The Every Lawyer

Conversations with the President: School Days

Episode Summary

There’s a lot of talk about the articling crisis in Canada – law students are having a hard time finding articling positions, and those who do complete their articles can’t always get a job afterward. Ronit Dinovitzer has been studying what law grads in Canada and the U.S. do once they’ve passed the bar. When Ryerson’s law school opens in September 2020 it will be one of several new law schools in Canada promising a more practice-oriented curriculum. But whether it will add to the articling crisis in Canada remains to be seen. We talk to Anver Saloojee about it.

Episode Notes

Conversations With The President: The state of the profession, Ep 3:

There’s a lot of talk about the articling crisis in Canada – law students are having a hard time finding articling positions, and those who do complete their articles can’t always get a job afterward. Ronit Dinovitzer has been studying what law grads in Canada and the U.S. do once they’ve passed the bar. When Ryerson’s law school opens in September 2020 it will be one of several new law schools in Canada promising a more practice-oriented curriculum. But whether it will add to the articling crisis in Canada remains to be seen. We talk to Anver Saloojee about it.

Ronit Dinovitzer is a professor of sociology at the University of Toronto. 

Anver Saloojee is Ryerson’s Vice-President, International, a full professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration, and the interim dean of the new law school.

Visit to learn more about CBA President and her goals.

To contact us (please include in the subject line ''Podcast''):

Please subscribe, rate and review our podcast if you are enjoying it on Apple Podcast.

Episode Transcription


Presenter: This is The Every Lawyer, presented by the Canadian Bar Association. 

Vivene Salmon: Hello. Welcome to conversations with the president. I’m your host, Vivene Salmon. There’s a lot of talk about the articling crisis in Canada. Law students are having a hard time finding articling positions and those who do complete their articles can’t always get a job afterwards. The blame generally doesn’t go to belt-tightening law firms who have been hiring fewer law students since the 2008 recession, but to the ever-rising number of law students coming out of a growing number of law schools. 

                              Ronit Dinovitzer is a professor of sociology at the University of Toronto. She’s also a faculty fellow at the American Bar Foundation in Chicago, an affiliated faculty in Harvard’s program on the legal profession. Ronit was involved in the After the JD project, a longitudinal study of law school graduates in the United States. She’s also the author of “Law and Beyond: A National Study of Canadian Law Graduates”, who they are and what they do after getting their law degrees. 

                              Welcome to the podcast, Ronit. 

Ronit Dinovitzer: My pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me. 

Vivene Salmon: In this episode, we’re talking about whether there are too many law schools producing too many grads for too few articling positions and jobs once they’ve passed the bar, both your after the JD study in the US and the law and beyond study in Canada feature responses from law grads of which 97 percent were employed after they finished their studies. So is the fear about lack of jobs overblown? 

Ronit Dinovitzer: So I’ll give you a few answers. On the one hand, I think my studies are fairly reflective of experience. If you look in Ontario it’s somewhere between five to ten percent of graduates who don’t find articling positions. So the number aren’t that far off. Of course you worry about every single graduate who doesn’t find a job and I think the question then is who are those graduates who are not finding jobs, and we understand from research that they tend to be members of racialized communities or individuals who come from less advantageous backgrounds. 

                              So while I don’t think we’re in crisis mode, right, those statistics don’t lead to necessarily crisis of the legal profession, at the same time we want to worry about what are the patterns and what has led to those patterns. Why are these individuals not finding jobs? We also know that growth in the profession in Canada’s fairly recent and that’s part of what’s going on here, and there’s a few different pressure points that underline that growth. New law schools, growth in law schools, whatever it might be, so.

Vivene Salmon: So let’s maybe continue on the vein that you touched upon. Both the US and Canadian studies suggest that people who go to law schools come from white, advantaged families. That conclusion for some people doesn’t really come as a surprise, but from a diversity perspective are we really seeing any significant changes in who’s graduating from law school and who’s getting jobs? 

Ronit Dinovitzer: We are. Change is slow, but if you look back over time – I have some data here. I think it was in 1981 only two percent of young lawyers were a member of a racialized community. By 2006 it was 20 percent. By 2018 in the most recent law society annual report it was 23 percent. 

                              So change is slow. We do see it among younger cohorts of course. You’re not going to see it in the older cohorts. It is lagging behind some other professions like engineering or the medical profession but again, there’s also supply/demand there. You know, where are the young kids getting pushed by their parents, what career paths are open to them, but also where do they see their future. So it’s always push-pull. I think the trajectory is positive. 

