Ryerson law practice program nets praise, skepticism

Ryerson University is launching Canada’s first web-based law practice program (LPP) in September 2014.

The Law Society of Upper Canada announced last Thursday that it has awarded the university with the opportunity to form the curriculum as an alternative to the traditional articling program, which law graduates must complete before writing the bar exam to become full-fledged lawyers.

Once out of law school, graduates gain professional work experience through articling programs.

But not all law firms provide them. Positions are limited, competition is fierce and law school graduates without articling experience tend to fall into a career limbo of sorts.

By creating the LPP program, those who could not find articling positions can still gain the required training in order to write the bar exam.

Yet not everyone in the legal profession agrees that this could be an appropriate alternative to articling.

“The only thing that everybody agrees about is that the current model of articling is not sustainable and so, they hacked it down the middle,” said Faisal Bhabha, assistant professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School.

“I think it’s the kind of solution that might sound good on paper but I think in practice, it creates more problems than it’s worth.”

Bhabha said he is worried that having two streams after law school will only create a stigma where there shouldn’t be.

“I think firms and students alike will see articling as a superior route and the LPP as a kind of stop-gap,” he said.

“I’m not critical of the way Ryerson developed its program. I think the LPP has everything articling has and more. I’m suggesting that Ryerson could be growing this program. If the LPP is the way to go, why not make it for everybody?”

Ryerson’s LPP will run from September to May.

For the first four months of the program, participants will be placed in groups to work in a virtual law firm, working through interactive, online simulations of mock trials and other situational case studies.

Current legal practitioners will act as their mentors and online instructors, evaluating participants in how they work individually and as a group.

The last four months of the LPP will be a paid work placement in legal practice areas such as legal clinics, in-house practices and specialized practices, that don’t usually provide articling programs for law graduates.

“I believe (Ryerson was) picked because of the experience not only with our students but with external partners. We have that track record,” said Marie Bountrogianni, interim dean of the Chang School.

“Throughout this process, we will be actively looking for placements. That’s the challenging part of this.”

Lakehead University’s newly offered Integrated Practice Curriculum (IPC) has also been accredited by the law society.

Its new faculty of law was launched in September of this year, and its program has merged the required training within its three-year law degree (JD).

“Our students, after graduating with a JD, would simply have to write the bar and they’re practising,” said Lee Stuesser, dean of Lakehead University’s Faculty of Law.
“What we’re doing means that our students save time and money.”

The law society is currently funding and evaluating Ryerson’s English LPP, as well as the University of Ottawa’s French LPP and Lakehead University’s IPC as three-year pilot projects.

At the end of the pilots, the law society will decide if the proposed formats at the three schools will be worth future funding.

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on November 27, 2013.

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