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Getting creative with articling placements

Getting creative with articling placements

By: Teresa Donnelly, Treasurer | March 21, 2022

Thinking your practice, business, or firm would benefit from an articling candidate but concerned that you do not have enough work, time, or money to sustain an articling position for the required 8-month term?

Have you thought about setting up a mutual arrangement with another firm or legal workplace to structure an articling placement, but questioned whether that is even allowed by the Law Society of Ontario? And if allowed, do you wonder how this would work when confidentiality, conflicts, supervision, time allocation, benefits, and payment of remuneration may all be an issue?

To most of us, the traditional conception of an articling placement is: one candidate, one organization, one supervisor. However, there are many ways to structure placements to balance the objective of ensuring a quality training experience for the articling candidate and the needs and resources of the employer. The Law Society of Ontario offers flexibility in the articling program—joint placements, part-time placements, national placements, and international placements are all permitted.

If you are wondering about what this may look like in practice, then I offer you this interesting example:

For decades, Halton Region has hired an articling candidate in its legal department. A few years ago, the Region’s Commissioner of Legislative Services & Corporate Counsel, Bob Gray, and his colleagues in the Region’s Legal Services Department, led by Jody Johnson, noted that it was getting harder to recruit municipal law lawyers. One approach to develop interest in the field was to expose articling candidates to a wider array of practice areas available in municipal legal departments, in the hope that it would attract more candidates. In turn, the Region would be developing or “growing” municipal lawyers.

With a purpose and a sense of creativity, the Halton Region legal team worked with colleagues at the Town of Oakville and the Halton Region Police Service (HRPS) to develop a program of sharing a cohort of articling candidates who would “rotate” through the three organizations during an articling term, similar to the way articling candidates rotate through various legal departments in a law firm. Although neither the Town of Oakville nor HRPS had hired an articling candidate previously, Town Solicitor Doug Carr and his team, together with Counsel to the HRPS Ken Kelertas, became enthusiastic partners in the exploration of this opportunity.

From this visionary collaboration, with the support of the Law Society of Ontario, a unique municipal law-based articling program was born. The program has just hired its third cohort of articling candidates set to start work in the summer of 2022. A memorandum of understanding governs the relationship between the three organizations and ensures that all operational, supervisory, and program responsibilities are addressed. Although there are three different placements, the candidates are employed by the Region throughout their entire term and are paid by the Region.

I sat down with Jody Johnson to explore how the program worked in practice and to learn about the benefits, challenges, and outcomes. She told me that the program has been a huge success – for articling candidates and for the Region, Town of Oakville and the HRPS.

The Halton articling program hires three candidates for 12 months with each candidate spending four months with each organization. There is an Articling Principal at each rotation – so each candidate is supervised while experiencing unique perspectives in municipal law during their articles. In addition to the formal candidate/Principal relationship, the lawyers, paralegals, and law clerks working at the Region, the Town and HRPS are all committed to mentoring, teaching, and supporting the articling candidates. With orientation, continuing legal education, practice discussions, guidance, and time for the candidates to work with a variety of legal professionals at varying years of licensure, each placement is dynamic, engaging, and supportive. 

To ensure confidentiality of information, each organization has its own policies binding the articling candidates during their placement in that organization. To further protect confidentiality, each candidate has a separate email address for each organization, which ensures that substantive work matters at each location remain confidential. While placements are structured to reduce conflicts of interest, the three organizations have established a process to address them if they arise.

Now entering its third cohort, the articling program is a success. All three candidates from the first cohort are now working as lawyers in municipal legal departments.

I spoke with Taylor Knowlton who was an articling candidate in the first cohort and is now Associate Corporate Counsel at the Region. Being exposed to different areas of law, organizational structures, and types of practice at a lower tier, upper tier, and with a police service was interesting, challenging, and enriching. Taylor’s reflections on the program are that it was a good experience, she was supported consistently throughout, it was well organized, and she enjoyed the work: “It is a really good program and I encourage other articling students to apply”.

This creative articling program could not flourish without the support of the dedicated legal professionals at the Region of Halton, Town of Oakville, and the HRPS. Their commitment to enhancing articling opportunities, increasing the number of articling positions and “growing” future municipal lawyers is impressive and reflects the highest standards of the bar. 

If you would like to share your story of a flexible or creative articling or LPP placement program, please reach out to me at Treasurer@LSO.ca. For more information on types of articling placements, check out: Beginning a Placement.

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