Vivene Salmon: That’s great. That’s good to hear it. So switching gears a little bit, the law and beyond study found students’ articling experience was the most useful factor in finding a job after being called to the bar. Does your articling job determine your entire legal future? 

Ronit Dinovitzer: That’s a loaded question. Certainly, there’s a strong correlation and that’s the legal profession that we’ve created, you know, in Ontario, certainly in Canada. So it’s hard to get out of that and especially with the rise of importance of beginning your career in the private sector. So the data show that if you begin – the larger the firm in which you begin your job the more likely you are to get hired back. And so as large law firms began to hire larger entering classes that means a greater proportion of individuals are now staying in those jobs for a number of years. So I think a little bit by design. You see that less so in the public sector of course. But yeah, I think it ends up front-ending a lot of career decisions and the stress of law students definitely is attuned to that fact. 

                              So again, I think it’s a system that we designed. I don’t think it’s a surprise, but it certainly means that the law student has their future in their hands. We know that there’s a ton of career mobility as well. So while it might be the job that you article at and then stay at for a number of years, there’s huge mobility to come. So I think the message to law students is yes, maybe the first five years of your career are set, but that is by no means the rest of your career. Careers are long. 

Vivene Salmon: I think that’s amazing and a really positive thing for young lawyers to remember that law can be a long career and like you said, there is lots of mobility and I think that’s maybe one of the advantages for young lawyers now. Although that feeling of instability might feel more stressful, on the other side of that you have a lot of career options that might not have been open to senior lawyers now. 

Ronit Dinovitzer: Yeah. I agree that the world of possibilities is there. I think it’s to everyone’s advantage to understand that they can move but at the same time, my research does show in the American context where I followed lawyers over 13 years there are typical career paths. Now, that was the class of 2000 in the American context, but we found, you know, eight typical career paths. You know, you start in a big firm and then you stay on. Or you start in a big firm and then eventually move to a small firm. 

                              So there are typical paths but again, it’s a long way to go and we do see some changes at the edges, although I’m not sure how fundamentally the nature of careers has changed yet. 

Vivene Salmon: Interesting. So the other guest we’ve had in this episode is Anver Saloojee who is the acting dean of Ryerson’s new law school which starts in fall 2020. Its students, from what I understand, won’t need to article. What will that mean or their job prospects?

Ronit Dinovitzer: So this is me speaking without data but just my observations and experience with the data tell me a few things. One, we live in a system in the Toronto – in the Ontario legal profession where articling is part of the process. So it’s going to be a little bit tough for those grad – you know, for both the profession and those graduates to marry in a sense, to figure out how that dance is going to work, and I think it’s going to take some forward-thinking. 

                              We already have some experience with Bora Laskin’s law school, right? Their graduates don’t article either but again, they’re not necessarily entering the Toronto market. So I do think it’s going to possibly be a double-edged sword. On the one hand no articles, on the other hand trying to get jobs where people are used to hiring from articling. 

Vivene Salmon:   So I also want to ask you – I know our time is winding down together but many of your studies, I think, have touched on student debt and I think this is an increasingly important issue given that the cost of legal education seems to be very high. Also, the living cost especially in big cities like Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa. It’s very expensive for students. So what affect does debt level have on the job law grads take? 

Ronit Dinovitzer:  Great question. The major research that we know your job doesn’t – the level of your debt doesn’t determine what kind of job you’re going to take. So for example, the big concern in the American context was that high debt levels meant that students wouldn’t pursue public interest positions. That hypothesis has not been borne out by tons of research but at the same time, if you look at my Canadian data, we do see students with the highest debt levels working a little bit different than the American context. I do see a little bit more of a relationship in the Canadian context between level of debt and where students are working. 

                              So it’s a tough one to say, but I should say that at the end of the day at least from my American data we see the lawyers are paying off their debt. They would still choose to go to law school again if asked and so yeah. And the other thing I tell all my students all the time who worry about things like this is that all professional schools are expensive. Law, medicine, dentistry, they’re all in the same boat, and so I think it’s always healthy to look around.

Vivene Salmon: That’s true, and I think that’s very encouraging to people. Student debt, of course, is a very challenging issue, but it doesn’t determine your happiness and success in the legal profession. 

Ronit Dinovitzer:  I would say that’s correct. 

