In the last decade, the demand for articling jobs has soared in Canada. And in Ontario, supply has not kept up with that demand: about 15 percent of law grads looking for an articling job fail to secure one — a percentage that, in a mere six years, has almost tripled.
In response to the articling shortage, Ontario’s Law Society of Upper Canada now offers another way to get licensed. Law grads across the country can opt out of articling and enrol in the new Law Practice Program (LPP) — taught in English at Ryerson University and in French at the University of Ottawa. The program begins with four months of practical training, followed by a four-month work placement in the winter. As an added bonus, at Ryerson, most of the training is online — with only three weeks of on-campus work — making the program more accessible to those who live outside of Toronto. At press time, 250 students were enrolled in Ryerson’s first LPP class.
But when LPP grads hit the job market, some worry employers will view LPP grads as inferior to students who have articled. “It’s a fear of the unknown,” says Thomas Su, one of Ryerson’s first LPP students. “I’ve talked to lawyers from small firms and they have no idea what the LPP is about, what type of training it entails. People tend to stick with what they’re familiar with.”
The risk of this reputation is not lost on Chris Bentley, executive director of Ryerson’s LPP and former attorney general of Ontario. In fact, he concedes that articling has one key advantage over the LPP: “Daily contact with a principal is hard to calculate. We can’t substitute for that.”
But he insists that, over time, firms will recognize that the LPP is as intense as any articling job — in some cases, maybe more intense. The program, he explains, replicates the day-to-day experience of a working lawyer. During the coursework section, students “practise” in “virtual firms” with four peers. Under the supervision of a practising lawyer, they learn to draft documents, conduct interviews, give presentations and write factums. Then, when they start their work placements — set to take place across a range of workplaces, such as small boutiques, criminal firms and large corporations — Ryerson will monitor each one, ensuring the experience is worthwhile (while there is no guarantee, Ryerson intends to arrange paid work placements). All told, Bentley says grads will leave the program with the skills they need to be productive lawyers.
Indeed, Su is not convinced that the LPP is destined to sit at the bottom of a two-tiered articling system. Once law firms understand the program, he says they will come to recognize
it as a viable alternative to articling. For instance, the LPP exposes students to a variety of practice areas, from business law to real estate — and when Su looks for a job next summer, he says that range of knowledge will be “a really big selling point.”
Find out why some lawyers think the LPP could, one day, become more prestigious than articling.