sponsored content: Think articling is the gold standard? Think again

It’s been three years since the Law Practice Program (LPP), a new path to licensing offered at Ryerson University, accepted its first cohort of candidates. And yet, there are still doubters who think the program is, and always will be, worse than articling. To those skeptics, Marni Dicker, executive vice-president and general counsel at Infrastructure
Ontario, has one message: “You’re dead wrong.”

Marni Dicker

Marni Dicker, general counsel at Infrastructure Ontario, leads the legal team behind the province’s major infrastructure projects, from hospitals to highways

Dicker, who oversees a team of 50 lawyers and law clerks, is in a position to know. Each year, she serves as an LPP mentor, shepherding candidates through the four months of online practical training that make up the first half of the program. Under her guidance, they work through mock files in seven practice areas, from corporate to family. Dicker also, each year, hires an LPP candidate for the four-month work placement that follows their hands-on training. We sat down with Dicker to find out what makes the program a success.

Many lawyers see articling as the gold standard in legal training. That’s in part because students, when they have questions, can pop down the hall and access seasoned partners. How can the LPP compete with that?

First of all, that’s a myth about articling. Most students go to associates with problems. They’re almost always a few steps removed from senior counsel.

That’s not the case with the LPP. Over the course of the online training portion of the program, candidates have direct contact with a mentor — like me — who is always a senior lawyer. Mentors spend at least seven hours a week connecting with candidates about their work.

The bulk of that training has candidates carry mock files. How effective is that?

Candidates do tough work. In the corporate law module, for instance, they write a shareholder’s agreement from scratch. Articling students would never get an opportunity to do that. Not a chance. I always joke that, at best, they might get to photocopy one.

When you hire LPP candidates for work placements, how do they perform?

On day one, they can pick up a file and run with it. They’re so confident. When I tell them we need to do a real-estate closing, they know exactly what to do.

Have you hired any candidates back?

Absolutely. Each year, I take on one LPP candidate and one articling student. And in the past two years, I have hired back my Ryerson candidate, but not my articling student.

What do you hope for the future of the LPP?

This program must remain. I know some people think the program is second-tier, and that it’s only for students who can’t get articling jobs. But that’s just not true. The students are exceptionally smart.

Any final thoughts?

I’ll add one last thing. I’ve spent years building an impeccable professional reputation. Does anyone think I would ever attach my name to something second-tier? I’d never do that.

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 Summer 2017 IssueThis story is from our Summer 2017 issue.

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

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.

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