Law students struggle to find articling positions

Not as desperate as Ontario, Nova Scotia students still see scarcity of articling placements 

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Twelve of last year’s Schulich School of Law’s graduating class are still struggling to find articling positions. (Photo: Kelsey Power)

Law students are about to start looking for articling positions this year and they are facing a troubling legal landscape that law organizations are only starting to address.

The Law Society of Upper Canada introduced two new initiatives last week in Ontario: a three-year pilot program and an innovative program at Lakehead University. Both aim to fight the growing problem within the province – law students unable to find articling positions.

The first, titled the Law Practice Program, has been introduced as an alternative option for Ontario students struggling to find a position. It will consist of four months spent doing course work and four months at a law firm or clinic.

Ryerson University will house the English-language version of the program and the University of Ottawa will house the French version. The society promises students who pursue this program will attain the same knowledge obtained in a traditional articling role.

The Integrated Practice Curriculum is the second trial idea. Students at Lakehead University will gain skills by putting in additional hours during the law degree program, followed by a four-month work placement in northern Ontario. This will allow for an accelerated path to writing the bar exam: no normal articling necessary.

In Nova Scotia, as with the rest of Canada, it has been a mandatory part of the licensing process for law graduates to gain employment as article clerks. They normally work in the office of a qualified principal for 12 months before they write the bar admission course.

But it may be time to review this practice in this province as well.

“It certainly isn’t like it was even five years ago,” said Rose Godfrey, Director of Admissions and Career Development at Dalhousie University’s Schulich School of Law. “There are more law schools, more and bigger classes and fewer jobs, so I think everybody right now is seeing a bit of a decline.”

Although the Schulich school has enrolled between 165 and 170 students over the last couple of years, the school has had a difficult time finding articling placements for all of its graduates.

Godfrey is still helping 12 students from last year’s graduating class find their articling placement — a higher number than in the past.

“We’re working with the barristers society,” said Godfrey. “We’re trying to increase the number of articling students that employers would take and really promoting the rural-area employers to reach out and think about taking some articling students.”

Few rural practices have traditionally taken articling students and those that do have tended to pay substantially less than firms in Halifax, where the sector has grown over the last decade.

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Though the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society doesn’t have any involvement in graduates seeking employment, it has relaxed its regulations regarding articling.

“We’ve opened up as much as our regulations allow to enable creative, unique articling positions,” said Darrel Pink, executive director of the society. “We think that’s our job, but we can’t find jobs. We just don’t think it would be beneficial to do that.”

The society doesn’t actually hold any jurisdiction until a law student is placed within an articling position.

But Pink did say the number of articling students that have been called to the bar, and the number of articling students overall, have declined slightly.

The number of articling positions available is directly tied to the marketplace.

“It’s a combination of both an increase in students and the (weak) economy. Because the law firms or the legal employers are just not hiring as many students as they used to,” said Godfrey.

Claude Baldachino, director of professional development with Cox & Palmer, said “the demand far outstrips the supply,” in regard to the number of applications it receives.

Susan Hayes, chief professional resources officer at Stewart McKelvey, agrees, adding, “we see more third-year applicants than we have in the past.”

“They could be more selective about what they were looking for,” she said. “It’s very easy, as it’s all electronic these days to send off more resumes than it ever used to be, and I almost expect everyone’s applying everywhere.”

Both law firms have received upwards of 250 applications in recent years and both have consistently taken six articling students in the past few years – a reduction from 10 before the recession.

Although Pink speaks highly of the merit of standards of the new Ontario programs, he cautions this might not be the best solution to a changing legal landscape.

“It’s really easy to look at something like the (Law Practice Program) and think why don’t we have one in Nova Scotia. The expense, the cost of having a (Law Practice Program) is not fully ascertained but it’s in the hundreds of thousands — it’s in the millions — of dollars,” said Pink.

The Law Society of Upper Canada has increased the dues for every lawyer so that they contribute a sum of their annual fee to cover a portion of the cost of the Law Practice Program. At Lakehead University, it will become part of the tuition but students will be partially subsidized.

 Originally published on UNews.ca

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