Why Allowing Alternative Business Structures Could Help Articling Students

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Recently the Toronto Star published an article on abusive workplaces for articling students. Although the broad range of abuse was not covered, it has been noted before by Dean Adam Dodek that the abuse ranges from unpaid or underpaid work, termination without cause, harassment, and the absence of proper supervision or feedback. In response, Dean Dodek called on the Law Societies to investigate the abuse of articling students. He suggested that qualitative and quantitative research be done.

I would add that in addition to research, Law Societies should allow Alternative Business Structures. I suspect that part of the reason that abuse is so rampant and that articling students are so routinely viewed as cheap labour is partly a function of economics.

Training a lawyer takes considerable resources. By allowing Alternative Business Structures we can encourage business models beyond the equation of profit per partner per year. A model that does not always encourage investment in training.

At the CBA-FLSC Ethics Forum on March 1, 2019, Professor Gillian Hadfield spoke about how the biggest ethical failure is the failure to regulate entities other than lawyers. Our ethic rules are dictating business models. The regulation requirements “bake in traditional lawyers”. The rules dictate who can provide services, who can invent services, how services can be advertised, how people can be paid, and who can invest in legal businesses. These economic regulations have ethical consequences.

Professor Hadfield pointed out that there is no structure to regulate different types of entities that can provide legal services. By licensing entities other than lawyers, we can encourage diversity of thought and feedback to create innovation.

Assuming that the traditional way of practicing law is the answer is not working. In a separate article by Dean Dodek “The Ethics of Articling”, he asked us to “ask the Moneyball question… If we weren’t already doing it this way, is this how we would do it?”

(Originally posted on slaw.ca. Views are my own and do not represent the views of any organization.)

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