Vivene Salmon: So on that note, I’d like to ask you if there’s anything you’d like to add before we wrap up? 

Ronit Dinovitzer:  Well, I always end my talks with my, you know, persistent statistic which is that close to three-quarters of the lawyers I study say they’re moderately to extremely satisfied with their decision to become a lawyer. Almost every lawyer I meet is surprised by that fact. And of course, the things you’re satisfied with vary depending on your job. Some people are more or less satisfied with their pay or more or less satisfied with the intellectual content of their work, but as a career choice, they tend to say it was a good career choice. So I like to end on a positive note. 

Vivene Salmon: We’ve been talking with Ronit Dinovitzer, a professor of sociology at the University of Toronto who’s been studying what law grads in Canada and the US do once they’ve passed the bar.

                              Next fall, Ryerson University in Toronto will open the doors of its new faculty of law. The 150 students in the first cohort will benefit from the school’s IPC or integrated practice curriculum, an innovative way of teaching law that covers more of the practical aspects of legal training than a traditional legal education. The IPC would also allow students to bypass articling, an important consideration since the number of articling positions seems to be shrinking. 

                              Anver Saloojee is Ryerson’s vice-president international, a full professor in the department of politics and public administration and the interim dean of the new law school. Anver, let me ask you does Canada really need another law school? 

Anver Saloojee:  The answer, Vivene, is absolutely but not of the same ilk. It needs a law school that trains lawyers differently. And by that, I mean lawyers who are practice-ready, lawyers who are entrepreneurial, lawyers who are going to think differently about the law, about innovation, about legal technology. 

Vivene Salmon:  So let’s pick up on that. So each year Ryerson will be adding 100 or more law graduates to a market where people some say are already having a great deal of difficulty finding not just articling positions but legal jobs. Is it fair and honest with students to say that we are training them for jobs that might not exist even if we’re talking about a new way of training lawyers? 

Anver Saloojee:  I think students are pretty smart these days. I think they understand the job market. But I think students today are also incredibly savvy. They’ll be job creators, not just job takers. One of the ways in which the Ryerson law school has attempted to deal with what many talk about as the articling crisis is to in fact ensure by going to the Law Society of Ontario that we’ve been able to meet to the criteria that the law society has set out for the integrated practice program and our students who graduate from Ryerson if they don’t wish to don’t have to article. They can go straight to practice. 

Vivene Salmon:  So let’s pick up on that a little bit more. What is it about the IPC that attracts students to the school? 

Anver Saloojee:  I think there’s two things. One of the things we heard as we were doing really, really extensive external and internal consultations with the legal community, with legal practitioners, big firms, small firms, sole practitioners, was that they were getting graduates who are not practice-ready. That they had theoretical knowledge but the practice of law was proving to be a challenge for them. 

Vivene Salmon:   So I guess what you’re saying is it almost seems then that we haven’t quite caught up in terms of legal education and this model is quite an innovative model then, but let’s take it back a step before that. When we talk about articling, it seems to me and I think for many other lawyers, that graduates who article at a firm, particularly a large firm, they seem to have a stamp of legitimacy. And so there seems to be a pervasive stigma against students who didn’t article in this traditional model. How do you think that IPC and Ryerson law school addresses that stigma? 

Anver Saloojee:  I’m hoping – and it’s an interesting question that you raise because when I went to the firms to talk about the approval that we received from the Law Society of Ontario they asked exactly that question and I said to them in every other occupation people have a one-year probationary period. So you’d hire a Ryerson law graduate who has also received their licence and now they come into your firm and you hire them on a one-year probation. If they work out fabulous, you’ve got an associate that’s going to do well with the firm. And if they don’t, that’s what you have a probationary period for. I would say that articling is similar to a probationary period. 

Vivene Salmon:  OK. Well, I’d like to take this a little bit in another direction. I live in Toronto right now and Ryerson is in the centre of the most diverse city in Canada and in fact the world. How will you ensure that its law students reflect that diversity not just sociocultural but also economic? 

Anver Saloojee:  Well, that’s always the hard question because of the access to legal education being so expensive. And we worked incredibly hard to ensure that we could keep our tuition fee as low as possible but of course, it’s all expensive. So on the other side, the university has made a commitment to finding as many scholarships and bursaries and working with individuals and firms and donors to ensure that we have a pool of money that we can ensure that students who are well deserving and can come to law but can’t afford to do so will have access to scholarships and bursaries. 

