Ontario Law Society Sticks It To Law Students – I’m Embarassed to be a Member

Before I start, I’m going to stake out my bias here.  I hate the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC), the organization responsible for regulating lawyers in Ontario.   Not because I’ve had any problems with them, but because, in my experience, there are few no public organizations as inept, incompetent and clueless as the LSUC.  Everything they do, they do badly.  They are the living embodiment of the old maxim that: “Those who can, do.  Those who can’t do, regulate”. When I went through the bar admissions program, they handed around material that was outdated and wrong (badly, badly wrong).  The bar admissions exam was a fiasco – the exam itself was filled with typos and spelling errors, and the organization was so poor it ran twice as long as it was scheduled to run and almost resulted in a riot.  Every year I have to fill out to two separate annual reports at two different times, rather than filing a single report at the same time (ok, this is a petty complaint, but you know, even the tax man doesn’t make me file two tax returns).  Even in their principal role of protecting the public from unscrupulous lawyers, it’s not clear that it is particularly competent (witness the recent Heydary fiasco, where the LSUC stepped in only after a lawyer allegedly disappeared with $3 million of his client’s money).

So, against that background, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to me that the LSUC would do something to completely fuck this year’s class of law school graduates.  And yet… even as jaded I am, I was shocked by the announcement that the LSUC was DOUBLING licensing fees for students to become lawyers in the province of Ontario to almost $5000.

Some background is necessary here.  Traditionally, if you wanted to become a lawyer in Ontario, after you finished law school, you had to “article” with a more experienced lawyer for 10 months before you could call yourself a lawyer (basically, it’s a glorified apprenticeship).  But, in recent years, certain Ontario law schools have been steadily increasing enrolment (and collecting hefty tuition fees to fund their outrageous faculty salaries) while cranking out graduates without regard to the ability of those graduates to actually find employment as lawyers (Ottawa, Queen’s, I’m talking about you).  Add to that the influx of Canadians who have attended law school in Australia (i.e., losers who couldn’t get into a decent Canadian school, but were willing to drop a small fortune to go to school in Australia – ahem, Bond University), and all of a sudden the LSUC has been faced with a shortage of articling positions relative to the hoard of would-be lawyers.

Now, as I’ve argued before, this is a problem that’s not a problem.  In any other profession, say, doctors or academia, if you can’t get hired in your area of expertise, well, you can’t get hired.  That’s a bummer, but it’s not a problem that someone else has a responsibility to resolve.  If you can finish med school or a PHD, you must have something going for you, find a job in another field, even if you can’t find a residency position or a tenure track job.  One might think that the same logic might apply to law school graduates.

But, of course, logic isn’t necessarily the strong suit of the LSUC.  So, instead, they created a parallel licensing arrangement, whereby those losers (and while that sounds harsh, what else can you call them?) who can’t get articling positions get to do a 4 month “law practice program” (LPP) followed by a 4 month practicum, and then they can call themselves lawyers.  Now, this is “solution” that really doesn’t address the fundamental problem.  The problem isn’t that we have a shortage of articling positions, it’s that there a lack of demand for legal services, period (witness last week’s rather spectacular implosion of Heenan Blaikie LLP – previously one of the giants of the Canadian legal establishment). Cranking out more lawyers (and weaker lawyers) doesn’t solve that problem.  Those students who can’t get articling positions won’t be able to find associate positions or make a living by hanging up their own shingle after they finish the LPP, so all the LPP process does it defer the inevitable result that those students will ultimately get jobs outside of the legal profession.  Oh, and it also costs a lot of money.

Which brings me back to how the LSUC is fucking law school graduates.  When the LPP idea was first floated by the LSUC, not much was said about how they’d pay for it.  Seems like that’s because the LSUC was planning to stick this year’s crop of students with the bill.

Now, this is unfair on three different levels.  First, if you were going to stick students with a $5000 bill (rather than the ~$2700 students last year paid), it would have been nice to tell students that, say, last year.  Not three months before the end of school.  Maybe give students some time to come-up with the extra money, or make arrangements to pay for it.  Even if you have no problem sticking students with the bill for the LPP (and I’ll talk about why you should have a problem with that in a second), it’s really shabby for the LSUC to drop this on students at the last minute.   But then, shabby is what the LSUC does best.

