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Law Society of Ontario Benchers are Debating on Paying Articling Students Minimum Wage


BlushAndTheBar
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BlushAndTheBar
  • Law Student

Today, Law Society of Ontario benchers had planned to debate on minimum compensation for articling students. The motion that was supposed to be debated today was deferred until next Convocation in February 2022. Upon first glance, many benchers seem to not support minimum wage. 

I have limited information on this topic but I wanted to spread the word as I believe this is a topic of interest to many students. 

Atrisha Lewis of McCarthy Tetrault appears to be a bencher who supports paying articling students minimum wage and she regularly updates her Twitter with respect to the evolving situation (@atrishalewis). 

My intention with this post is for informational purposes rather than cause disturbance or stress, I recognize there may be some insights that I am not aware of that may have been the motivation for the motion. 

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BlockedQuebecois
  • Lawyer

The counter argument has always been that requiring articling students to be paid minimum wage is: (i) likely to discourage small firms and sole practitioners from participating in the articling process; and (ii) lead to a decrease in the number of available placements. Those arguments are reflected in the majority's view of the relevant portion of the Professional Development and Competence Committee's Report to Convocation

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A majority of the Committee feels strongly that the LSO should not move forward with the implementation of mandatory minimum compensation for experiential training. The primary concern driving this view is that this requirement will reduce the number of placements in a market where supply has not been keeping up with demand for a number of years and where this trend may be exacerbated as a result of the pandemic...

As noted earlier, while most experiential training placements are paid, it is estimated that every year, between 10-15% placements are paid below statutory minimum wage or unpaid. Conservatively, this translates to approximately 130-150 articling and LPP/PPD placements per year that could be lost from the system...

The Committee observed that a mandatory minimum compensation policy creates a specific risk of losing placements in sole and small firm settings.

The counter arguments put forward by the minority, of which Ms Lewis is presumably a part of, are primarily that students face increasing debt loads and that unpaid placements represent a barrier to marginalized folks: 

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A predominant concern of candidates upon graduation from law school is the daunting task of paying off significant, six-figure debt loads. This financial burden on candidates is exacerbated by unpaid placements. The LSO is in a position to show leadership and to set a minimum standard for all placements that reduces the potential for exploitative working conditions.

A minority of the Committee further notes that the potential for unpaid placements creates financial barriers for economically marginalized groups, undermining diversity in the profession. Unpaid placements may also impact the ability of candidates to pursue careers in practice areas such as criminal law and family law, which may be less remunerative. Given that a relatively small number of placements would be at risk, the LSO should proceed with a policy mandating minimum compensation to ensure that all candidates in the licensing process are able to earn a living wage.

Just so people have an idea of the arguments on both sides. 

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BlushAndTheBar
  • Law Student
4 minutes ago, BlockedQuebecois said:

The counter argument has always been that requiring articling students to be paid minimum wage is: (i) likely to discourage small firms and sole practitioners from participating in the articling process; and (ii) lead to a decrease in the number of available placements. Those arguments are reflected in the majority's view of the relevant portion of the Professional Development and Competence Committee's Report to Convocation

The counter arguments put forward by the minority, of which Ms Lewis is presumably a part of, are primarily that students face increasing debt loads and that unpaid placements represent a barrier to marginalized folks: 

Just so people have an idea of the arguments on both sides. 

Thank you very much! I waded through some of those arguments but I didn't feel like I could properly articulate them well enough to do them justice. So I simply made the post trying to inform others of the situation generally. Thank you for this addition @BlockedQuebecois! I appreciate it!

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AnonymousAnon
  • Articling Student

I'm currently an articling student at a firm that pays the bare minimum. 

It is already extremely demoralizing to realize that I made more money working in the legal profession before I ever completed my undergrad or law school, than I do now that I am a graduate and an articling student. I am aware that not all articling positions pay so poorly, but for the vast majority of students in similar positions to mine I feel like it cheapens the value of our degrees not to mention the massive potential for exploitation of articling students. 

