Canadian Articling and Placement Bubble has Burst!

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There’s no more any need for prospective Canadian law students to feel compelled to attend a Canadian law school based on a belief you’ll be guaranteed a placement or articling position upon graduation.

The Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) and Ryerson University in Toronto have officially launched the Law Practice Program (LPP) on November 22nd. The program will be up running as of September 2014.

Law school graduates will now have the option of opting out of placement/articling positions and opting into a structured skills training program that is legal-services-practice focused in order to meet bar admission requirements. The program will consist of four months of tech-focused classroom instruction complemented by a four-month monitored-practice placement at a law firm or legal services provider.

Canada’s newest law school, Lakehead University, with a mandate to equip lawyers with professional skills for practice in Northern Ontario, aboriginal communities and small towns, has received formal approval to launch an Integrated Practice Curriculum. This program, the first of its kind in Canada, will incorporate the LLPP model into an extended three-year JD. Graduates will be exempted from articling and the LPP program, and will be eligible for bar admission and to commence practicing law upon graduation.

Although officially billed by the LSUC as an alternative to the traditional placement/articling route to gain professional experience, a reading of the LSUC task force report Pathways to the Profession – The Law Society of Upper Canada is a tacit acknowledgement that this 19th century model for training law graduates to be lawyers is broken.

In too many articles, the hallowed tradition of mentoring and nurturing law school graduates into qualified entry-level lawyers has degenerated into variations of forced servitude. Graduates are being required to work as de facto paralegals or ‘gophers,’ in some instances without compensation, in exchange for a lawyer signing off on their articles. Once the articles have been signed off, the now former articled clerk is ushered out the door to find their own way to employment as a lawyer.

I belong to the National Association for Law Placement (NALP www.nalp.org) and am well aware of the NALP law school placement reporting system. For the past five years, North American law schools have been filing the standard NALP placement reports, indicating 90%+ placement rates for graduates. Former law school dean Brian Z. Tamanaha of Washington State University broke ranks and published what was nothing short of an exposé in his Failing Law Schools book . His inside account of how law schools manipulated the NALP reporting system to their advantage by manufacturing short-term placements for graduates to do research for law professors, or law-school-related volunteer work that led nowhere for the 3-6 month requisite stint to count it as a ‘placement,’ has exposed the placement panacea.

Overall, what the LSUC rebuke to articling and Tamanaha expose on placements have finally made clear is that these are no longer the assured routes to employment for the majority of recent law graduates. Moreover, working as an articled clerk for a law firm that can’t generate sufficient funds to pay a stipend is certainly not going to provide a graduate with any insight into a successful practice management model. Nor is legal research placement in the law library going to show a recent graduate how to transition out of academia into the realm of the practice of law.

It’s noteworthy that the LSUC selected Ryerson, a non-law school university, as the successful preferred provider for practice-focused professional development over the academic-oriented, domestic law schools that responded to the request for proposals (RFP). The LPP model that Ryerson will be rolling out is based on the extremely successful UK’s Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) Legal Practice Course (LPC). See www.sra.org.uk/students/lpc.

Both the solicitor LPC and the corresponding barristers regulatory Bar Standards Board’s (BSB) Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) have been enriched into full-fledged LLM (Masters of Law ) programs at select UK law schools for LLB graduates wanting to complement their academic knowledge with practice-focused applications.

Prospective Canadian students looking to get a career edge are well advised to take their cue from the LSUC and explore the potential of an innovative Combined 2+1 (LLB/LLM) Degree and get a legal specialization that is practice-management focused.

Contributed by:

John G. Kelly B.Com., LLB, D.PIR., M.Sc., MA (Jud. Admin.) F.CIS.
John G. Kelly is President of Canada Law From Abroad (www.canadalawfromabroad.com). He is a registered UCAS advisor and provides and international education bridge for Canadian to attend UK law schools.

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