After meeting for the first time in more than two years, the LSO has made the decision to mandate a minimum wage for articling students, a decision that was certainly not unanimous for Ontario's regulator for lawyers.
Articling students have long been subject to ad-hoc wage arrangements with firms that take them on. Many students simply count themselves as lucky if they manage to secure an unpaid job, let alone one that comes with a mandatory minimum wage.
The mandate won't come into effect until at least next year. On May 2023, students in the licensing cohort for that range will be eligible for a certain minimum.
The decision was not an easy one to make. Spirited debate ensued at Convocation among benchers, many of whom have pointed to the potential inverse effect that such a law could have on up & coming lawyers.
Some benchers believe that encouragement should be made toward a minimum wage, without it becoming mandatory.Nevertheless, a majority of LSO benchers voted in favour of it. More than four years ago, a mandatory minimum wage for articling students was agreed upon but since covid, the priorities shifted and the mandate was put on the back burner while the law society grappled with serious disruption on other fronts.
While a great deal of benchers expressed the need for students to actually get paid for their work, detractors said it's possible the mandate might actually push a lot of law firms to simply forego taking on students in the first place if it no longer makes financial sense.
“An articling job is the first steppingstone in a lifelong career path. It’s not like other jobs…. yes, people should pay articling students but the moral problem we face is who is going to make the jobs? Who’s going to hire people? We need to expand that circle," said Bencher Murray Klippenstein.
Some Benchers also believe that articling in general could go by the wayside as a result of this mandate, and that it might not be such a bad idea after all.
“By having articling, we’re in effect mandating as a regulator that some students, often disadvantaged, work for free, which is simply wrong. Candidly, I’m hoping that requiring mandatory compensation helps to kill articling in Ontario," said Michael Lesage.