Law Practice Program a valuable resource for students

As debate continues around the benefits of Ryerson University’s Law Practice Program, Toronto personal injury lawyer Darryl Singer — who worked as a mentor and assessor for the recently completed inaugural session — tells Law Times the quality legal skills gained by participants cannot be overlooked in discussions around the program’s merit.

The program, introduced by the Law Society of Upper Canada in the fall, was designed to address the growing shortage of articling positions in Ontario and offers law students a quicker path to qualification through four months of skills training and a four-month articling requirement.

Referencing his first-hand experience with the program, Singer says it has been a resounding success.

“As a lawyer old enough to remember my articling period preceding a mandatory four-month bar admission course covering eight distinct subjects and who articled at a time when true mentoring still existed, I am not alone in witnessing a decline in the educational, practical, and professional standards of many newly called lawyers,” he writes in Law Times. “This is not to suggest the sky is falling, but that the Law Society of Upper Canada used to have more stringent quality control over new calls.”

The current situation, he writes, is a “failing on the part of the law society in disbanding the old bar admission course,” and also a “failing of a legal industry driven by billable hours and greater economic pressures than ever before with the result that it is more likely to view an articling student as a profit centre rather than as a mentor’s contribution to the future of our profession.”

Singer says the student participants worked through a series of real-life experiences like client intake interviews and negotiation; argued in actual courtrooms; and dealt with share-purchase agreements, among other things.

“The students carried numerous files in different areas of law simultaneously. Built into the program were very real time constraints and law firm demands,” writes Singer. “With all of the students in the same program, it was easy to assess them comparatively, unlike with articling. It was a rewarding experience to see students in September who were shy and unsure with varied legal and life educational backgrounds develop by December into cohesive teams with similar experiences and feeling confident and certain.”

As for those concerned about graduates having to pay back student loans and the lack of paid student-at-law positions, the reality is what it is, writes Singer.

“Further, high student debt load combined with a dearth of well-paying jobs is certainly not unique to law students,” he says. “The Law Practice Program’s existence does nothing to exacerbate the situation.”

Singer says the program is so valuable that one could even advocate it should become mandatory in the manner of the old bar admission course.

“We could then reduce articling to the four-month work placement currently tacked onto the end of the Law Practice Program,” he writes. “If we want to maintain self-governance and public confidence in our profession, we need to ensure more than just a passing standard of uniform skills training. In that regard, the Law Practice Program is a positive step in that direction.”