I read an article yesterday about Ontario's articling crisis. It was a rehash of publicly available information, but one passage stands out. It comes from Bruce Feldthusen, the embattled Dean of the Common Law program at the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Law. In the article Mr. Feldthusen totally absolves himself and the University of Ottawa from any responsibility in flooding the labour market with law school graduates and contributing to the articling crisis. This blog post will examine how the University of Ottawa flooded the labour market with law students, the other factors driving the articling crisis, and where we might be headed.
Is Something Rotten at Fauteux Hall?
Mr. Feldthusen's comments defy incredulity in the face of overwhelming evidence that the University of Ottawa bears quite a bit of the responsibility for the vast oversupply of law school graduates in Ontario and the articling crisis. Consider the evidence:
In 1997 the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Law admitted 165 students, while in 2011 they admitted 376 students which translates into an increase of 221 students (over the same period all the other law schools in Ontario only increased admission by 83 students and in some cases actually reduced the number of students). This represents a 128% increase over the last 15 years in the number of students admitted into the law school.
In 2009 the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Law admitted approximately 50 additional students after an administrative error led to 600 applications being "lost". Bart Cormier, the former Assistant Dean, Academic Affairs and External Relations, who was responsible for managing the admissions office when the admissions error was made left his employment with the law school in June 2009 which necessitated a search for a new Assistant Dean.
The following academic year the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Law did not reduce the number of students to pre-error levels, rather the decision was made to increase the number of students by a further 39 students. Till this day the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Law has not taken the appropriate steps to reduce the number of law students it admits to sustainable levels and seems to be operating under the illusion that things are hunky-dorky for recent law graduates.
What Are the Other Factors Driving the Articling Crisis?
It would be unfair to pin the entirety of the articling crisis on the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Law as there are other factors in play. Let us consider some of the wider issues playing into the slack labour market for law graduates in Ontario.
The Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities clearly failed in providing oversight over a long period of time. Simply examining the numbers of admitted students at Ontario's six law schools reveals that the University of Ottawa increases in admissions were abnormal. Why this was allowed to occur is unclear, but it could have been pure incompetence on the part of ministry staff or perhaps a political decision.
The University of Windsor's Faculty of Law increased the number of students they admitted by approximately 50% from 1997 to 2011 when they went from 151 students up to 226. This was a much smaller increase than the one at University of Ottawa, but the labour market didn't assimilate this increase terribly well. Further driving the Windsor angle are the ongoing problems with unemployment in South-Western Ontario, a decimated manufacturing sector, and the decline of Michigan's economy. All of the aforementioned factors impact on the demand for legal services in South-Western Ontario. On a side note, here's an internal memo that minimizes the role that the University of Windsor has played in creating the articling crisis.
In the wake of the financial crisis the demand for legal services plummeted and greatly reduced the number of students being hired by firms. This is a major factor that's driving the articling crisis and with Ontario economy still in shambles the legal profession is still feeling the impact of the financial crisis.
Universities in the U.K. and Australia are enticing undergraduates in Ontario to study law abroad. Companies like Students Solution and Barclay & Knap use questionable tactics to push students into studying abroad only to have them find out that their degrees are virtually worthless in Canada's legal landscape and that they have to jump through hoops to gain certification once they graduate. Beyond this, some institutions such as Bond University have set up dedicated academic programs teaching Canadian law which have been flooding the legal market with lawyers with substandard legal education.
What's Coming Down the Pipes?
I've been told that the Law Society of Upper Canada's Articling Task Force will be recommending that some alternative process of licensing other than articling be adopted going forward. Other than that it would be prudent if the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities pressured the University of Ottawa and the University of Windsor to immediately reduce the number of law students (this happened with Teacher's Colleges) they admit back to 1997 levels as Ontario does not need a structural labour market problem in a key profession and we'll soon have further pressure within the system when an additional law school that will admit an additional 150 students per year comes online.
Here are some more links if you want to learn more about the articling crisis, see: here, here, here, and here. Youth and Work has been watching this issue develop for a number of years so check out some of the previous articles on this topic, see: here, here, and here. Finally, check out this great interview with New York Times reporter David Segal discussing the current state of legal education, see: