Crisis, what crisis?
At Queen’s Law you hear a great deal about different events, ideas, and issues within the legal profession. The articling crisis is one of these issues. Numerous newspapers, magazines, and websites (I’m looking at you lawstudents.ca) detail the rising tide of graduated law students who are unable to find articling positions in Ontario. According to the Law Society of Upper Canada, roughly 15 per cent of 2013 Ontario law graduates won’t be articling, and the problem is compounded by the previous year’s non-acceptances.
While the issue of finding meaningful employment directly out of school has always been a challenge for students of all stripes, Ontario law students are unique as our colleagues in almost every other province enjoy a placement rate well above 90 per cent. The questions that immediately come to mind are how did this crisis happen and how will it affect Queen’s law grads?
The central problem is that there are too many students and not enough jobs. There has been a general trend towards increasing enrollment in law schools across the province, with Queen’s expanding its 2017 graduating class size from 165 to 200 and other schools such as Ottawa and Windsor nearly doubling theirs in the past 15 years. This, coupled with the fact that Lakehead opened its new law program to 55 students in 2013, means that there are more students clamouring for the same number of jobs. While law schools cannot actively limit the amount of applicants they accept based on market factors, the tendency to expand rather than maintain class sizes has not been beneficial to the profession.
The 2008 economic crisis also impacted the legal field in two distinct ways. First, Canadian law firms were forced to adopt more frugal billing practices including lower fees and hourly caps on legal work in order to retain their clients, especially those in the U.S. Despite the resurgence of the economy, there has been hesitance among clients to return to pre-crisis billing methods. Second, in the face of economic volatility, many older lawyers have chosen to avoid early retirement, which has meant a gradual reduction in the availability of spots in medium- and large-sized firms.
While it’s easy to get worried about a future in law after considering these facts, the truth is that Queen’s students shouldn’t be too concerned. Although incredibly intimidating, this trend should not, by-and-large, harm Queen’s Law graduates.
The vast majority of un-articled students emerge from the cluster of Canadian-born students who attend law school abroad. Take Bond University, located in Queensland, Australia, for example. While Bond has tried to portray itself as an international school that develops more ‘worldly’ candidates, they only have a 75 per cent placement rate within six months of their graduates’ credentials being recognized in Canada.
The fact that Queen’s Law has one of the most respected common law faculties in Canada with notable distinctions in corporate and criminal law, among other fields, helps to explain why we can safely boast the highest placement rate in Ontario (with well over 90 per cent of students placed before their graduation). While there is certainly a fear about articling positions amongst our generation of students, it’s apparent that Queen’s students are more than effectively equipped to handle this crisis.
James Omran (1L) is a contributor to Juris Diction.
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