Second, this is quite unfair to the 80-90% of law students who have articling position (i.e., those students who went to decent law schools, got good grades, and hustled to find themselves articling positions).  They might well ask why they, of all Ontarians, should have to foot the bill to fund the licensing process of their colleagues who couldn’t get their shit together to get an articling position.   I mean, why should the kid who busted his or her hump to get into UofT, graduate with an A-average, or impress potential employers, have to subsidize the trust fund brat who couldn’t get into a decent Canadian law school, but could afford to ship out to Bond University for a couple of years.

It’s not like articling students get anything for that $5000. Sure, part of it goes to pay for the bar exam, but the reality is that the bar exam is a joke.  Unlike the New York bar, which is a serious barrier to entry (i.e., people regularly and repeatedly fail the New York bar – even 10% of Yale grads fail it on the first go), as a practical matter, anyone who really tries can pass the Ontario bar exam.  Basically, if you speak English (or French) and can manipulate a pencil, you should be able to pass the Ontario bar exam eventually.  (Aside, if the LSUC was looking to save money, they might consider getting rid of the Ontario bar exam, and using the savings to fund the LPP).

Plus, keep in mind, those students who have articling positions work their asses off for 10 months.  Part of the LSUC’s rationale for the fee structure is that they want to equalize the burden on articling students and students in the LPP process.  Equalize the burden?  I’m sorry, are the students in the LPP process going to be working 100 hour weeks on high stress files?  When I was an articling student, my wife would often only see me when I rolled out of bed in the morning, and rolled back into bed in the middle of the night.  For the first four months of my son’s life, he saw me only for the few minutes at midnight when I came home and fed him.  Articling students, my friends, work damned hard.  They pay for their call to the bar with figurative blood and literal sweat.  So don’t tell me a story about “equalizing” the burden between articling students and students taking the LPP program – no one who has articled in the modern era (which, I suspect excludes most benchers) could make that statement with a straight face.    If you couldn’t do those things that you needed to do to get an articling position (i.e., get into a decent law school, get decent grades and hustle to get an articling position), you should pay for your own damned training.

Third, if you’re the sort of soft-hearted (and soft-headed) soul who thinks that it’s unfair to expect unsuccessful law school graduates (i.e., those graduates who can’t get articling positions) to pay for their own training, why is it fair to expect that cost to be borne solely by the fellow members of their graduating class (many of whom are saddled with 6-figure student loans).  If that’s the path we’re going to take, isn’t that a cost that should be borne by the profession as a whole?  Traditionally, articling reflected a professional ethos that held that lawyers had a responsibility to train the next generation of lawyers.  Firms took on articling students to fulfill that responsibility.   Many firms (including my own) still share that ethos.  Wouldn’t it have been in keeping with that professional spirit for the LSUC to require all Ontario lawyers contribute to the training of the next generation of lawyers by paying for the LPP?  Certainly, it’s hard to see why articling students – who, of all people subject to LSUC diktat, have the least ability to pay (and the least ability to object) – should bear the costs of training their loser colleagues.

I HATE paying law society fees – but I would rather pay an extra $100 or $200 or whatever a year to fund the LPP, than stick some poor articling student (i) who makes a fraction of what I do, (ii) is saddled with a hefty student loan, and (iii) won’t see sunlight for 10 months, with a bill for an extra $2300.  It is, frankly, unconscionable that the Benchers of the law society signed off on this proposal. Only someone with no moral compass could think that this is a “fair” or a “just” proposal.  Anyone who supported this proposal should be utterly ashamed of themselves. But then, I don’t believe that anyone at the LSUC is truly capable of shame.

 

 

 

9 thoughts on “Ontario Law Society Sticks It To Law Students – I’m Embarassed to be a Member”

  1. You must really think law firms hire only the bright students and all articling students are more brilliant than LPP students – you are clearly speaking out of malice for the law society and ignorant of the facts.

    First off, LPP is not articling. It provides the students with a type of training that is not typically available to articling students. It’s a choice students make, whether to article or do the LPP. The fact articling has been there all these years doesn’t mean it has no faults or its the only possible means of completing the experiential component of the licensing process.

    Secondly, LPP students do not comprise only of Canadian students who chose to attend law school in a foreign jurisdiction. There are many students from foreign jurisdictions, and better than you or your so called bright students who are articling, but who never got articling positions or perhaps, did not even apply for it. It’s nothing but a pathetic display of ignorance to think that Canadian law students are inherently better than students from other jurisdictions.

    Thirdly, you expect law graduates to get a job outside of their profession. How reasonable does it seem to you to think that the LSUC, the body, which regulates the profession should place on students prerequisites to licensing, the completion of which rests in the benevolence of some lawyer, who has no obligation to you? And yet that is exactly what articling does.

