Legal profession in turmoil: Let’s blame the law schools

Written by  Bruce Feldthusen Posted Date: December 3, 2012
b_150_0_16777215_00___images_stories_01-CANADIANLawyer_Standard_photos_dean_bruce_feldthusen.jpgNo wonder the legal profession is in turmoil. Between 10 and 15 per cent of fully qualified law school graduates, about 400 students, cannot find articling positions. Currently, if one cannot article, one cannot practise law in Canada.

Proposed solutions range from ignoring the problem to abolishing articling. A divided Law Society of Upper Canada has just approved a three-year pilot program to provide alternative instruction for those who cannot find an articling position.

A crisis requires a whipping boy. Many lawyers have found one: legal education. Everything would be fine, they pronounce, had the law schools not increased enrolment. Everything will be fine again, they dream, if law schools restrict enrolment.

Ironically, the law school bashers seem unaware of the federal Competition Act. Restricting admission to law school to protect mandatory articling, itself probably an unlawful barrier to entry, is against the law! The profession can’t do it and neither can the law schools.

In the absence of robust competition, the legal profession has priced itself beyond the means of ordinary Ontario citizens. Access to justice is an important statutory mandate of the Law Society of Upper Canada. If lawyers want to retain the precious right to self-regulate in the public interest, reducing the supply of legal services to the public is unwise.

We could close every law school in Ontario and still have an articling crisis. Between 500 and 1,000 students who obtained their legal education in a foreign law school now annually seek admission to the Ontario Bar. Many are Ontario residents who were unable to find a place in an Ontario law school. If the Ontario law schools were to reduce enrolment, those who could afford to would simply study abroad. Less wealthy Ontario students would be forced out altogether. This would not make a meaningful dent on the demand for articles.

The number of foreign educated law students seeking to work in Ontario is only going to grow. Despite concerns expressed by legal educators, the LSUC has endorsed an “approved law degree” that effectively consists of nothing more than a list of about 10 mandatory courses. Any law school in the world can easily qualify to grant an approved Ontario law degree. The civil law schools of Montreal and Sherbrook already have acquired that right. Next in line are Bond, Australia and Leicester, England. They will soon be Ontario’s largest law schools.

The other way some lawyers whip the law schools is to pronounce that today’s graduates are poorly trained and unsuited for practice. Many should not have been admitted let alone graduated, they say. There is often a subtext.

Legal education is far from perfect. But it has changed a great deal. Today’s students are better educated and more committed than ever. They are preparing for a much more complicated employment market than existed even a few years ago. They enjoy experiential learning opportunities in clinics, work-study placements, and through innovative active learning in the classroom. Legal education can improve further. But Ontario should be proud of its current graduates.

For more than 50 years, the LSUC assumed the responsibility to deliver, through the Bar Admission Course, substantive practical education and skills training to graduated law students — for a fee. Then, without consulting the law schools, the LSUC walked away. University law schools cannot fill this entire void, no matter how hard they try.

Ontario’s law schools did not cause and cannot cure the articling crisis. They cannot alone address the profession’s training objectives. The law schools could work as equal partners in co-operation with the profession to help address real problems. They have never been invited to do so. LSUC Treasurer Tom Conway has promised the Ontario law deans he is willing to work with us. We look forward to it. Meanwhile please help us call off the dogs.

Bruce Feldthusen is the dean of the Common Law Section of the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law.

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+1 #39 LSUC ScamartistsNoname 2013-08-25 20:33
The illness can’t be swept under the rug by pendulum analogies. The over-saturation was there in the late 1980s grows worse each year. Only now, there’s this thing called a “blog” so it can be discussed in public. This pendulum ain’t swinging back when the Downturn goes away. The over-saturation has permanently altered the climate and the landscape. Law schools are responsible for the over-saturation, the over-saturation has killed the legal jobs market, and that’s the problem that has killed the prospect of law school for all but the very top of the heap.
+1 #38 "Anthony Hugh" is JealousAnalytical Counsel 2013-04-07 08:02
RESPONSE TO: "Sadly, though I try not to, I look at Ottawa students as less worthy than other law students"

Oh yeah? I wonder if the Sheila Blocks of the world and so many of the partners at BLG, Gowlinsg and the like should really be viewed as less worthy counsel?

