount of $15,000 in any given year. Subsidies could be focused on both geographical and cultural areas that are currently underrepresented by lawyers. That suggestion was not given serious consideration at the time. It should be now.
But that 2008 proposal did not go far enough. The access to justice crisis worsens and we are back looking at articling only three years later because we need bold solutions. An Ontario Legal Corps is worth considering.