I imagine that many Canadian law students and law grads will be reading yesterday's New York Times article “Is Law School a Losing Game?” with some concern. While the job situation for new grads is definitely worse in the US, we've got a problem in Canada as well - at least in Ontario. Just how much of a problem? Who knows?
I tried to get a hold on the number of law graduates who couldn't find articling positions in Ontario a few years ago when the Law Society of Upper Canada was considering what to do with the articling requirement in Ontario (the options were: abolish it, keep it but tell students that there was no guarantee of articles, develop an alternative stream for those who can’t find articles, or consider other options).
Unfortunately I simply couldn't get an accurate number.
The Law Society of Upper Canada's 2008 Licensing and Accreditation Task Force Consultation Report estimated that in the past 6 years, approximately 55 to 75 candidates have failed to find articling positions in Ontario after entry into the Law Society’s licensing program.
The problem with this number is that it underestimates the number of unplaced students, likely significantly. The Consultation Report estimated the number of unplaced candidates based on the number of candidates registered in the Law Society’s bar licensing process. These figures do not include candidates from previous years who were still searching for positions, nor do they capture students who were unsuccessful in finding articling positions and as a result don’t bother to register for the bar licensing process. The licensing process is expensive and, not surprisingly, many students will not invest in the process (or simply cannot afford to) unless and until they know that they have an articling position.
A much more accurate assessment of the problem would be to study the rate of placement for all law school graduates (admittedly, it would tricky because many students who study out of province look for articles in Ontario). Unfortunately, when I tried to do an assessment, I ran into the same problem identified in the New York Times article. While schools conduct surveys into the placement of their students, there didn't appear to be set guidelines. As a result, even though some students couldn't be located, went to grad school because they couldn't find articles, or were working as temps, they could still possibly be considered as “placed” or having found employment – just not necessarily articles.
Why is it important to get accurate numbers? Based on actual registrations, the Consultation Report estimated a daunting deficit of 430 articling positions in Ontario in 2009 (assuming 1730 candidates and 1300 positions). However, if one included graduates who were looking but didn’t register for the Law Society bar licensing course that year, the number would clearly be higher.
Further study is clearly needed to understand the true magnitude of law students who can't find articles - and therefore can't practice law. Although, whatever the real number, it’s still a problem. In my next post, I’ll explain all the other reasons why articling just isn’t working and then propose a possible solution.
Note: Apologies for the lack of up-to-date numbers in Ontario and for other provinces. These numbers date from my 2008 submission to the Licensing and Accreditation Task Force. I’d be very interested in hearing about placement numbers for other provinces and more recent numbers for Ontario.