too damned many lawyers, money we could be putting to good use training more doctors.
The Law Society of Upper Canada is tossing about the problem right now.
“The law schools are now sending us flood upon flood of students,”
said lawyer Bradley Wright. “Because no one fails any more, being
accepted into first-year law school guarantees you a call to the bar. …
Just show up at the door and you will be accepted into our profession.”
Boyd, a former Ontario attorney-general, said the profession is risking
its credibility by watering down its high standards.
“I think the
public would be concerned to hear how many of us have reservations
about how the current system is preparing them [young lawyers],” Ms.
Another council member, Mark Sandler, said the articling problem has added to a worsening problem.
increasingly report that lawyers appear in front of them without having
basic legal skills,” Mr. Sandler said. These newly minted lawyers are
unable to adequately argue a case, question witnesses or make calculated
judgments on how to pursue a case, he said.
Even back when I began - when high-tech meant IBM Selectric typewriters and photocopiers and when even the fax machine was years away - it struck me there were too damned many lawyers and a good many of those were no damned good either.
Training a lawyer doesn't end when they're called to the Bar. It takes years of "hands on" experience to achieve competence and that's best done under the tutelage of senior counsel. Yet getting called officially makes you a "real" lawyer and you can hang up your shingle and start your own practice. Unfortunately too many young lawyers are turfed out of the nest before they're really able to fly by established law firms that simply have no need for them. And it's the public that suffers most from that.
Articling students are solemnly warned never to take a case they're not competent to handle. Yet, when they're cut adrift from the firm where it all began, they usually have no clients. While they may not have clients, chances are very good they'll have an office, equipment leases, probably a receptionist/secretary, a bookeeper to feed, and, of course, the mandatory insurance premium. Did I mention food, shelter, clothing and the inevitable student loans?
It's really hard to do that on the cheap. So when someone strolls through the door with a juicy bit of work, it's hard to say, "sorry, no, I'm not ready for that just yet." Let the nightmares begin. Chances are good you may lose the case because you don't know what you're doing. Your client, who thought he was getting a great deal on cheap fees, goes to talk to the senior guy in the next block who quickly tells him to sue you. He does. He wins. The insurer pays out and adds that to the premium for all the lawyers next year. But that's hardly the worst.
In any event, we're churning out so many lawyers, some of them are earning incomes that a lot of trade unionists would sneer at. The Law Society of Upper Canada, trying to help struggling female lawyers stay in the biz while having families, has implemented a fund that will pay parental leave benefits of up to $9,000 for lawyers who net less than $50,000 a year. Here's a hint. If you're making less than $50,000, chances are you should be doing something else, especially if you're raising a family.
Productivity in the legal profession has gone crazy since the 50's. That trade has benefited massively from technology - computer word processing and accounting, the internet, digital communications, you name it. I knew guys who told me about the idyllic "old days" when a lawyer could handle just a few files, dictated or even wrote out his correspondence by hand to be transcribed at a manual typewriter by a stenographer, kept sane hours and had a good expectation of a comfortable living out of just that.
Today's lawyers handle what, by comparison, is an insane volume of work and they're expected to work ever harder, to achieve really high monthly billings and cashflow to go with it. The available work is getting concentrated which means there's less to go around for the excess lawyers, the ones who may be struggling to earn $50,000 a year.
Here's the worst part. The law schools that churn out this unwanted surplus of lawyers are very expensive to staff and maintain. They take a big chunk of taxpayer dollars. But, like all professional schools, they also bring in badly needed revenues to universities - all of which would love to have a law school and a medical school, an architecture and engineering faculty and so on. So they're not going to put the brakes on this.
I'll bet we could shut down half the law schools in Canada tomorrow and still never have a shortage of lawyers, including for legal aid work. And all that money we save could then be invested into opening new medical schools, training more doctors. Medical schools regularly turn away plenty of qualified applicants. There are plenty of men and women who would make fine doctors who just can't get in. A few of them even wind up, disappointed, in law schools.
So let's do a hard-nosed survey of just how many lawyers Canadians really need and how many law schools we don't need. Let's take that money we're wasting and put it where it's so badly needed. I don't know, that sounds sensible enough to me.