Law Society motion wants firms to be forced to accept articling students

This column originally appeared in the Law Times.

By: Kathryn Marshall

How to fix the articling problem is the ubiquitous topic of discussion among lawyers. From the LSUC’s controversial new “two-tier” articling program, to calls from many lawyers to scrap articling all together, the debate has become extra heated in recent years.

A group of 15 Ontario lawyers are about to shake the debate up even more with an extreme proposal that, if put into practice, would have disastrous outcomes. On May 13 they will be tabling a motion at the LSUC’s AGM that proposes making it mandatory for law firms of 8 lawyers or more to hire an articling student who will be randomly selected and assigned to that firm.

The rationale is that it will make things fairer for everyone and cut back on the rivalry and anxiety felt amongst law students as they compete for coveted articling spots.

This is, by far, the most flawed solution that has been proposed in the great articling debate.

Firstly, it kills competition, and that’s a bad thing. A healthy dose of competition motivates people to work harder and be better. It goes without saying that law school is a competitive environment. It is the natural outcome of putting hundreds of ambitions, bright students together for three intense years. From grades to moots and even law rugby, students are pitted against one another from day one and strive to come out on top. It should come as no surprise that law students are competitive when it comes to job opportunities too. Just like there are only so many A’s to go around, there are only so many jobs available too. So students need to ensure they are doing the right things both inside and outside of the classroom to give themselves a competitive edge.

Secondly, it wrongly assumes every student is entitled to a job. Getting a university degree does not mean you deserve to have a job waiting for you at your doorstep the moment you graduate. A degree from a good school certainly gives you an advantage, but you still need to go out and hustle to land a great gig. Law grads, like all other job seekers, need to make their own opportunities. When I was searching for articles, I ended up getting hired by a firm that hadn’t hired a student in 9 years. I was able to convince them that taking on a student was a great move, and that I was the right person for the job. Students shouldn’t expect a job to land in their laps, they should get out there and network, hit the pavement and even cold call if necessary.

Thirdly and most importantly, it strips both the students and the law firms of their free choice. Many articling jobs lead to permanent law positions. One of the most important factors in hiring a new inexperienced lawyer is whether that person is a good fit for the firm. Personality plays a big part in this. If students are being randomly paired with law firms, neither the firm nor the student has any say in the hiring process. Students cannot seek employment at firms they gel with, and firms cannot hire students they feel would fit in well with their firm culture. This is a recipe for unhappiness in the workplace. This could have a very detrimental impact on the legal profession as a whole, which already struggles with an attrition problem.

Hopefully this motion will be scrutinized and swiftly voted down. While there is no doubt a problem with the articling system in Ontario, going to the extreme and forcing students on firms and vice versa in a random lottery system is not the answer.

Kathryn Marshall is a lawyer and columnist. She tweets about all things related to the law in Toronto at@TOLawsome.

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