sponsored content: The big problem with articling

Few lawyers are as trailblazing as Sheila Block. When she went to law school, in 1969, she was one of only eight women in her class. After graduation, she became the first female litigation associate at Torys LLP. Since then, her work on major lawsuits — the Nortel bankruptcy, for instance — has made her one of the most sought-out trial lawyers. And recently, she added another trendsetting job to her resumé: advisor and instructor at the Law Practice Program (LPP), the new path to licensing offered at Ryerson University.

The eight-month program has three parts: online training (in which candidates run a virtual law firm), a work placement and three weeks of on-campus instruction. During each on-campus week, one day is set aside for a trial-advocacy workshop, led by Block and her husband, Jim Seckinger, a law professor in the United States. The training is practical. To learn the art of witness examinations, candidates practise asking each other clear questions, free of mumbling or jargon. Here, Block explains why such training is so vital.


Sheila Block, a partner at Torys LLP, trains candidates of the Law Practice Program at Ryerson University in the fundamentals of trial advocacy

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

I really hope I’m doing something useful for other people. But I also love teaching because it forces me to focus on the fundamentals that, quite frankly, I sometimes fail to employ myself. I learn a lot.

What makes your trial-advocacy training, which is a big part of the Law Practice Program, so valuable to students?

It offers candidates structured training, with a focus on practical skills. For example, candidates learn how to speak to a judge and present a case professionally. They also learn how a trial unfolds. These are things most articling students don’t learn, but that are terribly important.

Some lawyers cling to the belief that articling is the only way to train lawyers. What are they getting wrong?

Look, it would be great if everyone could get a terrific articling job, where they worked under fabulous practitioners who taught them everything they know. But guess what? That doesn’t always happen.

The quality of articling experiences is all over the map. Many are great, but some students spend too much time on repetitive tasks, such as document review and due diligence, and not enough time on work that will help them grow. Firms are also hiring fewer students, at a time when there are a growing number of law grads. So there aren’t as many top-notch jobs for all of them.

So change is a good thing?

Absolutely. Look at women. When I entered my firm, there were no women. Law firms thought, We can’t hire women, because as soon as they get married and have children, they’ll be gone. That was a prevailing attitude by very decent people. These days, diversity — and not just gender diversity — is an ideal that we’re trying to put into practice.

How important is it, then, for the profession to support the Law Practice Program, which aims to change up how we train lawyers?

It’s very important. Now, I realize change is difficult. And in a long and storied profession like ours, with all of its traditions, change is even harder. But as time marches on, the profession has to change.


The Law Practice Program at Ryerson University is a rigorous eight-month training program that equips law-school graduates with the practical skills they need to become great lawyers. To learn more, visit ryerson.ca/lpp.


Precedent Magazine winter issue 2017 coverThis story is from our Winter 2017 Issue.

sponsored content: How the Law Practice Program could transform the job market

Fernando Garcia, the general counsel at Nissan Canada, doesn’t hire articling students. Nor does he plan to. His in-house department consists of five people — and only two are lawyers — so onboarding a law grad without much practical experience would derail his entire workflow. “The articling system,” explains Garcia, “has never worked well for small in-house departments.”

But the Law Practice Program (LPP), a new path to licensing offered at Ryerson University, caters to small legal teams. The program starts with four months of online and in-person training, with a focus on practical skills, such as drafting factums and editing contracts. So when candidates advance to the second half of the program, a four-month work placement, their employer doesn’t have to train them from the ground up. Garcia likes that candidates hit the ground running, and now he offers one LPP work placement each year. We sat down with him to find out why he’s become such a fan of the program.


One selling point of the Law Practice Program is that candidates receive four months of practical training before they start their work placements. When you take on candidates, what sort of work can they do on day one?

Oh, they’re unbelievable. If I give them a small-claims case, they can do everything with proper supervision: draft the submissions and appear in court. They can also review contracts.

Now, they still have some things to learn, and we help them along the way, but they’re ready to run with it. And they’re eager. They want to prove themselves.

fernando garcia lpp

Fernando Garcia, the general counsel at Nissan Canada, takes on one LPP candidate each year

How could you see this affecting the legal job market?

It means that lawyers who couldn’t afford the time to take on articling students now have a way to employ and mentor the next generation of lawyers. The LPP has opened up a whole new market.

For lawyers who don’t know much about the LPP, what would your message to them be?

Look, I’ve heard people say, ‘There’s stigma attached to the LPP, so let’s kill it.’ I think that’s a really bad approach. We should say, ‘Some people are perpetuating that stigma, so let’s, instead, fix that.’

