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articling job reneging


vinnychase
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vinnychase
  • Articling Student

Looking for a bit of advice. Long story short, my firm told me they would cover my licensing fees but now say they won't.

Before I accepted my job offer, I asked if they would cover LSO licensing fees. They basically said yes, but solidified it (or so I thought) by saying they would in my contract.

When I asked about when they'll pay it and what the relevant provision in the contract covered from the list of things we all had to pay, they basically said they wouldn't cover anything - not the bar exam fees, but also not even the articling program fees. I feel absolutely mislead. I don't know how to push back. It's in my contract, but I'm at a smaller firm where everyone is supposedly close - and I have so much time left with them so I dont want to make it miserable for myself by starting a real conflict. I think they realize how upsetting this is for me, but aren't providing any solutions... 

I know this is what I'm entitled to, but I think my articling principle just said they would cover it without knowing for sure. So 1) I don't want to fight with him/ throw him under the bus and 2) I have zero bargaining power. 

Anyway, payment aside (RIP $4700), I just feel very betrayed and find my experience soured by this. I really cant shake it. The worst part, I honestly dont think I would have necessarily accepted the offer if they weren't going to cover the fees. This was the first and only job I applied to for articling and got it, so I took it thinking I was getting a good deal. 

What should I do?

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KOMODO
  • Lawyer

Who told you that the fees would not be paid? If it was someone other than your principal, I would start by speaking with your principal directly, because they were the person who told you the fees would be covered. Otherwise, you mentioned that it's a small firm - is there an HR person/administrator you could speak with as a buffer to get the message back to decision makers that you were told the fees would be covered, your contract provides that they will be covered, and you expect that they will honour their contract with you?

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vinnychase
  • Articling Student

My articling principal is the one who told me. We also do not have HR as far as I know. I've talked to the office manager-type about it and he was like "yeah its up to the partners [specifically my principal] to approve it". My principal said it's not up to him and if it were he would definitely pay it. 

Plus apparently the firm never covers this (per former articling students). 

I could tell both my principal and the officer manager-type both really felt bad. But, again, no solutions. 

I think the only way they'll honour this contract is if I like really made an issue out of it. But again, don't want that backfiring on me. 

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BlockedQuebecois
  • Lawyer

I think you’ve identified the problem, which is that the only way you’re going to get them to pay for this is by standing up for yourself and relying on your employment contract.

Doing so will likely have consequences, which might include them deciding not to hire you back or your articling environment being less pleasant. 

Equally, not doing so has consequences. For starters, you won’t get paid what you’re owed. But secondly, the partners at the firm will know you are the kind of person who they can screw over without issue, because you’ll roll over without a fuss. 

Personally, I would stand up for myself in this situation. You have a contract stating they will pay for something. You wouldn’t be wrong to stand on that right and (politely) insist they fulfil their contractual obligations. 

If they steadfastly refuse, then you have other choices to make. I’m not sure this rises to the level of quitting your articles or suing for breach of contract, and so if you were asking for advice on that point I think it would be much harder. But so long as the choice is “make things a bit uncomfortable or roll over”, I would tend to advise the former. 

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vinnychase
  • Articling Student

Thank you. I'll try having another conversation about it. I expect more refusals, but I am not going to be taken advantage of without at least trying to advocate for myself a bit more.

 

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I'm not going to give advice on this one way or another, because I think you have a pretty good grasp of the situation, but you should be aware that your law society is another avenue. The contracts between lawyers and articled students are their business and - at least in BC where I am from - they get looped in when articling agreements go awry. If you aren't theirfirst student (ie they should know better) and you have something in writing they don't plan to honour, this is something to consider.

Another thing for you to consider is to propose some kind of a compromise you could live with - if they can't pay the fees as promised, perhaps they can allow you to work from home once a week to save the gas money. Maybe they can buy you a set of robes (if you appear in superior court). Maybe they can reimburse parking or mileage. When discussing it, give an option for a good faith resolution. If they are generally decent people they may jump at this.

I'm not saying what they are doing is right or fair, but from a practical perspective, it's not just a matter of all or nothing at this point unless you decide to frame it that way.

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Ryn
  • Lawyer

To add to what others have said, I also think it's worth mentioning what you said about it being one of the important factors in accepting the position. They should know how significant that promise was in you going to work for them.

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I don't know why they would agree and go so far as to put it in a contract and then not pay.   They didn't pay for prior articling students, so in your case did they just forget their own standard practice?  If it were me, I'd figure out how this misunderstanding happened, who exactly authorized paying the fees, who wrote the contract, who made the mistake.  If nothing else, it will prevent a similar problem for future articling students.   A prior poster who was a summer student had a similar problem of the employer not paying his promised wages, in that case the employer held a clear animus for the student.  In your case there doesn't seem to any animus, so I'm thinking it was an actual misunderstanding which both sides might be interested in resolving.  As for paying the fees, a prior poster suggested some compromise, and that might be best.  Or you could wait, and if you are hired back then at time you could include it as part of your compensation negotiations.  If you are not hired back, then you can complain to the LSO that this principal entices students with an offer to pay articling fees but reneges on the promise.

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vinnychase
  • Articling Student

Thanks all, you've given me a lot to think about. I may have a conversation about it right before Thanksgiving weekend. Keep you guys posted.

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