Durham Region legal clinic offers unpaid articling...
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Nov 25, 2014  |  Vote 0    0

Durham Region legal clinic offers unpaid articling job, raising eyebrows

Articling positions, a prerequisite to becoming a lawyer, are increasingly hard to find. But offering unpaid jobs is very unusual.

OurWindsor.Ca

A community legal clinic in Oshawa is under fire from student campaigners after it advertised a 10-month unpaid articling position on Legal Aid Ontario’s official website.

Unpaid articling positions are legal in Ontario, but they are conventionally salaried roles. An articling position is one of the requirements to become a fully licensed lawyer.

Unpaid work of this kind is “definitely not common practice,” said Claire Seaborn, president of the Canadian Intern Association and an articling student at Torkin Manes LLP in Toronto. “Everyone I know who is articling is being paid. I don’t know anyone who is doing unpaid articling.”

Responding to a Star query about the job posting made by the Durham Community Legal Clinic, the executive director of the Association of Community Legal Clinics, Lenny Abramowicz, said the organization would “love” to offer paid positions, but was unable to do so due to lack of resources.

“If Legal Aid gave funding to every clinic to hire an articling student, every clinic would do that and pay them in accordance,” he said.

“When we’re talking about banks or hotel chains or others taking on (unpaid) interns, they’re doing that so someone can make money,” he said. “The only reason the clinic is doing this is so that maybe some sole-support mother with four kids who got cut off from assistance is actually going to get represented.”

There are 75 community legal clinics in Ontario. They operate independently but receive the vast majority of their funding from Legal Aid Ontario. Abramowicz said that funding includes money for paid articling positions, but only enough for about four or five salaried roles across the entire province.

Genevieve Oger, a spokesperson for Legal Aid Ontario, said the organization is “a publicly funded organization” that needs to use its funds “wisely, in a way that will help the greatest number of people.”

Oger said all articling positions with Legal Aid Ontario itself are fully paid, and that the job ad for the Durham Community Legal Clinic had been posted “as a courtesy.”

The job posting says the clinic is “seeking an articling student for a 10 month pro bono articling position.”

“As our articling student you will have a broad area of learning opportunities and will be given considerable responsibility,” it reads. Those responsibilities include taking on legal casework and representing clients at administrative tribunals, the posting says.

“I’ve worked in any number of legal clinics over my career. That’s the work that a lawyer would do,” said labour lawyer Andrew Langille, who labelled the advertisement “utterly absurd.”

Seaborn said she was worried about the precedent set for lower-income law students. “How can someone pay for 10 months of pro bono articling coming out of law school? That’s just extremely difficult,” she said.

Peggy Sattler, the NDP MPP for London West who has sponsored two bills addressing unpaid internships, told the Star it is “just so critical that the face of our justice system represent the diversity of the province. And we need to ensure that we have lawyers who come from all different kinds of backgrounds.”

Abramowicz said he agreed “150 percent” with the concerns raised, and agreed that unpaid articling was “not the solution.”

But he said legal clinics are increasingly being approached by law students unable to find paid articling positions.

“This is a fundamental problem, to have students who are coming out who don’t have positions. Only those with wherewithal can afford to live without something for 10 months.

It’s not a problem clinics can fix. It’s a more fundamental problem to the whole idea of articling, and if the profession can’t support articling any more in the way that it used to,” he said.

Abramowicz said has raised the issue with the Law Society of Upper Canada, arguing that the law profession needs to look at “more creative solutions” to the problem, such as legal aid levies on corporate firms, or doing away with articling entirely.

According to the Law Society of Upper Canada, there are more than 2,200 law students seeking to be licensed this year in Ontario — a number increasing by 5 per cent per year.

“We continue to see approximately 10 to 15 per cent of candidates without placements for articling, annually,” said Roy Thomas, a spokesperson for the organization.

“The Law Society strongly encourages all firms to pay candidates where possible,” Thomas said.

Craig MacBride, a spokesperson for the minister of labour, called any decision not to pay articling students “deeply disappointing.”

“In this case, this is a regulatory exemption that pre-dates our government,” he added. “The minister will be reaching out to colleagues to discuss this regulatory exemption.”

Toronto Star

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(1) Comment

By StatusQuoContinues | NOVEMBER 25, 2014 01:07 PM
You mean she's offering an unpaid position because there is high demand for minimal jobs available??????...........Some would call this extortion, and I would have to agree. Once again a century ago we called this slavery, and masters were obligated to provide housing and food for their slaves....................How you want GenY to do this for themselves AND work for free. My what a wonderful world we have become..........Wealth is no longer shared among citizens, it's concentrated at the top and GREED has become rampant though this country.
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