And I think we will fix it. After all, we’ve seen this before. Back in the day, everyone thought that lawyers who went in-house were lazy and that they couldn’t cut it at a law firm. There was a real stigma attached to us. It took a while for us to change that perception, but we did.

To those who don’t know much about the program, I’d say this: offer a placement. As more lawyers work with LPP candidates, they’re going to see how much they bring to the table.

What’s the best thing about the LPP?

That it offers consistent training. This is also one big advantage the LPP has over articling. Because the bulk of the program is standardized, candidates are guaranteed to learn the basics.

With articling, it’s hit and miss. You could be lucky, and work under a terrific mentor, but you could also get really unlucky and learn almost nothing.


The Law Practice Program at Ryerson University is a rigorous eight-month training program that equips law-school graduates with the practical skills they need to become great lawyers. To learn more, visit ryerson.ca/lpp.


Fall 2017 CoverThis story is from our 10th anniversary issue, published in Fall 2017.

The LPP lives on

A mere two months ago, the Law Practice Program was clinging to life. The Professional Development Committee at the Law Society of Upper Canada had released a two-year study of the new program and made this recommendation: scrap it.

But the profession fought back. More than 130 letters swamped the Law Society. And the vast majority demanded that the committee reverse its decision to kill the LPP, a coursework-based alternative to articling, taught in English at Ryerson University and in French at the University of Ottawa. (Precedent, too, argued that scrapping the LPP would be a “bullshit move.”) By late October, such strong blowback coaxed the committee into issuing a new report. That one recommended keeping the LPP for at least two more years.

And at Convocation yesterday morning, the benchers voted to do precisely that.

“All of us have been informed by the views we’ve heard,” said Peter Wardle, chair of the Professional Development Committee, in his remarks to Convocation. “I actually think we’ve arrived, though perhaps in a circuitous fashion, in a very good place.”

In broad strokes, he explained his committee’s about-face. To start, he said the committee heard from both students and lawyer-mentors who participated in the LPP and raved about its quality. Wardle added that it would be “defeatist” to cancel the program so early in its existence on the grounds that it stigmatizes students who take it instead of articling.

The debate was brisk, and ended after about an hour.

But two first-term benchers — Joe Groia and Rocco Galati — used the occasion to voice contrarian viewpoints.

“If we continue this program, we are creating another 500 candidates who will go through the rest of their professional life with the stigma that comes from the fact that they went through the LPP,” said Groia, a controversial lawyer who remains embroiled in a legal dispute with the Law Society. (He is currently fighting a ruling that that he violated the Law Society’s courtroom civility rules during a trial almost two decades ago.) “Not withstanding our best hopes and wishes, that’s not going to change.”

Galati then made the case that articling itself is “racist” and should be abolished. “I want to talk about a couple elephants in the room,” he began. “For the last 50 years, the legal profession has had a healthy racist, exclusionary practice against whatever racialized groups are coming up through the profession at the time. Talk to any Jewish lawyer who came through in the 50s and the 60s, and they’ll tell you they couldn’t get articling jobs. If you talk to any of us who are Italian, we’ll tell you that, up until 30 years ago, it was the same thing.”

He didn’t say it outright, but he seemed to be referring to the fact that many racialized students, after getting shut out of the articling process, have turned to the LPP. In 2015, for instance, 18 percent of articling students in Ontario were racialized — in the LPP, that number shoots up to 32 percent.

“The real problem is articling itself,” said Galati. “Let’s eliminate that preliminary gate of exclusion.”

So what’s next? Well, the LPP will continue for two years. In the meantime, the Professional Development Committee will come up with a game plan to launch a full investigation into the entire lawyer-licensing process. It will present that plan to Convocation in the first quarter of 2017.


For more on the Law Practice Program, visit PrecedentJD.com to find out what two former LPP students thought of the program.

Editorial: Scrapping the LPP would be a bullshit move

On November 9, the benchers of the Law Society of Upper Canada will vote on a committee’s recommendation to cancel the Law Practice Program. That recommendation is wrong. Here’s why.

Let’s begin with a few questions. Do you want to help law grads from racialized groups get called to the bar? Do you value mature students who went to law school after a previous career or having children? And do you want our profession to welcome foreign-trained lawyers who reflect Ontario’s diversity?

If that’s the world you want, you should be on high-alert. Something is about to go terribly wrong.

In September, without much warning or any invitation for feedback from lawyers, the Professional Development and Competence Committee of the Law Society of Upper Canada, made up of 14 benchers, dropped a bombshell of a report concerning the Law Practice Program, now in its third year. Before writing that report, it commissioned a study on the progress of the LPP so far.