Vivene Salmon: That’s really amazing. And I want to also talk to you a little bit about innovation. I know Ryerson seems to be quite a mover and shaker and having an innovative curriculum and maybe you can describe in a little bit more detail what makes Ryerson unique and the IPC program than any other law school from across the country. What are students learning then?

Anver Saloojee:   A few things with respect to the curriculum. Now, I’m not a lawyer so I will confess that I had a wonderful group of colleagues who are my context experts who developed the curriculum, but when we looked at a legal curriculum we alighted on what’s referred to as the Carnegie model and the Carnegie approach to legal curriculum that is very much a practice-based curriculum where we identify the core competencies that lawyers require and then bring it together on a sound academic footing. 

                              So three or four major innovations that I believe mark us as somewhat different. The first key innovation in year one, a co-teaching model that includes working with lawyers to bring theory and practice into each subject area with a focus on current and future technologies that are relevant to legal service delivery. 

Vivene Salmon:   So I’d like to talk to you a little bit more about technology. So you’re going to be teaching coding for example. 

Anver Saloojee:     Yes. 

Vivene Salmon:   Why do lawyers need to know coding, about coding and perhaps even how to code? 

Anver Saloojee:   So it’s a bit about coding but it’s more about the process of coding and what’s involved and we have a really exciting initiative at Ryerson that’s not associated with the law school. It’s called the legal innovation zone. We also have a university incubator, the digital media zone with the DMZ. But the legal innovation zone brings practitioners and tech people together in interesting spaces where they find innovative new kinds of technologies to offer legal services. 

Vivene Salmon:   And can you tell us a little bit about the cost? I know we touched on it but I think maybe that’s something that our listeners might want to learn more about in terms of how much is the cost of the IPC program and how much is the cost of this continuing ed model?

Anver Saloojee:   So the entire curriculum is – it’s a three-year curriculum. It’s a JD. The tuition for our students is set at 21,116 or 46, something in that area. So just over $21,000.

Vivene Salmon:  And that’s per year of course? 

Anver Saloojee:  Yeah. So over three years, it will be just over $63,000.

Vivene Salmon: OK. So I’d like to maybe ask you if there’s anything that you think is critically important in this discussion that you’d like to share with our listeners? 

Anver Saloojee:  Yeah. I think there’s a couple of things if I can. 

Vivene Salmon:  Of course. 

Anver Saloojee:  One is when we began this project of thinking about a new kind of law school and why Ryerson, I think we thought that Ryerson has a long history of doing placements, engaging with the community. It’s part of our DNA is being a city builder. Our commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion. And I took that as the starting point for the law school and the committee took that as a starting point. 

So we alighted on four pillars that would hopefully differentiate this law school. A focus on equity, diversity and inclusion ensuring a presentation. A focus on legal technology because Ryerson has that innovation component built into a lot of its course work and our university incubators. A focus on access to justice because that’s such a huge problem in our country, our city, in our province. And then on top of all of that, sound academics. 

                              So to achieve all of that, our curriculum is highly prescriptive but at the same time, in third year, we have a mandatory placement for all students. 

Vivene Salmon:  That’s really interesting. You know, the mandatory placement though, are you having challenges potentially placing students though? Are there enough spots of those mandatory placements potentially? 

Anver Saloojee:  I’m pretty convinced we will have no problems placing students for one semester in a variety of settings.

Vivene Salmon:  So Anver, I know we didn’t have a lot of time to talk today and I want to thank you for taking the time to speak to me and to share with our listeners across Canada about some of the new issues facing the legal profession as well as what’s happening at Ryerson with the new law school. So thank you very much. 

Anver Saloojee:  Vivene, thanks to you. You’ve been a wonderful host and very kind with all of your questions, really appreciate it. 

Vivene Salmon:  When Ryerson’s law school opens in September 2020 it will be one of several new law schools in Canada promising a more practice-orientated curriculum, but whether it will add to or help resolve the articling crisis in Canada remains to be seen. 

                              We want to hear your stories about the changes you’ve seen in the legal profession or think the profession needs to make. Where do you see generational conflict and how do you suggest we overcome it? Let us know on Twitter @cba_news, on Facebook and on Instagram at Canadian Bar Association. You can hear this podcast and others on our CBA channel The Every Lawyer on Spotify, Apple Podcast and Stitcher, wherever you listen to podcasts. Subscribe to receive notifications for new episodes, and to hear us in French listen to our Juriste Branché podcast.