Articling under attack

By: April 27, 2017

At a town-hall-style meeting on the future of the licensing process, Ontario lawyers take aim at articling

Osgoode Hall

It was a rainy evening in downtown Toronto. And yet, last Thursday, about 60 lawyers filed into a meeting room at the Law Society of Upper Canada. At issue was, in short, the future of Ontario’s entire lawyer-licensing system.

“Foreign-trained lawyers are treated kind of like a disease,” said one recent call, who went to law school in the UK, at the town-hall-style event. “The stigma that goes along with a Canadian-born lawyer who was trained abroad is, ‘Oh, you couldn’t get into a Canadian law school.’ So employers don’t hire her.”

The event was just one of the multiple in-person discussions that will take place over the next several months, as the Law Society undertakes a comprehensive review of the licensing system.

As it stands now, Ontario has a traditional articling system and the Law Practice Program (LPP), an alternative path to licensing offered at Ryerson University and the University of Ottawa. Last fall, the Law Society considered scrapping the LPP, but in the end, decided to keep it for at least two more years. But instead of using that time to study the LPP in isolation, the Law Society has decided to solicit feedback on the entire licensing process to determine if larger, structural changes are necessary.

“As a brown female, I’ve been asked stupendously offensive questions at various interviews, and I think that’s the experience of a lot of racialized students who tried to find articling jobs,” said Chithika Withanage, another recent call. “That’s why they chose the LPP.”

It’s certainly true that racialized law grads are more likely to enroll in the LPP: in the program’s second year, 32 percent of students were racialized, while 18 percent of articling students were racialized.

Brianna Sims, who went to law school in the United States and graduated from the LPP, suggested that the Law Society keep the LPP and abolish articling. She also lauded the quality of the training she received in the LPP. “For all those people who are worried about the quality of foreign-trained students coming back to Canada,” she said, “you want them to go through a program that has objective standards. Like the LPP.”

Several lawyers at the event complained about how the articling system offers students vastly inconsistent experiences. Some lawyers said that, as articling students, they were only given menial tasks, like photocopying documents.

But defenders of articling said that they had great articling experiences, and praised the mentorship they received and the relationships they forged.

So what happens next? More meetings. A slate of discussion groups are scheduled for May and June. And Peter Wardle, the chair of the Professional Development and Competence Committee at the Law Society, will be listening.

He was present at last week’s event, and said that his committee members will absorb everything they hear at the upcoming events and generate some proposals for how to revamp the licensing process. He expects those proposals to be ready by fall, at which point they’ll go through a formal consultation process and, eventually, come before the benchers of the Law Society for a decision.

Wardle encourages those who’ve gone through either articling or the LPP to attend the upcoming discussions. “If you can’t attend the in-person sessions, you can certainly provide comments online,” he said. “I encourage everyone to participate in whatever fashion they can.”

To find out more about the Dialogue on Licensing, visit the LSUC’s website.