That study runs 148 pages, but it boils down to this: the LPP — an alternative to articling taught in English at Ryerson University and in French at the University of Ottawa — is a success. Both programs provide top-shelf training and even found work placements for more than 200 students each year. And, even in a highly competitive job market, most of those placements were paid.

That’s not all. The study found that the LPP has helped mature and racialized students become lawyers. In the program’s second year, 19 percent of its students were over 40 and close to 32 percent were racialized. In the articling system those numbers fall, respectively, to two percent and 18 percent. The committee even acknowledges this. In its report, it expresses concern with how the articling system affects “equality-seeking groups.”

The committee goes on to say that “a significant number of lawyers, law firms, judges and provider staff have assumed significant roles as mentors, advisors, teachers and work place supervisors and offered support of the LPP in numerous ways.” It concludes that “in some ways the LPP delivery is superior to the Articling Program for consistency and attention to sole and small firm practice realities.”

So what does the committee do? It recommends scrapping the LPP.

Two of its reasons are reasonable, but easy to refute.

First, the report argues it’s unfair that both articling students and LPP students pay for the cost of the LPP in their licensing fees. That’s true. But we could easily fund the program in a different way — through, say, a small hike in lawyers’ annual dues — and keep the program.

The committee also notes that LPP grads are less likely to pass the bar on their first try than articling students. But this reveals nothing about the LPP. The program offers practical legal training. It’s not a bar-prep course, and should not be judged as one.

But the biggest reason the committee wants to cancel the LPP is downright ridiculous: stigma. It writes that many students see the LPP as a second-tier option — that is, a second choice to articling.

To state the obvious: of course today’s students see the LPP as a second choice! Who wouldn’t prefer an articling job to a new program already pre-judged by the powers-that-be? But we should fight stigma, not succumb to it. We should also think long-term. We may need this program dearly in the coming years, as the number of big-firm articling jobs continues to fall each year.

Now for the most enraging part of the report. The committee says that the stigma attached to the LPP runs so deep that it may never disappear. And how does it suggest we protect racialized and mature law grads from stigma? By cancelling the LPP and making it more difficult for them to become lawyers in the first place. Well, thanks for nothing.

If you still aren’t persuaded, consider this: the same day the LPP report came out, the Law Society released another report on how “discrimination based on race is a daily reality” across the legal profession. It then made a series of recommendations for dealing with this problem. And why does the Law Society care about discrimination? Because, as the report explains, part of its mandate is “to ensure that the law and the practice of law are reflective of all the people of Ontario, including Indigenous peoples, Francophones and equality-seeking communities.”

Now our elected benchers are on the verge of cancelling a program that does precisely that. Such a decision would fail the public. It would fail members of our racialized communities. And it would throw into doubt whether lawyers in Ontario deserve the privilege of self-regulation. To let stigma be the main reason that the Law Society cancels the LPP would be a bullshit move.


Photo by Kevin Ball

Opinion: Why the LPP should be made permanent

I almost didn’t become a lawyer. In 2011, as my last year of law school at Bond University in Australia ended, I expected to head home to Toronto and find an articling job. But my career took a detour. While studying for the bar exam, I found out that my partner’s family business, a skating and hockey centre in Florida, had been defrauded by management and was on the verge of collapse. My partner, armed with an MBA, stepped in to help save the 50-employee business.

Soon after, he asked me to join the effort because of my legal knowledge and lifelong passion for hockey. I accepted. Over the next three years, we turned the business into one of the fastest-growing skating, figure-skating and hockey programs in Florida. It was incredible, but with less than a year left on the project, I was ready to become a lawyer.

And that’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I love reading and writing. I keep up with the latest legal and political news. And, above all, I want to help people at the moment they need it most.

But when I decided to restart my legal career, in 2014, it was hard to find an articling gig from abroad. That’s when I heard about the Law Practice Program (LPP), the alternative to articling, at Ryerson University, which was about to start its first year. It was the perfect fit: the eight-month program began with about four months of online coursework (which includes three weeks of on-campus training), so I could complete most of it from Florida. This meant I could get called to the bar without the strain of moving home with no articling job. I immediately enrolled.

Uncommon practice, LPP

The training in the LPP was top-notch. In the first half of the program, I worked in a simulated law firm with four peers. Under the guidance of a practising lawyer — who assigned work and offered advice over email and Google Hangouts — we worked on files in key practice areas, from family to business to criminal. Going through mock files prepared me for the next half of the program, a four-month work placement at Eunice Kim & Associate Professional Corporation. In my first week, I drafted a will, interviewed a client and worked on a real estate closing.

