Results Are Out

heidi-sandstrom-120382.jpg

A few weeks ago we shared a survey with you in support of our submission to the LSUC regarding unpaid articling positions in Ontario. 

Yesterday, our submission was sent in to the LSUC and we are proud to share it with you today. We look forward to an interesting discussion regarding this topic and hope that our findings open up the door to a much needed conversation.

– LauraLitsa and Richa

_________________________________________________________________________________

August 1, 2017

VIA ONLINE SUBMISSION

Convocation
c/o Dialogue on Licensing
The Law Society of Upper Canada
130 Queen Street West
Toronto, ON M5H 2N6

Dear Sir/Madam:

Q: If you could describe your experience during articling in ONE word, what would that be?

A: Stressful; unexpected; Egregious or unethical; Struggle; Gruelling; Traumatic; Long; Unprofessional; Unethical; Disappointed; Hell; Awful; Undercompensated; Depressing; Destructive; Burdensome

16 recent licensees used these words to describe their respective paths into the legal profession. These are 16 of the 221 participants to a survey that we – Litsa Dantzer, Laura Abitbol, and Richa Sandill – conducted on our own initiative after discovering the lack of formal data on the experiences of students in unpaid articling positions.

We write to you, as part of the Dialogue on Licensing initiative of this Convocation, to ask for your assistance with an issue that is plaguing the realities of licensing candidates across the province. We ask you to eradicate the practice of unpaid articling placements.

We are two recent Ontario licensees, and one member of the general public, who make this request after seeing far too many examples of licensing candidates being taken advantage of. We continue to see misuse of the exemptions to which articling students and the legal profession are subject under the Employment Standards Act, 2000. Each of us has taken very different paths to the profession, yet we unfortunately have seen many similar cases of mistreatment along the way.

Ms. Richa Sandill wrote an article on this issue entitled “End Unpaid Articling” that was published in the Ontario Bar Association’s Newsletter on May 27, 2017. We attach a copy of this article for your review.

We came together after the publication of this article with a common goal of raising awareness on this issue through data collection. We wanted to understand the extent and experiences of students in unpaid articling positions as best as we could. Was a particular equity-seeking group affected? Were they uniformly being treated in the manner that Ms. Sandill’s article described? Were students receiving quality training in these positions? Is the option to article without compensation providing any relief to the ongoing “articling crisis” in the province? How were these unpaid articling students supporting themselves?

The survey we conducted was posted on Ms. Dantzer’s widely successful Law Job Exchange community online between July 2 and July 17, 2017. Participants had the ability to answer questions regarding their individual, diverse characteristics, and whether they had been paid for articling. If they answered that they had not been paid, they were then able to complete a further section of the survey that described their particular experiences as an unpaid articling student. All participants had completed their articles in the last four years, i.e. 2013 onwards.

Overall Results from 221 Participants

The results and stories from the overall 221 responses that we received revealed the following:

  • 15.8% of participants had not been paid at all during their articling term – a total of 35 out of 221 participants;
  • 16.8% of participants received less than minimum wage during articling;
  • There is a considerable amount of disparity in what participants were being paid, and this also seems to be tied to the geographical area where participants were located. 29% reported being paid more than $60,000 for their articling term; in contrast, 23.1%, i.e. nearly as many people as those who were being paid $60,000+, reported being paid less than $30,000. 15.1% were paid in the range of $30,000 to $40,000; 16.7% were paid $40,000 to $50,000, and 16.1% answered that they had been paid $50,000 to $60,000.

Data and Results from 35 Unpaid Articling Participants

The responses received from those 35 individuals who identified as unpaid during their articling term provided us with more insight into what they faced. We will preface our analysis by stating that not all the responses we obtained were of a negative character. Rather, two individuals reported being satisfied with their unpaid articling positions simply because it was in the area that they chose, or they were at a not-for-profit where they undertook meaningful community work.

With that said, we came to learn the following about these 35 unpaid articling students:

  • 60% of unpaid participants stated they would not article at the same place again;
  • 62.9% also did not receive allowances for expenses such as travel, lunch, court disbursements etc.;
  • 25% of these participants were also responsible for supporting someone else other than themselves during their unpaid articling term;
  • Family support, parents, loans and further debt were the most common ways that candidates supported themselves; some took on additional part-time work on top of their articling duties;
  • 20 of the 35 unpaid participants were female, and 13 of the 35 unpaid participants identified themselves as belonging to a visible minority;
  • 9 participants stated that they had come through the National Committee on Accreditation (“NCA”) process after receiving their law degree abroad; and
  • An astounding 85.7% of participants were not hired back at the end of their articling term.

When asked why people took unpaid articling placements, responses ranged from “no other option”, “in order to get my license”, “hard to find”, “desperation”, and “found nothing else”, to, alarmingly even, “I was lied to! I was supposed to be paid per case I worked on”.

As part of the survey, we provided participants with the opportunity to share their stories or comments to help us better understand the realities of unpaid articling. One participant shared how, during their search for articles in the Ottawa region, they came across lawyers who were surprised when this student expected to be paid for articles. Others stated that articling should at least be paid minimum wage, and that an articling principal would be more willing to teach a student if they were investing in them financially.

One participant shared the following with us:

Articling was one of the most demeaning experiences in my life. I articled in three different places and two of them treated me well but paid very little or nothing at all. The third place used articling students as receptionists. The articling system provides employers with [an] opportunity to exploit graduating students in a difficult job market. Changes need to be made.

We learned that there were students who were not only in a vulnerable place in trying to obtain their license, but were also being taken advantage of in the manner that this survey participant describes:

I went through a depression during my articles and was taken advantage of. I was sexually harassed by my boss’ husband and didn’t want to complain to my boss because I was scared to lose my volunteer articling position. Overall, when I think back at that time – I always remember how difficult it was for me and have come out stronger as a result.

We present to you a sample of only 221 articling students, collected over a period of weeks by three individuals in their personal capacities. There are likely more stories that need to be told which extend far beyond the reach of this survey.

We understand that we are in the midst of an articling crisis. We are furthermore aware that not all firms and organizations that are unable to pay their students are trying to take advantage of them. Nonetheless, we respectfully submit that the Law Society recognize the crisis within this ongoing crisis, which the aforementioned stories and data reflect.

For fear of diminishing the number of articling positions available, no one wishes to take the position that articling must be paid. As a result, a number of students are being placed in a position of tremendous vulnerability.

We respectfully request that the Law Society undertake a thorough review of articling compensation and document the experiences of unpaid articling students. We also respectfully submit that the time has come to revisit the legislative exemptions from pay. Any policy reason(s) to the contrary ignores the realities of individuals left with few choices in obtaining their licence. If this continues, we risk failing an entire generation of future lawyers.

Sincerely yours,

Richa Sandill, LL.B., Laura Abitbol B.A., LL.B., J.D., and Litsa Dantzer, B.A., LL.L.

Source: https://lawjobexchange.ca/2017/08/01/results-are-out/

Laura Abitbol