© 1994 Karen Selick
 Articling Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
An edited version of this article first appeared in the February, 1994 issue of Canadian Lawyer.  If you wish to reproduce this article, click here for copyright info.



 Articling Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Some of us who practise law in small-town Ontario have been puzzled to read about the dozens of students who can't find articling jobs.  Why have our mailboxes not been overflowing with your resumes?  My firm has hired a student in seven of the past nine years, but we can't recall a single year in which we received more than five applications.  In the two years we didn't hire, we had received none at all.  A few colleagues out here in the wilderness confirm similar experiences.

Please don't think I am entirely unsympathetic to your plight.  Back in 1975, I had more than 30 interviews in two provinces before I finally landed an articling job.  I know the anxiety and the frustration.  But I believed then, as I do now, that law firms had a perfect right to hire whomever they wanted, for whatever reasons they wanted, and that nobody owed me anything merely because I had chosen to try my luck at law school.

This is where I part ways with this year's crop of unhired students--or at least, with a committee of them who proclaim: "...the law society and the profession are under a moral obligation to provide an articling position for every law school graduate wishing to pursue a legal career."

Oh, really?  Which among the 24,000 members of the Ontario bar should be forced to hire you?  Shall we choose straws?  What happens if you are eventually called to the bar, hang out your shingle, and find that you don't have enough business?  Will you then claim the public is under a moral obligation to purchase more legal services?  The public already suspects--with some justification--that lawyers deliberately make the world more complicated just to create work for ourselves.

The shortage of articling jobs and the hard times now facing many law firms are signals from the marketplace that this province already has more lawyers than it needs at current prices.  Legal fees will have to fall, or the number of lawyers will have to shrink, or both.  It is important that students still in their undergraduate years perceive these market signals as quickly and accurately as possible, so that they will not be lured into law school under the outdated assumption that it is a sure road to riches.  If we paper over the cracks that are already showing in the articling system, we will be doing younger students a grave disservice.

Despite all the foofaraw over this issue, there's been nary a whisper about the unmentionable contradiction that underlies the whole sorry affair:  the fact that provincial law grants lawyers the right to be a coercive cartel.  We have the right to bolster our incomes by placing roadblocks (such as articling requirements) in the paths of those who would like to join our august ranks, and by prosecuting obstreperous upstarts who try to practise without a license.

These privileges are rationalized by lawyers on the pretext of protecting the public.  Regulated bodies always start out with this excuse.  Invariably, however, the regulated themselves become the regulators (since they're the only ones with an abiding interest in the subject) and the purpose shifts from protecting the public to protecting the vested interests. 

As our skyrocketing errors and omissions insurance premiums demonstrate, there are lots of incompetent and unscrupulous lawyers out there fleecing the public, even though they have all articled and been licensed.

If the students were campaigning to repeal the Law Society Act and dismantle the cartel, I'd be in their corner cheering.  If they just want to join up quickly so that they in turn can obstruct future aspirants from competing, phooey on them.  Unfortunately, it looks as though this is exactly what they have in mind.  Not only are they insisting that they be given jobs, they are also asking that their pay, hours, and working conditions be regulated, thereby confirming my thesis about who really benefits from regulation.

What offends them is that a few students have accepted articling jobs at no pay.  Some lawyers, apparently feeling guilty about the way we have legislated our way to the upper end of the income scale, have broken ranks and generously offered to help students complete their articles even though they can't afford to pay them.

Instead of hailing these maverick lawyers as saviours, the student committee--echoed by some Law Society benchers--has reviled them as unethical exploiters.  They say it's "unconscionable" to hire a student for free when you're billing clients for the student's time.

Well, listen up, gang.  I find it takes at least twice as long to properly supervise a student drafting a will or incorporating a company as it takes for me to do it myself, but I can charge only the normal fee.  So even though I bill for the student's services, I may actually lose money from the exercise, considering my opportunity costs.  Students are profitable for certain tasks and unprofitable for others.

As for the ethical question, I find it deplorable that some students would rather force people to pay them at the point of a regulatory gun than accept voluntary charity.  You students who think that way--if you apply at my place, be prepared to learn ethics as well as law. 

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June 07, 2000