Column

The End of Articling for Law Students?

Recently the Law Society of Upper Canada announced a dramatic change in the admission requirements for law students.

The current 10 month articling requirement remains an option. But for students unable to find an articling position they will be able to qualify for admission by taking an eight month program composed of four months of classroom study plus four months of unpaid “co-op work” at a law firm or sole practitioner – see The Globe and Mail article, November 30, 2012, by Kirk Makin.

From the Law Society Gazette:

On November 22, 2012, Convocation approved a three-year pilot project that will allow lawyer licensing candidates to either article or complete a Law Practice Program, starting in the 2014-15 licensing year. Under the pilot project, candidates may either complete the traditional 10-month articling term, with enhanced documentation, or an approximately four-month long Law Practice Program, which will also include an additional four-month co-operative work placement. The Law Society will outsource the Law Practice Program and the establishment of the work placements will be the responsibility of the third-party provider.” From the Articling Task Force Final Report: The work placements “would include, for example, sole and small law firms providing services in areas such as family law and criminal law, and not-for-profit legal organizations that provide access to justice.

The nature of the co-op work may be unclear but for these students it is clear that the requirement of the service of articles is for the first time eliminated in Ontario. Ontario usually sets standards for the rest of Canada and this change may be a harbinger of changes by other law societies.

This change was caused to a large degree by the large number of law school graduates who have been unable to secure an articling position, a requirement for admission to the practice of law. And more law graduates are coming. Lakehead University Law School will commence in 2013, the first new law school in Ontario in 42 years.

Prior to the establishment of law schools, law students entered the profession by reading law in a law office. In the U.S.A. the advent of law schools mostly replaced the reading of law which is now permitted in only five states.

The reading of law in a law office is a form of apprenticeship which had its beginnings in the U.K. Apprenticeships were created by the Statute of Apprenticeship in the U.K. in 1563. In 1776 Adam Smith, in the Wealth of Nations, called for the repeal of the Statute of Apprenticeship because of its monopolistic aspects.

Criticism of the system of articles has been extant for a long time. In 1955 in Toronto I was an articled student at a one man firm and I was paid $25 per week and I spent many afternoons delivering letters to downtown law offices, hardly the kind of training I anticipated. Some law students feel that articling “was a waste of a year” – see the Kirk Makin article referred to above. This was not the experience of most students at large law firms where training was organized.

I recently talked with a senior partner in one of the large law firms in downtown Toronto. He said that about 30% of the law students seeking articles in Ontario find a position in the large law firms. He said that for the other 70% of articling students, it could be an uneven experience that would vary from firm to firm. He felt that the articling experience was valuable for the students at the large firms and should be retained. But he did say that in the event that the articling period was eliminated that his firm would continue to recruit and train first year lawyers just as they are doing now with students (students at his firm are now paid approx. $70,000 per annum). He also said that the new system was probably the beginning of the end of the articling system.

The Articling Task Force Final Report is available on the Law Society of Upper Canada web site. A minority report would have ended the articling requirement for all candidates.

Retweet information »

Comments

  1. “He said that about 30% of the law students seeking articles in Ontario find a position in the large law firms. He said that for the other 70% of articling students, it could be an uneven experience that would vary from firm to firm. ”

    What a stunning amount of arrogance.

  2. It would be more accurate to say that articling is an “uneven experience that would vary from firm to firm” for 100% of law firms. I’m not aware of any studies that indicate that size of firm correlates with, let alone causes, higher quality of experience.

    For what it’s worth, I should add that the most valuable and satisfying articling experiences I’ve heard about have occurred at small firms, where the students have more responsibility, more frequent contact with both lawyers and clients, and an overall accelerated learning curve. The idea that the articling experience is uniformly better in large firms than in other environments is a novel one for me.