    I believe as a lawyer you appreciate the importance of choice and the freedom to choose. Hence, rather than disparage the LPP and the students who have exercised their freedom to choose it, you should respect them and the innovation that has made this freedom to choose possible.

    Like

    1. Well let’s respond to you “points” one at a time shall we?

      1. Dealing with your opening comment, I clearly have the utmost contempt for the law society as an organization – I’m not exactly subtle about that – an attitude, you’ll discover that is not uncommon among practicing lawyers. Mind you, it’s not contempt driven by malice. After all, I have no will towards the Law Society, rather it’s a contempt inspired by their profound incompetence as a regulatory body.

      Also, accusing someone of being “ignorant of the facts” is generally a weak rhetorical device unless supported with some actual fact of which I am allegedly ignorant. Listing none, you somewhat undermine the force of your criticism.

      2. Do I think the students hired by law firms are “generally” stronger than those not hired. Yes, absolutely. Why? Because I’m involved in hiring them, and the ones we hire are categorically stronger than the ones we don’t hire. (This is not a fact of which I am ignorant.) Funny thing, employers tend to think that way. You feel otherwise? That’s fine, your entitled to your opinion, even when it’s wrong.

      3. Canadian law students have a better training in Canadian law. They probably know nothing about French law or Indian law or Brazillian law, but given that there’s limited demand for foreign law in Canada, having expertise in those areas isn’t all that useful. Furthermore, in many jurisdictions (particularly those inspired by the UK) law is a first entry degree, unlike in Canada where, in practice you have to complete a proper undergrad degree before going to law school. As a result, Canadian law students are generally better educated than students from those jurisdictions. More to the point, they are often better at the “soft” skills that make them an effective lawyer. Case in point, my current articling student (i.e. I’m his principal) has a foreign law degree (and indeed practiced for some years) before coming to Canada and getting a Canadian law degree. He’s a smart guy, but it took us forever to break him of habits which, in his home country made sense, but which weren’t at all effective here. Again, I know of what I speak.

      4. What articling does is require would-be lawyers to get actual practical experience under the supervision of someone who actually knows what they are doing. The LPP merely “tries” to replicate that – don’t think for a second that the dorks at Rye-high are imparting any secrets on you. Of course, this is the usual experience for most people in the work force. If you want a job with any responsibility you usually have to work for someone else for some period to gain experience. More to the point, articling gives the student an entre into the legal profession, a potential mentor for the future (of no small importance for a new call trying to find a job or start their own practice). The LPP provides none of that (and, note, the LPP process still relies on the benevolence of some employer provided work experience for some period, so I’m not sure why you believe that is a meaningful critique of articles).

      Also, if you were familiar with the history of the Law Society’s licensing program you would be more skeptical. Basically, over the course of the last 15 years, they’re revamped it substantially every three years or so. When I article, the licensing program contained a 6-week “professionalism” program (think LPP light). 3 years later they abandoned that program as being virtually worthless (I did mention that they are incompetent, right?). Einstein once defined insanity as doing the same over and expecting different results. I’m skeptical of the LPP because I’m not insane.

      5. I should respect the choice not to pursue articling? Way to make a virtue out of necessity. That’s like respecting the choice not to date the prom Queen (because she’d have nothing to do with you). Let me put it to you bluntly, there are two categories of LPP students (I) those who tried to find articles and failed and (ii) those who chose to do the LPP program rather than articling. The first category didn’t chose the LPP program in any objective sense, it chose them. As for the second (I suspect much smaller) group, for any one to chose to do the LPP program at this stage rather than article demonstrates an appalling lack of judgement and common sense, since it puts their career on short-term disadvantage relative to those who article. Maybe they’re smart and ambitious enough to overcome that disadvantage, but why even put yourself in the whole.

      Look, the LPP let’s law students become lawyers. Great, most of the people who go through that process will have a hard time finding associate positions and lack the skills to set up their own successful practice (i.e., expect to see a surge in complaints), but so be it. They can call themselves lawyers and get jobs in some other areas. But let’s not pretend that it’s anything other than what is is.

      Like

  2. Show us one shred of evidence that articling actually does anything it purports to do with regard to training students to become skilled lawyers as opposed to, say, copy room jockeys, or coffee makers, or whatever other menial chore their principal makes them do. You know, evidence as in statistical evidence, quality control measures monitored by the LSUC, that sort of thing? Otherwise it’s nothing more than an unjustifiable barrier to entry to the legal profession’s anticompetitive oligopoly which serves to exploit articling students with low-paid or unpaid slave labour they would otherwise be paid (more) for as first year associates. (I ought to know, I’m also an Ontario lawyer who interviews and hires articling students for my firm!)

