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.