To abolish the minimum wage would absolutely make it impossible for me and others to complete articling. The cost of tuition and living already makes the present articling minimum wage barely enough.  

I am honestly surprised that Ontario keeps pushing to have this absolutely unnecessary articling requirement when many common law jurisdictions do not have anything like it and yet their attorneys are somehow competent without it. Additionally, my law school already had a mandatory practical component that was necessary for graduation, which does not even consider the many summer law employment opportunities available to students.

It feels like articling should either be included into a fourth year of law school, or completely abolished because the way that it currently operates is already making it so difficult for students who are not well off to be able to participate. To then strip away the minimum wage for articling students just feels that poor and marginalized students are not welcome to the LSO and to the law profession broadly. Instead, it feels that the LSO is more concerned about protecting it's existing lawyers at the expense of new and incoming lawyers from low-income and marginalized backgrounds.  

 

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BlockedQuebecois
  • Lawyer

It’s important to get ideas and terminology straight here in order to be persuasive. 

There’s currently no requirement for employers to pay minimum wage to articling students, so arguments premised on the existence of such a requirement aren’t going to be persuasive.

You can’t say it would be impossible for you to complete articles without a mandatory minimum wage if you are currently completing articles in an environment without a mandatory minimum wage.

Similarly, any argument that people like you would not be able to complete articles without the institution of a minimum wage rule should also address the argument that people like you wouldn’t have articling placements to complete if a mandatory minimum wage was implemented. 

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erin otoole
  • Law Student
19 minutes ago, AnonymousAnon said:

It feels like articling should either be included into a fourth year of law school.

Please do not suggest ideas like this, the schools would LOVE LOVE to steal another year of your money, hire more admin, and pay themselves more. Articling has problems yes, but if the schools should act, it should be at admissions, not at the graduating stage. 

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AnonymousAnon
  • Articling Student
1 hour ago, erin otoole said:

Please do not suggest ideas like this, the schools would LOVE LOVE to steal another year of your money, hire more admin, and pay themselves more. Articling has problems yes, but if the schools should act, it should be at admissions, not at the graduating stage. 

The only reason this comes to mind for me is this is what med schools and pharmacy schools currently do. The reason I think it could be a good idea is that med school and pharmacy programs vet the placements very well and also allow students to also evaluate the placement. It protects students from crappy exploitative placements because placements that are poorly evaluated are not highly ranked and schools do not send as many students there if at all. Additionally, this allows students to come out of med school and pharmacy schools earning a generous wage without having to jump through another licensing hurdle.  

This is purely based on my articling placement, but I deeply regret accepting my articling placement and I feel helpless. My articling experience is extremely toxic and my mental health has absolutely plummeted. It just feels like the attitude about my situation (which is not that uncommon) is "that's just how articling is and you just have to get through it!"

I feel like a lot more could be done to either fix the articling experience (but not by getting rid of the minimum wage), or completely abolishing the articling requirement (which is the option I support).

 

 

 

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QueensGrad
  • Lawyer

Make 3rd year a practical learning year (same as Articling) instead of another year of reading cases. Of course, the downside is a lot of PhD’s (aka research focused law profs) would be out of work so it’ll never happen. 

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realpseudonym
  • Lawyer
55 minutes ago, AnonymousAnon said:

This is purely based on my articling placement, but I deeply regret accepting my articling placement and I feel helpless. My articling experience is extremely toxic and my mental health has absolutely plummeted. It just feels like the attitude about my situation (which is not that uncommon) is "that's just how articling is and you just have to get through it!"

I don’t really have anything to contribute, other than to say I’m sorry to hear about this, and I wish you all the best. 

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erin otoole
  • Law Student
2 hours ago, AnonymousAnon said:

This is purely based on my articling placement, but I deeply regret accepting my articling placement and I feel helpless. My articling experience is extremely toxic and my mental health has absolutely plummeted. It just feels like the attitude about my situation (which is not that uncommon) is "that's just how articling is and you just have to get through it!"

