Friday, November 23, 2012

Reflections on the Articling Debate That Was

While I certainly didn't favour the Ontario Articling Task Force's majority recommendations that were adopted by the Law Society's Benchers at Convocation yesterday, I don't think the vote for approval was a terrible outcome.

Some good may well come of it, yet.

As clumsy, semi-feudal and wholly undefined as the new two-tier system may now appear to be, if the new pathway ultimately comes to fruition - and I still have genuine lingering doubts about that - it will at very least, and at long last, eliminate the articling "numbers crisis."  Nobody can seriously object to that.

We are left with many unanswered questions about the structure, curriculum, delivery and cost - to the Bar and prospective licensees - of the new, alternate path for licensing.

Many of us objected to the new approach because we felt it to be inadequately creative, bold, innovative or respectful of time-tested evidence as to the necessity of articling in the making of a lawyer.

Hope nevertheless remains that the development and refinement of this new educational path will begin with a deep and genuine analysis of the practical skills actually required to enter today's legal profession, a profession that is increasingly being better understood and defined by the Jordan Furlongs and Mitchell Kowalskis among us than our Benchers and regulators.

Let us not train our new lawyers for entry into a prior generation's legal profession.

We must first develop a better understanding of what it will take to succeed as a professional, proprietor and manager in today's and tomorrow's legal profession.

Advocacy, drafting and negotiation skills, business acumen, practical skills, knowledge base, legal ethics, technological literacy, communications skills, social media engagement, and cultural awareness of what being a lawyer is - these considerations may be but the most obvious tip of the iceberg of knowledge a new curriculum must embrace to prepare licensees to enter a modern legal landscape now marked by ever-hastening challenge and change.

The existing articling programme will necessarily be impacted and ultimately improved by the conclusions reached in developing this new programme.

Ultimately, this pilot project - whether successful or not in getting off the ground and developing enduring credibility - will be a catalyst for long-overdue modernization of legal education and the Ontario lawyer licensing process.

We have our work cut out for us.

Let us hope this new pathway will not turn out to be an alternate "mere formality" or rubber stamped rite of passage into the legal profession.

Not every candidate for licensing necessarily must succeed. Quality - and competency - control counts more than ever.

The public deserves and requires that.

Convocation's direction was ultimately a compromise - an imperfect solution that gave most stakeholders at least a little of what they wanted.

Let us hope our profession uses this important milestone as a window of opportunity for genuine improvement in the licensing process.

Credit is due to the Benchers. As tempting as it may have been to  bounce this ball forward for another generation or two, they resisted that temptation and have acted with resolve.

Cudos are also appropriate for the open process that was adopted. Webcasts of Convocation are an idea whose time has come. Our regulators and the public will benefit from the resulting transparency.

I was very glad - and honoured - to have been involved in this process as one of the profession's "designated tweeters." The Law Society deserves real credit for that initiative, as well.  I am pretty sure that there is no other regulator of any profession, anywhere, that is more advanced than our Law Society of Upper Canada (i.e. Ontario) in its utilization of social media as a communications tool in furtherance of its varied mandates.

May these innovations continue.

- Garry J. Wise, Toronto


Mitch Kowalski said...

Well said - as always. Now if we can just fix the governance process by which LSUC makes decisions, the results will actually be better and achieve many of the points you have raised. Better governance process creates better decisions.

Mitch Kowalski said...

Well said. But as I pointed out in my blog, a much bigger problem is LSUC's decision-making process - an antiquated convocation that worked really well in 1797, but not so well in 2012. Better governance process, creates better decisions that would accommodate your concerns.