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Should articling students make minimum wage?


The Law Society of Ontario is currently soliciting views about the mandatory minimum compensation policy for articling students. If you think articling students deserve to be paid for their work, we encourage you to make your voice heard and write the Law Society at before the deadline of March 15, 2022.

What is articling?

The Law Society of Ontario (LSO), as the self-regulating body for lawyers in this province, oversees the lawyer licensing process. There are three basic requirements to become a licensed lawyer in Ontario. First, you have to graduate from an accredited law school. Second, you have to pass the bar exam. Third, you have to “article,” or do an equivalent form of on the job training.

Articling typically means working for a legal employer for a minimum of eight months under the supervision of a licensed lawyer. The “debate” currently underway at the Law Society is whether lawyers should get to hire articling students for free or should be required to pay them at least the statutory minimum wage.

In December 2018, Convocation (the meeting of elected benchers of the Law Society) approved a mandatory minimum compensation policy for articling students. A subsequent report to Convocation in November 2021 recommended that the Law Society reframe the minimum compensation requirement as a best practice recommendation. Justifiably, this triggered heated debate within the legal community and as a result, the vote on the issue was deferred to a later date.

Why is there even a “debate” about the minimum wage?

The fact that this debate is happening at all is an embarrassment to the legal profession.

First and foremost, mandatory minimum compensation requirements should be maintained because no one, regardless of what work they perform, should be paid less than a living wage.

For most workers in Ontario, there is a mandatory minimum wage. Many worker advocates have argued that the current minimum wage is not actually commensurate to the cost of living in this province. However, because of successful lobbying by industry groups decades ago, the Employment Standards Act, 2000 includes archaic exemptions for various industries and types of work, meaning that some workers aren’t even entitled to the minimum wage. One of these exemptions is for legal professionals, which includes articling students.

In 2017, the Changing Workplaces Review said the provincial government should make “the review of existing exemptions a priority.” Yet the exemption for legal professionals continues, as do exemptions for professions like massage therapists, naturopaths and psychologists, as well as farmworkers, students, and many other groups of workers who deserve decent working conditions.

Worker advocates in this province have long argued that these exemptions are unjustifiable and do a significant disservice to workers in some of the most precarious industries. With regards to compensation, lawmakers and members of the public generally presume that lawyers make well above the statutory minimums. As the need for this policy shows, however, that is not always the case, particularly for new lawyers and articling students.

Articling students are workers

As many lawyers will remember from their own experiences as licensing candidates, articling students do significant, substantive work. While they may also be learning on the job, their contributions are, in many cases, integral to their employer’s practice. Given that articling is a required component of the licensing process, the Law Society is responsible for ensuring decent employment standards for articling students. No one working full-time to enter our field should be forced to work for free or accept poverty wages in order to do so.

Small law firms may face significant financial difficulties but as with any business, that does not justify underpayment or nonpayment of their workers. If the Law Society wishes to continue to require articling as a condition of entry into the profession, then it must ensure articling students are paid. It can help practitioners through other policy avenues – such as by subsidizing paid articling positions or taking other measures to ensure that there are sufficient paid articling positions available for new graduates. Lawyers and law firms should not, however, be allowed to download their financial burdens on to articling students, who must already overcome significant financial barriers to enter our profession.

Unpaid articling adds yet another discriminatory barrier to entry in an already exclusionary profession

Articling students are among the most vulnerable members of the legal profession. They are often deeply in debt, having gone through four years of undergrad and three years of law school, with tuition now exceeding $30,000 at some law schools. For most types of student loans, repayment obligations begin as soon as the student graduates. On top of educational debt, they have to cover the cost of living, licensing fees, transportation, and supporting dependents. We simply cannot expect lawyer licensing candidates to give articling their fullest without paying them a decent wage.

We want our profession to attract the best and brightest, regardless of race, class, or gender. If articling students without financial support are unable to enter the profession without being impoverished, this adds yet another discriminatory barrier to entry in a profession that is already deeply exclusionary. The Law Society must take steps to remove barriers to entry, not make the profession even more inequitable.

The Law Society is currently soliciting views about the mandatory minimum compensation policy. Feedback can be sent to, deadline for responses is March 15, 2022.