    Like

    1. Am I to take it from your comment that the practice at your firm is to treat your students as “copy room jockeys” or “coffee makers”? Because I assure you that that isn’t the case at my firm (or the firm where I articled). Certainly my experience (and the experience of the people I went to school with and the colleagues of my juniors) is that as part of their articling experience, they learn the skills to be profitable young associates. If that isn’t your experience at your firm, your firm probably shouldn’t be taking on articling students (and if you have been, shame on you).

      Granted, I don’t disagree that the articling process could be better monitored to ensure that lawyers aren’t using their students as hired help (and I’m sure you are aware that they’ve introduced new measures to try to ensure accountability from articling principals). In any event, we’ll have some hard statistical evidence shortly on the merits is articling versus the LPP shortly – I’m not optimistic about the LPP.

      As for the notion that articling is just an unjustified barrier to entry to keep wages low for students, that’s just silly. In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s already an excess supply of first year lawyers desperately looking for work (many of whom are working spells inn the dubious “document review” space to make ends meet). The notion that simply re-labelling articling students as associates changes what firms would be willing to pay them assumes firms are (a) stupid and (b) pay their lawyers without regard to the value of their work. Maybe that’s your experience, it’s not mine.

      Finally, it’s hard to take seriously someone who characterizes a market with, literally, thousands of suppliers as an oligopoly.

      Like

  3. > who busted his or her hump to get into UofT, graduate with an A-average, or impress potential employers, have to subsidize the trust fund brat who couldn’t get into a decent Canadian law school, but could afford to ship out to Bond University for a couple of years.

    Bondie here.

    I just want to point out that Bond is no picnic. Bond was my first choice (I didn’t even apply to Canadian schools.) I had an A average in undergrad and topped my class in my masters degree. I went for my own reasons, and they weren’t grades.

    I’ve talked to students who have transferred from Bond back to Canadian schools and the consensus is the same: Bond is actually harder than school in Canada in many respects.

    I get your point, and Bond certainly did have a few trust funders. But as one who paid their own way, graduated with first class honours, found an articling position – come down off the high horse. Out of my graduating class the overwhelming majority HAVE articling positions.

    Plus, once you’re in practice no one cares what school you went to.

    >Third, if you’re the sort of soft-hearted (and soft-headed) soul who thinks that it’s unfair to expect unsuccessful law school graduates (i.e., those graduates who can’t get articling positions) to pay for their own training, why is it fair to expect that cost to be borne solely by the fellow members of their graduating class (many of whom are saddled with 6-figure student loans).

    This is also horse-shit. Sorry.

    There is more to it than that. A lot of law students go into the profession with no real desire to be lawyers. They go in to law school because they have an arts degree and law seems like a half decent career.

    I had the chance to review applications for the articling intake this past year. Where I work we don’t follow LSUCs schedule, so we get all those students who were unable to find a position during the *actual* intake period.

    I saw many, many students from Osgoode, U of T, Queens and Western with no job, and either B+ or A averages. You know what else was odd? The overwhelming majority of them were female and/or visible minorities. These are high achieving hard working students who will be forced to go into LPP. They aren’t failures. They hustled, they worked hard. Your high horse attitude is sickening.

    Having people like you stigmatize LPP students (and Bondies for that matter) are part of the problem.

    > Furthermore, in many jurisdictions (particularly those inspired by the UK) law is a first entry degree, unlike in Canada where, in practice you have to complete a proper undergrad degree before going to law school. As a result, Canadian law students are generally better educated than students from those jurisdictions. More to the point, they are often better at the “soft” skills that make them an effective lawyer.

    And in those jurisdictions those are called LLBs. JDs are still graduate level degrees requiring an undergrad before entry. They’re both offered. I hope you’re aware of this when reviewing applications. Doesn’t seem like it.

    >Canadian law students have a better training in Canadian law.

    Bond has two Canadian law professors. Both have worked and practiced at Bay Street firms. One has a PhD from Osgoode. I took Canadian courses while studying overseas.

    Now that I’m back well -newsflash – what you learn in law school in terms of content isn’t all that important. Common law is common law. Law is a way of thinking.

    Your example doesn’t fit well as you indicated the other lawyer had actually practiced before coming back to Canada. Articling students are still malleable, if they come back to Canada they have a chance to develop the Canadian habits you so graciously instilled in that associate.

    /rant

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s