Since launching, the LPP has helped about 400 law graduates become lawyers, and secured each one a work placement. To create that many placements — most of which are paid positions — out of thin air is an enormous accomplishment.

But the LPP’s future is uncertain. For now, it’s just a pilot project. (In August, it enters its third and final year.) In the fall, the Law Society of Upper Canada will decide whether to extend the pilot project for two years or make it permanent. It should make it permanent. The public only benefits from a legal profession whose members have a range of life experiences.

I can attest to that. In Florida, I got an on-the-ground look at the inner workings of a small business. I worked with outside counsel to draft contracts for hockey coaches, designed sport-specific waivers and negotiated licensing deals with music companies. All this will make me a better lawyer.

I also had countless peers in the LPP from unique backgrounds. Some came from outside Canada (Russia and India, just to name two) and boasted a global mindset. Others were parents of young children who needed to be at home for the first half of the program. They will all make great lawyers.

In September 2015, I was called to the bar, and have moved back to Toronto with my partner. I work part-time for Omar Alghabra, a member of Parliament for Mississauga Centre, but am on the lookout for a job in sports law. And without the LPP, this might never have happened.


Lawyer Christina Wadhwa

Cristina Wadhwa is a Toronto lawyer and a graduate of Ryerson University’s Law Practice Program. She is also a member of the Sports Lawyers Association.

 

 


Cover of the Summer Issue of Precedent Magazine

This story is from our Summer 2016 issue.

 

 

 


Illustration by Mike Ellis

On the Record: Good news for Ryerson’s LPP grads

It was a daunting task, but Ryerson University managed to secure work placements for all 250 students in the first class of its Law Practice Program (which law grads can now complete instead of articling). As it turns out, law offices of every ilk — from banks (TD Bank, RBC, BMO and CIBC) to Bay Street firms (such as Goodmans and Lenczner Slaght ) — hired students this past winter for four-month stints.

At the same time, Ryerson failed to secure paid placements for each student — a lofty goal it assigned itself at the outset of the program. In the end, about 30 percent of the work placements were unpaid.

LPP Work Placements

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


This story is from our Summer 2015 issue.

 

 

 


Illustration by Alina Skyson

News: Lessons from Down Under

In Australia, most law students don’t article. Instead, they complete practical legal training (PLT), an Law Practice Program-style program that, like the one being introduced in Ontario, combines coursework and co-op placements.

While each Australian state has a different PLT program, the one recently introduced in Victoria (where Melbourne is located) sheds light on why the LPP might be good for Ontario — and could even replace the articling system.

After discovering that some students spent their entire articling year doing menial administrative tasks, in 2008 the Law Institute of Victoria decided the licensing process needed more supervision.

Along with the PLT option, they also replaced articling with supervised workplace training (SWT) — a 12-month program that puts more rigorous requirements on firms than articling. For example, every firm that participates in SWT rather than PLT must train students in civil, commercial and property law — the mandatory practice areas covered in PLT coursework — regardless of the firm’s specialty. As a result, most firms that had articling students six years ago did not make the switch to SWT. Today, PLT work placements are the norm.

Ultimately, Victoria changed its licensing system — not to deal with an articling shortage, but because it decided unregulated articling isn’t the best way to train lawyers.


For everything you need to know about Ontario’s Law Practice Program, read our licensing scorecard.

News: The licensing scorecard

Starting this September, law school graduates can skip articling if they enrol in the LPP. The program consists of four months of coursework that focuses on practical legal skills, followed by a guaranteed four-month work placement — to be run in English by Ryerson University and in French by the University of Ottawa. Here’s what the players in the legal profession stand to win and lose if they opt for the LPP.

 

Students

LPP StudentsUpside

Rejoice, the articling shortage is over! About 15 percent of law grads looking for articling gigs in Ontario don’t land one. Now, they’ve got an almost-guaranteed path to becoming a lawyer (provided they pass the bar), and so do the growing number of grads from international law schools looking for work.

Downside

Money. Even if work placements pay their LPP students, as Ryerson intends, they only last four months, compared to articling jobs that come with paycheques for 10. Plus, LSUC is raising the one-time licensing fee for all students from $2,400 to $4,300.

 

Firms

LPP FirmsUpside

Small and rural firms that can’t afford an articling student might find the budget for an LPP student. Plus, it’s possible that LPP-ers could require less on-the-job training — they’ll have learned practical skills in their coursework.

