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