Upon reflection I realize I was rude, my apologies. My first big boy job sucked, I was yelled at, threatened to take away my commission, and they would refuse to pay my expenses. Some jobs suck, I encourage you to rely on good friends, reddit, working out or any other outlet. 

No one deserves to be mistreated at work, be the change you want in the world. When you're the hot shot partner hiring articling or summer students treat them right, pay them well and make sure they get a good learning opportunity under you. You're a couple months away from becoming a lawyer man you are in the home stretch you got this! 

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Deadpool
  • Lawyer
3 hours ago, AnonymousAnon said:

The only reason this comes to mind for me is this is what med schools and pharmacy schools currently do. The reason I think it could be a good idea is that med school and pharmacy programs vet the placements very well and also allow students to also evaluate the placement. It protects students from crappy exploitative placements because placements that are poorly evaluated are not highly ranked and schools do not send as many students there if at all. Additionally, this allows students to come out of med school and pharmacy schools earning a generous wage without having to jump through another licensing hurdle.  

This is purely based on my articling placement, but I deeply regret accepting my articling placement and I feel helpless. My articling experience is extremely toxic and my mental health has absolutely plummeted. It just feels like the attitude about my situation (which is not that uncommon) is "that's just how articling is and you just have to get through it!"

I feel like a lot more could be done to either fix the articling experience (but not by getting rid of the minimum wage), or completely abolishing the articling requirement (which is the option I support).

I am not sure this is accurate. You do not want to go anywhere near pharmacy now. Some med students cannot find residencies and it is easier to vet the placements because there are far fewer seats in med school than law school. Outside Ontario, med schools give priority to in-province residents while there is no such preference for most law schools, so it is harder to keep track of where law students are going after graduation.

https://www.reddit.com/r/UofT/comments/jftc2z/to_anyone_still_considering_pharmacy_at_uoft_or/

https://www.reddit.com/r/UofT/comments/jue1vd/final_update_to_anyone_still_considering_pharmacy/

https://www.reddit.com/r/UofT/comments/m1zj6e/u_of_t_pharmacy_another_nail_in_the_coffin/

https://www.reddit.com/r/UofT/comments/h0hvrn/honest_review_of_uoft_pharmd_program/

I agree with you though that articling/LPP students should be paid minimum wage or a decent stipend (particularly if you are working at an NGO that cannot pay a full-time wage). I do not support abolishing articling altogether because I think the training and mentorship is important. I graduated law school with a lot of practical experience from clinics and summer employment and I would not have been ready to jump right into first year lawyering without additional training, I think. You mentioned that many common law jurisdictions do not have an articling requirement. However, many of these jurisdictions do have experiential learning requirements. The UK requires 2 years of qualifying legal experience to be a Solicitor and a pupillage to be a Barrister. These are more difficult to obtain than an articling position in Canada. Here, at least, law schools have an over 90% articling rate and most articling positions among Canadian law school graduates are paid. 

Anyways, I wish you well in getting through this difficult time. It will get better after you are called to the bar, and have more autonomy and power to shape your own career path. If you are facing mental health challenges, I recommend contacting the Law Society of Ontario's Member Assistance Program.

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Mountebank
  • Lawyer

I think articling students should be paid a wage, since I believe in compensating employees for their work, but I fail to see how establishing a minimum wage for articling students falls within the Law Society's mandate.

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Diplock
  • Lawyer

The basic issue, more fundamental than this motion - which is just one more step in a running narrative - is that the Law Society is pursuing two completely opposed priorities. On the one hand, they've made it their business to ensure that anyone who becomes eligible to pursue the licensing process must end up licensed, even if that path involved the LPP and no paid placement at all. On the other hand, they are trying to ensure that positions that do exist are paid to a minimum standard, and ideally much better than the bare minimum.