Downside

The LPP schedule is rigid: work placements start every January, no exceptions. Also, the program only runs for four months, which is not a lot of time to train and get to know a student before making a hiring decision.

 

LSUC

LPP LSUCUpside

No more grumbling from law schools and recent grads about the lack of articling positions in Ontario. The Law Society has outsourced most of the hard work — training grads and finding work placements — to third parties.

Downside

They’re on the hook if the LPP leads to a two-tiered licensing system that ghettoizes LPP grads.

 

Ryerson University

LPP RyersonUpside
A chance to raise its profile in the legal community — and maybe become a full-fledged law school in the future? Plus, with most of the coursework taught online, Ryerson reinforces its brand as an innovator in web-based education.
Downside
Ryerson is an outsider in the legal world, so it has to prove to the industry it can offer a viable alternative to articling. Short term, it has to find work placements for a maximum enrolment of 400 LPP students.


Read why Australia is giving up on the articling system.

Our top 5 stories of the year

With the Precedent team taking a break for the holidays, there’s no better time to catch up on our coverage of the year’s legal issues.

Here are five of the top stories from our website over the last 12 months. 

 

An inside look at how to make partner
Last winter, we asked industry insiders to reveal the secrets behind partnership. Here’s what they had to say.

 

 

Hireback Watch 2013
Toronto firms hired back fewer articling students as first-year associates compared to last year. Check out our firm-by-firm breakdown. 

 

 

Canada’s first bulletproof business suit
This fall, a Toronto retailer proved that cutting-edge technology can still look great on the catwalk. But are the clothes even legal?

 

 

The year’s most creative job search
A recent law school grad took out a classified ad to find an articling position. What were the results?

 

 

 

Ontario reveals two new options for law grads get licensed
Students can now become full-fledged lawyers — without articling — by taking the Law Practice Program (LPP).

 


Photo of Ryerson Univeristy: William Mewes

Lakehead grads can practice without articling

Lakehead University’s law school claims its new program, which allows students to skip articling and become licensed lawyers immediately after graduating and passing the bar exam, will help address the shortage of lawyers in northern Ontario, says Lee Stuesser, dean of Lakehead’s faculty of law.

It might sound surprising to hear that Ontario has too few lawyers, particularly with the number of law school grads who are unable to secure articling spots growing from 5.8 percent to 12.1 percent since 2008.

The lack of articling positions, however, is a Toronto problem, says Stuesser. In northern Ontario, he explains, there is a dire need for more lawyers, even in larger cities such as Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury and Thunder Bay.

Stuesser believes Lakehead’s program will help in two central ways. First, students are required to complete a four-month work placement in their third year, likely to be unpaid, at small northern firms that otherwise would be unable to afford or support a 10-month articling student. Second, introducing firms to students in a co-op environment is expected to increase the odds that firms will hire Lakehead grads as associates in the future.

People in northern communities rely on small, under-staffed firms for the most basic legal needs, such as wills, housing transactions and custody conflicts, says Stuesser, adding that when firms can’t meet the demand, there are serious social consequences: “Imagine you have a community that has no lawyer. It’s like having a community that has no doctor.”

This is a common theme in legal research today. For example, a report published earlier this fall (Precedent covered it here) made the case that Canada’s legal system needs to pay more attention to the smallest legal issues because, when unresolved, they can spiral into more serious problems. Housing troubles, the report explained, can lead to financial struggle, social exclusion and government assistance.

So far, northern firms have been enthusiastic about the new Lakehead program, says Anna Fitzsimmons, a first-year law student at Lakehead and president of the law students’ society, who is from North Bay. “Everyone in North Bay is really receptive to the fact that I’m going to Lakehead law school and they’re all really eager to see what our students can bring to the table once we graduate.”

In addition to securing placements at northern firms, Lakehead Law strategically admits a majority of its students from northern Ontario to increase the odds that its graduates will want to practice close to home. Right now, about 57 percent of its students are from northern Ontario.

Lakehead students will also be in class for an extra three hours each week compared to the average at other law schools — time that will go toward practical legal training. 

While the first class at Lakehead’s three-month-old law school won’t graduate until 2016, the ability to practice law without articling or taking a Law Practice Program (LPP) is appealing to students.

“We’re getting practical training, the opportunity to do a four-month internship program and then, after that, we can still choose to article if we want,” says Ayoub Ansari, a first-year law student at Lakehead who grew up in Toronto. “From a student perspective, it’s a win-win situation.”


Photo provided by Lakehead University