A proposal to resolve the articling crisis

By: Pulat Yunusov

There is an articling crisis in Ontario. Many students enticed to law schools by the prospect of being a lawyer, can’t overcome the final hurdle because they can’t find an articling job. Ten months of working for an experienced lawyer is a prerequisite to joining the legal profession, in addition to a law degree, the bar exams, and a “good character.” But most lawyers don’t want to hire articling students despite cajoling from the Law Society. They probably have a good reason. Supervising an articling student is expensive: it costs a lot in salary (though often still meager), liability, time, and office space. I propose that students pay for their own articling instead of paying for the third year of law school.

First, articling is training, often far more useful than law school. We are used to paying for training, and teachers generally expect compensation. Articling students usually don’t compensate lawyers who supervise them, but lawyers make up for it by working articling students to death. This is not true for all articling principals, but articling has a reputation for long hours. Reverse the flow of money between articling students and principals, and the relationship between them will become healthier.

Second, the third year of law school is nothing special, and many law students don’t need it. Second and third year students take courses from the same pool. Some of these courses are purely academic, and students who want to be lawyers don’t need them. After all, a general undergraduate liberal arts education should be a pre-requisite for law school admission so valuable lawyer training time is not wasted on academic subjects. Students who do not wish to be lawyers (for example, students who want to be law professors) should be able to take a third year of law school.

Third, replacing the third year of law school with an articling year will shorten the path to becoming a lawyer by exactly one year. The cost of training a lawyer to the public will be less because the less time it takes to train a lawyer, the less subsidies, grants, tax breaks, and other forms of government assistance will be required.

Fourth, it will not cost anything extra to law students because they would have paid for that year to law schools anyway. Now they will pay to the Law Society that will compensate selected lawyers. Lawyers will no doubt compete for articling principal gigs since they will make money instead of losing it. The quality of articling principals will also probably increase because their pool will widen and the Law Society will have the money to select better ones.

Fifth, the law firms who wish to snatch the “best” (whatever that means) articling students will have another form of incentive to offer in addition to higher salaries—reimbursement of articling tuition charged by the Law Society.

Sixth, the profession will get more control over lawyer training and more actual lawyers will teach future lawyers how to practice law.

Seventh, articling students will be less vulnerable as they will be paying for articling principals’ services instead of serving articling principals in exchange for wages. The Law Society will also have a greater control of working conditions and the nature of training.

Eighth, articling students will be exposed to a far broader rager of lawyers. Many fascinating lawyers doing amazing work for their clients and for the public never hire students because of the cost. If these lawyers get paid for hiring a student, more of them will probably do.

Ninth, law students who want nothing to do with law practice will have a chance to identify themselves and get better attention from law schools. Law students who do want to be lawyers will work in real lawyers’ offices instead of competing for scarce legal clinic spots in law school.

Tenth, Ontario will finally have more articling jobs, which is at the heart of the articling crisis in this province.

Pulat Yunusov is a Toronto litigation lawyer.

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