What specifically are Articling Students?

After graduating from Law School, a 3-year graduate-level university course containing mostly theory, a graduate must then learn the practical aspects of being a lawyer. This is done during a one-year‘ articling’ period and is essentially a fourth year as a student in a paid internship. There is a 10-week Professional Legal Training Course during this period, an intensive course also known as the ‘Bar Exam’ or ‘passing the Bar’. It is essentially a 10-week long exam to become a lawyer. 

In addition to that, you must apprentice under a senior lawyer who agrees to train you for the remaining part of the year. It is a paid practicum or internship that is about 9 months long. During that time, under the direction and supervision of a senior lawyer, an Articled Student performs legal work and therefore gains experience as to how to operate as a lawyer on their own once they complete their Articling Year.

 

What legal services can articling students provide?

Articling students can provide all of the services that a lawyer can. The advantage for clients is that their hourly rate is much lower than an experienced lawyer. The other advantage is that the articling student is guided by the senior lawyer, so the client is getting the advice of the senior lawyer but the student is doing the work at a lower rate.

Articling students and junior lawyers are a real advantage to the community because they offer all of the regular services and because they are establishing their practice, they are often able to take on work on an expedited basis as they may only have a few files they are working on so they can start right away. They also assist senior lawyers in situations like large trials where they act as second chair to the lead lawyer and assist in research and preparing witnesses to give evidence.

 

What is the concern that the Law Society is trying to address?

The landscape of the legal profession has changed dramatically in the past 10 years. The number of law schools graduating students has increased, in Kamloops at TRU we graduate 110 lawyers a year. There are the same amount or more graduating from UBC and Victoria Law Schools. Also, there are a growing number of people who go to law school in the UK or Australia and return to apply for Articles as well. 

That is about 400 lawyers a year being graduated each year and each requires an Articling position to proceed on to practice law as a career. However, the number of senior lawyers to mentor the articling students is diminishing.

There are a larger number of lawyers practicing in large urban centers and fewer practicing in small communities or with smaller law offices where more one-on-one time can be spent training. Add COVID to that and it is a real logistical nightmare. Graduating students were left with fewer and fewer options to article and many took unpaid or grossly underpaid positions just to complete their articles and be called to the Bar. This was even a problem 20 years ago when I was articling, there were already fewer and fewer lawyers willing to take on articling students.

The method developed over 70 years ago to train lawyers may not be working so well anymore. The Law Society developed a Task Force to look into this and is Exploring Alternatives to Articling Initiatives. The Lawyer Development Program Task Force passed a resolution in October 2021. One item was to set a standard of Wage (minimum wage) for articling students. 

This will take away articling positions as the cost to law firms for training lawyers is high. BC will need an alternate route to articling positions first. These alternate routes include a longer legal training course with more practical experience built-in and then some sort of supported job shadowing all organized and supported by the Law society instead of practicing lawyers.

We have all heard how Kim Kardashian has become a lawyer in California with a new track to becoming certified. She shadowed a lawyer unpaid and studied for and passed the bar exam (after 3 tries) but not everyone is independently wealthy and can afford to have no income while they do this method.

Hopefully, the Law Society comes up with a better method than the celebrity route. The Law Society has voted to adopt the recommendations but this all needs to be implemented and that will be a few years from now. In the meantime, it seems some articling students may be getting taken advantage of, if what we are hearing in the news is accurate.

 

Have you personally witnessed articling students overworked and underpaid?

Not personally. I had a great articles – that was in the Lower Mainland 20 years ago, but I remember working hard and putting in some long hours but it was so exciting and there was so much to learn, I don’t remember feeling taken advantage of.

I have personally trained 3 articling students through their articling year since I moved to Kamloops in 2010. All three are now successful lawyers and continue to work with me at my firm. I have also provided summer articles and short articling training periods for four other students who were with other firms and did a brief period with me to cross-train on areas of law they were not exposed to at the firms they were articling with.

For example, if their articling firm was a criminal firm, they may come to me to be trained in estate planning or real estate practice. My students work hard, but are paid adequately and encouraged to balance their work with personal leisure pursuits and activities they enjoy. There are busy periods, where a student will work evenings or weekends, during a trial for example, but that is offset by weeks where there is more of a 9 – 5 expectation and workload.

What is happening in BC with 400 students needing articles each year is not sustainable, particularly in small communities. Some firms are taking advantage – this is primarily in the larger centers where there is less one-on-one training and the articling students are providing services more in line with support staff. I have heard of expectations at some locations being 10 – 16 hours a day. I think this is the exception, not the norm, and most senior lawyers really want these students to get trained well and succeed in the profession.

 

How can things improve?

It is a really complicated issue. We want practicing lawyers to be skilled and competent. We know lawyers do not have a 9-5 job – none that I know, anyway. Most people practicing law are passionate about helping people and are very driven in that direction. It stands to reason that the articling students learning to do this job should see the unvarnished truth to that. Just like other professions, doctors and accountants come to mind, the expectations of long, dedicated hours in the OR, emergency, or during tax time are a reality to the work they do. It isn’t fair to the student not to expose them to that schedule and help them create strategies to manage their workload and their other life experiences and obligations like family and leisure pursuits. It also isn’t fair to take advantage of articling students as a cheap source of labour.

It is a real responsibility that the senior lawyers take on to train the articling students properly. That needs to be foremost in the considerations. Hopefully, the new avenues the Law Society is looking at implementing will be more workable in this new era of practicing law in modern times.

 

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