On the Utility of Articles

An interesting perspective on the Canadian system of articling was offered up during this week’s Twitter chat by Valarie, @YoungSmartLegal, who has recently moved here from the United States.

“The idea of articles sort of baffles me,” Valarie said in response to questions about the advantages and limitations of articling for professional training.

Twitter chat moderator Omar Ha-Redeye noted that Canadians seem to think it’s necessary, to which Valarie responded: “In principle it makes sense, but if you’re going to a big firm it just seems like a way to keep salaries low.”

Articling students would be first-years at U.S. law firms – maybe not better positioned to learn, but certainly better compensated, she said.

Jonathan MacKenzie said he believes the mentorship aspect of articling has deteriorated – he has many colleagues who don’t get “facetime” with principals. Still, he says he wasn’t ready to take carriage of files right out of law school – and while most law firms wouldn’t give green lawyers that kind of responsibility anyway, the current regulatory system makes sure they can’t.

“It just seems like an antiquated system. Not in tune with the current reality of the legal market,” said Valarie. “I think Canadian firms risk losing top talent or failing to attract it by keeping” the articling system.

“There are a lot of Canadians in NYC who wanted the experience PLUS the money,” she said.

Ha-Redeye asked some provocative questions but noted, “It’s tough to get candid opinions from articling students about their negative experiences. Why is that?”

Emily Alderson answered, “Because law students think there is a crisis, and we’re all desperately trying to get/keep jobs.”

Ha-Redeye noted that when studies are done anonymously, students tend to have a lot more to say. “The lack of candidness, and job insecurity, is itself very telling about some of the shortcomings.”

If you want to provide some anonymous input on articling, Alderson notes that they can do so at the CBA’s 20Q survey https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/QM3S9L7.

Join us again next Tuesday night when our topic will be what needs to change (if at all) in regard to legal education in Canada.

And in the meantime, take part in the discussion at cbafutures.org

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