4Students Cover Story
Last year, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued its much anticipated report on six years of information gathering from across Canada amassing volumes of witness statements from thousands of Indian residential schools survivors and from those involved in the system that has become what some say is Canada’s greatest shame.
Joshua D’Cunha feels pretty pumped about landing a full-time job at Infrastructure Ontario as legal counsel. The University of Windsor Faculty of Law grad found his way to the legal department of 32 lawyers this past spring after completing Ryerson University’s inaugural Law Practice Program — the first cohort to come through the Law Society of Upper Canada’s three-year pilot project aimed at providing an alternative route to traditional articling. “I really love the work, it’s fabulous,” says an enthusiastic D’Cunha, who is now legal counsel, contract management at IO, an agency of the Ontario government.
After a few weeks of law school Frances Mahon boldly went to professor Alan Young’s office at Osgoode Hall Law School and in her words, “begged him for a job.” His response to her plea was disappointing yet encouraging at the same time. “He said: ‘Come talk to me in the summer when you actually know something and you’re not a baby law student,’” recalls Mahon, who would later that year begin a two-year journey working on one of the most pivotal cases in recent Canadian history.
There was a time when most lawyers probably wouldn’t have dreamed of offering their services for free. But now the justice system is increasingly out of reach for many low- to mid-income people, soon-to-be lawyers are learning about the importance of access to justice early on. They are told one way to help with the problem is by volunteering their legal skills, and so are encouraged to get involved in their communities and give back early in their careers.
|Illustration: Huan Tran|
|Illustration: Matt Daley|
Like so many others, maybe you too “fell” into law. Maybe you weren’t sure what you wanted to do with your life so you decided to give it a try. Maybe you buckled under the pressure from family members to follow in their footsteps, or you just did it because your friends were doing it. Whatever the reason, you’re now in law school — and there’s no doubt it’s going to be a tough three years.
A growing shortage of articling positions has left hundreds of law grads saddled with the prospect of having run up massive student debts for a shot at a profession that has no room left at the inn. The problem — primarily concentrated in Ontario, although British Columbia appears to be experiencing a minor shortage as well — has a simple explanation. More prospective lawyers than ever before are seeking entry to the legal profession, especially practitioners trained outside Canada. Stats show that in 2006, the Law Society of Upper Canada accepted 1,400 registrants to its licensing program. That number spiked to 1,750 in 2010. Meanwhile, in 2008, 5.8 per cent of applicants failed to secure an articling position within their first year of eligibility. That number rose to 12.1 per cent in 2011.
For Chase Barlet, attending McGill University’s Faculty of Law was not just the first step in becoming a lawyer. During Barlet’s undergraduate degree at a Mormon university, he could have been expelled for having a boyfriend. Attending McGill’s law school marked the first time he could be entirely open about his sexuality. “I went from having to be almost completely in the closet to being able to be completely out in a matter of months, which was incredibly liberating,” says the second-year law student. “At McGill, people have been nothing but welcoming and accepting.”