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.

Editor’s Note: The tension in law that keeps things interesting

I’m sending my daughter off to kindergarten this fall. And though I don’t get to go with her, fall always feels like a time for learning, for expanding horizons. Even for grown-ups.

Although you won’t be buying new shoes and a pencil case, this issue of Precedent is meant to get you thinking big about the state of law, and how we can make it better. So, we rounded up some top legal leaders to contemplate what lies ahead. I had the privilege of sitting in on the roundtable moderated by our news editor, Daniel Fish. We wanted to bring together a diverse group of leaders from local, national and international firms. Two in-house counsel lawyers also joined to really get a lively discussion started.

I learned a lot during that discussion: successful lawyers get up very early, no one actually eats breakfast at “breakfast meetings,” Twitter bewilders top lawyers, nobody likes OCIs and I want to be best friends with BMO’s deputy general counsel.

But what really stood out for me is the difficult position in which firms find themselves today. On one hand, law — especially at big firms — is conservative by its very nature. As lawyers, it’s usually our job to advise clients to proceed with caution, to protect themselves from liability and to initial every page. That extra care can win clients. On the other hand, firms are being pushed to innovate at every turn.

For starters, clients are asking firms to rethink the billable hour. With that comes a need to adopt new technology and to take a good, hard look at the current partnership structure. Meanwhile, firms are also being asked to track diversity numbers and report them to the client (BMO was the first financial institution in Canada to ask firms for diversity statistics). While everyone wants to see a more diverse face of law, the actual act of counting employees by skin colour or sexual orientation — which by its very nature can feel discriminatory — can also create tension and discomfort at a traditional law firm. There’s tension, now, at every turn.

So here’s what I think: law is all about tension. Indeed, the tension in law drives much of the content in Precedent. In this issue you’ll read about Jessyca Greenwood who balances the time-consuming demands of her clients with the need to make a living, and Greg Harris who finds a way to juggle work and the extraordinary goal of scaling the highest mountain on every continent. No matter what kind of law you do or where you work, it’s the tension that keeps things interesting. So make yourself a great cup of coffee and settle into our fall issue.





Melissa Kluger
Publisher & Editor

Post Script: Look up!Les Viner of Torys

As part of our roundtable discussion, Les Viner, managing partner at Torys LLP, shared one of the key strategies of his firm. At Torys, lawyers are encouraged to identify trends in the world and connect them to their own practice areas. Here’s what’s on his radar:

  • The commercialization of the far north
  • Canada’s aging population
  • The impact of technology on financial transactions
  • The growing importance of power, water and food as the global population swells

So, even when you’ve got your head down on one particular file, don’t forget how law must respond to the world around us. Take the time to see the big picture, and you’ll also see the future.

More from the fall issue:

How to make law a well-oiled machine Six ways to heighten your morning buzz Greg Harris is taking on Everest Criminal defence lawyer Jessyca GreenwoodLaura Baron of Yoga Be

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.



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.


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.



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.


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.




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.


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.
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.

Law school grad takes out classified ad to find articling position

Landing that first job often requires creativity.

Consider the approach of Yarko Petryshyn: in February, the 28-year-old law school graduate of the University of Leicester in England, who now lives in Winnipeg, received an offer for an articling position. After six months of delays, however, Petryshyn says the firm decided it could no longer hire him “in the near-term.”

This put Petryshyn in a bind. Thinking he had secured employment, he had stopped looking for work and hiring season for articling jobs had passed.

Instead of waiting for new job postings, he took out a seven-day classified advertisement in the Globe and Mail that ran last week, marketing himself as a “recent law school grad . . . seeking articling opportunity nationwide.”

“Almost three million people a week read the Globe and Mail,” says Petryshyn, reflecting on his initial thought process. Moreover, he reasoned, classifieds appear “at the end of the sports section, so if anybody reads the sports section they’ll come across the ads. I just figured there’s got to be a chance someone somewhere is going to read this and may have an opportunity available.”

In the end, his posting, which cost $430, elicited half a dozen emails, none of which had anything to do with an articling job (several of the emails, for instance, asked Petryshyn, who has not yet been called to the bar, to provide legal services).

Based on the lack of results, he says he would not advise other job-lookers to advertise themselves in the classifieds.

Fortunately, for Petryshyn, his father is a lawyer in Winnipeg and has agreed to take his son on as an articling student — an offer Petryshyn says he will likely accept within the month.

Petryshyn can be reached at ypetryshyn@shaw.ca.