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Manitoba warns of Ontario articling fallout
By Geoff Kirbyson

November 16 2012 issue

Virtually every law school graduate in Manitoba who wants to article can find a position close to home, but that equilibrium is in danger if Ontario is unable to find a suitable solution to its conundrum for would-be lawyers.

Allan Fineblit, CEO of the Law Society of Manitoba, says the growing number of Ontario law school graduates who are unable to find articling jobs in that province are already looking next door.

He likens the situation to “sleeping next to an elephant.”

About 1,500 law school students graduate in Ontario every year but that number is only going to grow for a couple of reasons. First, Lakehead University in Thunder Bay is preparing to open its law faculty next fall. Second, the University of Ottawa recently upped the size of its law classes.

This year, 250 Ontario students who could have started articling didn’t and that’s on top of the 150 and 75 from the two previous years respectively.

Even if just a small percentage of those nearly 500 students land an articling job in Manitoba, that’s going to cause a relative glut in the province, Fineblit says.

“Ontario’s problem could become everybody else’s problem,” he says.

The root of concern for many of the graduates is Ontario’s slumping economy, which is causing many law firms in the province to cut back on the number of articling students they hire each year.

“Once you’ve graduated and been called to the bar, you’re totally mobile. So, if you’re from Ontario and want to practice there but can’t find an articling position, you can article (in Manitoba) and go back. If you’ve been looking for a job in Ontario and there are jobs in Manitoba, why wouldn’t you come here? What’s a big problem in Ontario is enormous if they all come here.”

Ontario students have in fact already crossed the border, Fineblit says, pointing to the 100 graduates in the University of Manitoba’s 2012 class, about 25 higher than normal and the vast majority of those from Ontario. “It’s not a problem in the sense that we have jobs for them at this point. If more of them come, then it becomes a problem. There has to be an economic basis to hire more articling lawyers,” he says.

The Law Society of Upper Canada formed an articling task force in June 2011 to make recommendations. A majority of task force members believe a parallel practice program could provide an alternative pathway for candidates who either don’t think articling would be the right route for them or who can’t find a position.

A dissenting task force report recommends articling be abolished and replaced by a system that would require candidates go through a course of four to six weeks. They would then practice under supervision.

“All of us are concerned about the best way to provide practical experience so we can ensure that lawyers have the right experience to practice law,” said LSUC treasurer Tom Conway.

Click here to see this article in our digital edition (available to subscribers).

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