Look, if you want something to be more valuable, you limit supply. If you want something to become less valuable, you increase supply. That's basic economics. The Law Society is trying to increase the pool of students and called lawyers, but at the same time ensure that this resource is viewed as more rather than less valuable. You can't do both at once. Something is going to break.

I have a student right now who is being paid. And yes, more than minimum wage. But that student's licensing fees have ballooned to an insane degree, to compensate for the costs of the LPP program - which that student isn't taking - and on theory that employers are going to cover it. Wherever the fees actually get paid, that's money that isn't going into my student's pocket, and is instead going to pay for a program to ensure that the least competitive students going in can get licensed anyway.

We are, unavoidably, devaluing the market on legal services - from the bottom up. And folks in large firm environments may not feel it, because of course the marketplace remains very strong for the most valuable employees. But in other areas of law, which is what we're really talking about here, the marketplace remains very tight, margins are thin, and it isn't that employers are abusing their students to make profit off their backs. It's that those employers were never able to pay the sorts of salaries that make up for six-figure debt out of law school, insane articling fees, etc. And the idea that I or any other lawyer in my position can just pass on those costs to my clients - when my clients are half on Legal Aid to begin with and Legal Aid hasn't allowed even a cost of inflation increase in six years - is completely insane.

There's an issue here, and it's obviously an important one. But it isn't a simple one. And this motion can't be taken in isolation, but must be considered as part of a wider debate.

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epeeist
  • Lawyer

Everyone in society doing work should be paid a minimum wage (I don't agree with unpaid internships at all for many reasons outside the scope of this post and what the minimum wage should be is more complex, setting it too high reduces employment in some fields, whether or not there should be a minimum guaranteed income is an even bigger question). But the provinces have chosen to legislate that people working as, or working to become, professionals in multiple fields are not entitled to a minimum wage.

The LSO should of course feel free to lobby the government to change this, encourage articles to pay minimum wage, but as others here have noted if they act to prohibit (if it's intra vires the LSO) it will both (1) reduce the number of available positions; and (2) students still face a significant financial burden, costs still exist, if articling students are paid a minimum this impacts on fees paid by articling students, fees paid by clients having some of the work done by articling students (more difficult to write off time...), etc. The federal government can print money (at the cost of increasing inflation), the LSO can't.

More generally, the cost of becoming a lawyer has risen drastically (as has university education generally, but law and some other professions moreso). This impacts not only lawyers and would-be lawyers but affects access to justice, as lawyers then have to fund both their current practice and the costs of having become a lawyer (including the foregone income from going to law school as well as the direct costs).

My recollection is I disagree with some/many about admission - I think the LSO should admit anyone competent (and not of bad character), it's not up to the LSO to restrict numbers, only the government can/should do so (I would not agree with the government doing so, I just mean that they have the power and it's their role to do so if it is to be done). So to that extent I think it is a good thing that there are more paths to admission, but again that's outside the scope of this topic.

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Judgelight
  • Lawyer

I wonder, how many of the people working unpaid articles are Canadian grads vs foreign? If you can afford going to school in the UK or Australia, surely unpaid articles aren't so onerous?

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BlockedQuebecois
  • Lawyer
38 minutes ago, Judgelight said:

I wonder, how many of the people working unpaid articles are Canadian grads vs foreign? If you can afford going to school in the UK or Australia, surely unpaid articles aren't so onerous?

That's rather the point a lot of the critics of unpaid articles are making—unpaid articles advantage privileged students who can afford to go a year without pay while disadvantaging marginalized folks who can't.

But also, yuck. The lawyers arguing against minimum compensation are at least doing so with the ultimate welfare of students in mind (or at least, the arguments they're putting forward are with that in mind). They're saying that requiring minimum compensation would lead to a contraction in the articling market that would ultimately harm marginalized folks more than taking unpaid articles. 

You, on the other hand, apparently just think its fine for foreign grads to not be paid for their labour. Which is gross. 

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