Is it time for you to give it a try?
I recently attended the Call Ceremony for our articling student. It is a moving ceremony to celebrate the end of the long and winding journey for law students to pass the final ritual to be “Called to the Bar” and become a lawyer.
As lawyers, we have all gone through the process. For most of the journey we had a certain control over our destiny, but articling, the last step, requires a lawyer to agree to be the “principal” of the law student.
We all were lucky enough, in our past, to meet a lawyer who agreed to be our principal. The whole process of retaining and renewing the legal profession requires senior lawyers to become principals to assist law school graduates to become lawyers. If there are no principals for law students, the legal profession will eventually disappear.
In the past, the big law firms and government seemed to provide a sufficient number of positions and lawyers agreeing to be principals to meet the number of law students looking for articles.
Many lawyers were reluctant to be a principal to a law student, for a multitude of reasons, including:
- Students were too expensive;
- The lawyer does not have enough work or their work was too specialized for a law student;
- Law students would be reluctant to work for the lawyer because the lawyer was not downtown, or big corporate, or left-wing or not practising in a trendy area of the law.
Now the situation has changed. There are many more law students looking for articles – not only Canadian university graduates but also students who attended foreign law schools, particularly in Australia and the United Kingdom. The law students are facing a diminishing number of articling positions particularly from big law firms and government.
In the past, our firm has hired law students we knew. In 2015, we had a very good experience with a law student who articled with us. We wanted another law student. As a result, in April 2015, we posted an ad at UBC Law for a law student, hoping to have five or six responses, but we received 32 applicants in four days. The applicants appeared to be older than we expected, with very varied backgrounds, great academic records and interesting life experiences. It was a pleasure to meet the law students we interviewed. It was very hard to choose a candidate from the applicants but we did and we were very happy with our choice.
Our experience having students in the last few years has been very positive. Not only does a good law student challenge your legal knowledge, prejudices, and habits, but a student will also help you appreciate the legal knowledge and experience which you may not have realized you have acquired.
A lawyer may be reluctant to become a principal because of the time commitments. The reality is that all of the staff (not just lawyers) of the law firm article the law student on how to practice law, including:
- the economics of a law practice;
- office management;
- client relationships;
- efficient use of resources;
- how to keep time and bill; and
- how to earn a living.
Your job as a principal is to train a law student to become a lawyer, however, it is the whole law firm which articles the law student.
We are converts to the value of articling a law student. It is an opportunity for the lawyer to review and renew their legal skills and realize, in their years of law practice, they have actually acquired knowledge and a skill.
If you have never acted as a principal for a law student, maybe now is the time for you give it a try. It is an experience you will never regret – heck you might even receive help with your iPhone.
John Lakes is a partner at Lakes, Whyte LLP.