The Law Society of Upper Canada is undertaking (yet another) review of its licensing process. This is at least the fifth time that it has examined changes to the licensing process since 2000. However, in all of these reviews, the Law Society has never actually examined the actual working conditions of articling students. In this it is not alone. I am not aware of any Law Society in Canada that has done so. The Law Society of Upper Canada now has the opportunity as well as the responsibility to undertake such research.
There is both a policy imperative as well as an ethical imperative for the Law Society to examine the substantive working conditions for articling students. The policy reasons are obvious: in a world where we herald evidence-based policy-making, it is hard to explain how a decision can be made about the future of articling without examining what articling students actually do and without examining their actual working conditions. In the absence of evidence, we are left with anecdata, projecting one’s decades-old experience and generalizations.
So let me focus on the ethical imperative. Over the past few years, I have been contacted by students who were then articling and have been made aware of various ethical issues. I have also spoken with law school career services staff and with the Law Society Discrimination and Harassment Counsel. I have written about some of these issues: see “The Ethics of Articling”. That blog generated more comments than anything I have written for Slaw and it led to numerous articling students, as well as one parent of an articling student, writing to me privately to share their experiences about articling.
Some of the issues that have been reported to me, include:
- unpaid and underpaid (below minimum wage) articling positions, including so called “bus pass” articles;
- being terminated during articles without sufficient cause or recourse;
- sexual harassment;
- verbal abuse and harassment (what might be considered “ordinary” workplace bullying);
- failure to comply with human rights laws regarding the duty to accommodate;
- being asked to do personal errands such as picking up dry cleaning, making personal deliveries, shopping, etc.; and
- a general lack of supervision or lack of feedback.
I doubt that readers or Law Society regulator will be...