This comment likely comes from another Ontario law school student as any lawyer with half a brain who actually works at a firm with Ottawa calls knows this is bunk. You're a joke.
-1 #37 RE: Deniallawstudent 2012-12-18 17:14
"Their recent increases in class sizes merely compounds the problem caused by their embarrassing admission standards.... which aren't much higher than the Bonds and Leicesters of the world."

I have a hard time accepting criticism of my school's admission standards from someone with such less-than-stellar grammar skills.
+4 #36 RE: LIONS, NOT SHEEPBoom, Bust, No Echo 2012-12-17 21:22
The UO law student paper Inter Pares did a couple of full page articles about this in 2010 and 2011 when the increased numbers began to show in FTX. Everyone knew the population bomb was going affect articling and 1A jobs soon. Admin blamed the Australians.

FYI, there's more than 400 who can't find articles: they just aren't counted until they register with LSUC. Many don't register until they actually find articles cuz of the 3yr time limit to finish both bar ads + articles.

Counterpoint: U's job is to educate people to get their JD's. They're doing volume sales lately. The days of the self-regulated law guild are over. Law is just a business. For the firms, there is no problem: they get to pick the best grads. Basic supply and demand. They don't owe anyone a job.

BTW, the law jobscape is pretty brutal these days. 1A hiring is lower than articling hiring - there's way more unemployed new calls right now than anyone cares to admit.
0 #35 Grammar People!Anna 2012-12-09 01:24
That would be "...bursting at the seams..."

Well, no one guarantees employment or articling positions just because you have a law degree.
0 #34 Grammar People!Anna 2012-12-09 01:14
That would be "...admits fewer students per annum..."

And, yeah, hello? What's with all the Ottawa bashing?
+13 #33 LIONS, NOT SHEEPJUSTICE 2012-12-08 09:32
Bruce: if restricting admission to law schools in order to protect mandatory articling is against the law, then artificially deflating law students' grades using a stringent pre-determined grade distribution system (SE: Semantics Excepted) in order to give a law school more perceived credibility, warrants the death penalty. Not only is it immorally destroying the morale and sanity of law students, but it is also discrediting their efforts and reducing their competitive appeal in the marketplace.

Before you shine your shield and raise your dagger, take a hard look in the mirror and reflect on your legacy. This is not your brightest point, Bruce.
+10 #32 LIONS, NOT SHEEPJUSTICE 2012-12-08 09:15
2. Students who were accepted into the U of O Common Law program in January, February, or March of the year 2009 earned a position in the program that given year. While subsequently enrolled students may have been qualified for a spot, the above-mentioned students definitely deserved to be in the program.

3. U of O students, especially ethnic minorities of the male sexe, are particularly affected by the articling crisis. These students paid their dues and worked equally as hard as other students, but for some reason law firms drool at the sight of vanilla ice cream over the more flavourful taste of neapolitan. Here come two (2) scary but perhaps necessary words: Affirmative Action.
+10 #31 LIONS, NOT SHEEPJUSTICE 2012-12-08 08:48
Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea. This article wreaks of a guilty mind with a poor deflective defence mechanism:

1. The U of O drastically increased its admission numbers for the 2009-2010 academic school year. Allegedly, this was due to a pile of misplaced applications that were not properly considered in that given admission year. Assuming this is true, then why have class sizes remained so large in 2010-2011, 2011-2012, and 2012-2013? Not only is this practice flooding the market with surplus labour, thereby compounding the articling crisis. but Fauteux Hall cannot physically tolerate the number of increased bodies. For the sake of enlightenment, you had to reduce already limited student space and plug a gaping hole to build one (1) new classroom.
+2 #30 Mr.bbbbb 2012-12-07 20:51
So Ottawa weighs the LSAT less heavily, therefore the school has a poor reputation? According to whom? Most Bay street firms would disagree with you.

Similarly, the uOttawa medical school does not even require the MCAT. Yet, graduates of medicine are among the most coveted in the nation.

So what does this imply? There are other ways, besides the weight placed on the LSAT or MCAT, to measure quality of education. Maybe try looking at the "output"-- how students perform after graduation. Then let's see if you change your mind about uOttawa's "poor reputation".

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