If you took in the #articling discussions on twitter today, you'll know that the debate has been postponed until November 22nd, and that the opinions on this issue are incredibly strong. Lawyers have obviously had a lot of time to reflect on the value of the articling process, what it provided them personally, and the value it provides to the profession. So intense were the discussions, that it trended in Canada on Twitter (in the number one position) for well over an hour.
I'd like to share a couple of random observations here, as a non-lawyer who has worked at firms in both Ontario and BC, and with Articling students directly in both provinces. I pass no judgement, as both possible directions seem to have their points of merit, and this will be no easy decision for Ontario lawyers.
- First, I have seen some amazing in-house lawyer training programs – both for Articling Students and Associates. I can't imagine those programs going away without formal Articling; but for a profession that is self-regulating, the loss of input into those programs by the law societies can't be entirely positive.
- 'Articling' is one of the best things that some firms do to give back to their profession; and a number of them do it very well. For every horror story out there, there are firms that invest hundreds of hours on their in-house curriculum. Good programs delivering varying work rotations, providing a wide range of experience; and more importantly, a chance to be supervised while producing work product — lawyers should never discount the value of that kind of one-on-one training.
- Law schools graduating more candidates that the profession can train is simply wrong. This partnership is broken, and practicing lawyers have a right to be frustrated.
- Having both Articling and the LPP may cause a two-tier system. But is Articling not already a two tiered system? As mentioned above, not all programs are built the same.
- Articling is part of the young-lawyer job hunt ecosystem — Big firms recruit students and train them for a year. Hireback announcements all come out around at the same time; and smaller firms then make private inquiries about which people are available. Those students get called, move on to new positions; and if larger firms are smart, they keep in contact and make these students part of their alumni network. Killing articling entirely will have an impact on this 'circle of life'.
- Firms made an error in trying to compete on Articling student salaries. Remember when student salaries were capped? In BC, it was around $24K in the late 9o's. Then the TO firms said they were losing students to NYC, and the BC firms were losing their best students to TO. And then boom! The economics of training salaries, and value they offered, was finished. I'm not saying the 'caps' weren't set too low given the cost of law school, but as training costs escalated, the number of student positions became a budget cut target as the economy eroded. Articling lost its value proposition.
- Law Firms benefit economically from Articling. Smart firms call it 'the life blood' of their firm. Growth happens in many different ways, and no disrespect to lateral hires (definitely part of the mix); but a firm culture built on training and mentorship is different than one built on acquisition. Many firms should question internally whether the removal of formal Articles will have an impact on their firm's commitment to recruiting and training young lawyers.
Some of these assumptions may seem false or misguided. It's only my personal experience. But trust me when I say that Articling in Canada has a lot to be positive about. Even proud. But it is broken, and kudos to the LSUC for trying to fix the issues at hand.