Melanie Thomas counts herself one of the lucky ones. The second-year law student at Osgoode Hall, York University’s law school, has already set up a summer position at a law firm where she hopes to article after graduation.
“I’m very blessed to have solidified a position,” Thomas, a second-year representative on Osgoode’s Student Caucus, says.
“About 35 per cent of Osgoode students received a job through the (on-campus interview) process, but there’s a vast majority of students who didn’t.”
But last year, the Law Society of Upper Canada’s (LSUC) task force estimated that one in seven graduates won’t get a position in 2013.
“The LSUC doesn’t think that the present system is working very well because the law schools in Ontario are churning out a lot of law graduates and the number of places for articling is remaining steady, if not diminishing,” says Tony Duggan, acting dean of the faculty of law at the University of Toronto.
“To add in a fourth year of more fees and costs is a huge financial burden for students.”
second-year law student at Osgoode Hall
The poor ratio of positions to students spurred the LSUC’s approval of a new law practice program, or LPP, this past November, which has ignited debate among students, professors, law firms and law groups across the province.
An alternative to articling, the LPP would entail an additional educational component of four months, followed by a four-month co-operative work placement. The LSUC has issued a request for proposals for the design of a LPP. The pilot program would begin in the 2014-2015 licensing year.
“A student who ends up opting for that alternative (might) have quite a different experience from the student who goes the traditional articling route,” Duggan says.
“It’s impossible to be sure at this stage because there’s no program in place … At the moment, nobody knows exactly what this particular program is going to look like.”
The lack of information has students worried, says Sierra Yates Robart, vice-president of student affairs and governance for U of T’s Students’ Law Society. “There’s a lot of questions, and I think law students are smart people and they want to know the answers,” Robart says.
The LSUC has recommended that the cost of the LPP be shared among all graduating law students, adding an extra cost to an already expensive degree.
“A lot of law students are coming into law school with debt from their undergrad,” Thomas says.
“You come to law school and pay up to $60,000 in just tuition. And then to add in a fourth year of more fees and costs is a huge financial burden for students.”
The price tag was highlighted by several individuals and groups, including the Osgoode Hall Student Caucus, the Advocates’ Society, and the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, in letters addressing the LSUC task force.
Another commonly voiced concern is that the LPP will create a “two-tiered system,” where students who opt to take the LPP might be seen as second-rate lawyers.
“Even after getting licensed, it could be difficult for them to find a firm to work with, because they might be seen as second class,” Thomas says.
Robart agrees. “They might be seen as not-as-valuable employees.”
However, another school of thought argues that the new program will remove a barrier to licensing for students who don’t obtain articling positions.
Duggan thinks there is legitimacy to both arguments.
“There’s room for debate there. Ultimately the answer is going to depend on how good the new program is,” he says.
“If it’s a good program and it offers students a really good learning experience, then the first of the criticisms will go away.”