Putting 2 and 2 Together: Access to Justice and Articling

By David Wiseman, Assistant Professor, University of Ottawa

The staff of CERA, and CERA’s many allies and friends (including me), have often lamented the inability to provide more help to more people who are claiming or defending their equality and housing rights in the rental housing market in Ontario.  There is a significant ‘unmet need’ for the assistance that CERA provides to tenants experiencing discrimination and one of the biggest barriers is lack of funding for more staff.   For instance, CERA does not have sufficient funding to regularly employ an articling student.  And, unfortunately, one of the biggest barriers to CERA getting more funding for more staff is that decision-makers in our Province never seem to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity to find ways to support organizations like CERA.  Lack of funding for an articling student is a case in point.

The most recent example of a potential missed opportunity is the Law Society of Upper Canada’s announcement of a new Taskforce to look at articling in Ontario. The LSUC is the organization that regulates lawyers (and paralegals) in Ontario.  Articling is the year-long on-the-job training that law graduates have to do before they can qualify as lawyers.  The Taskforce was announced after the LSUC learned that there is a shortage of articling positions in Ontario.  This just 3 years after an earlier taskforce had prompted a renewed effort of LSUC and the legal profession to generate more articling positions.

The establishment of the most recent Taskforce threatens to be another missed opportunity to help those, like CERA, who work in an area of unmet needs because the Taskforce isn’t mandated to address the problem of unmet needs.  In theory, if the Taskforce sticks to its terms of reference, it could go about its work trying to ‘fix’ articling without even considering the role that articling could play in improving the ability of organizations like CERA to continue to reduce unmet legal needs.  This is an especially strange thing for the LSUC to allow its own Taskforce to do, given that the LSUC was a key partner in the Ontario Civil Legal Needs Project that issued a first report on unmet legal needs in 2010.  The Civil Legal Needs Project documented the significant extent of unmet legal needs in Ontario – including in relation to rental housing disputes — and shone much needed light on the broader problem of access to justice.

The LSUC needs to put 2 and 2 together and integrate a consideration of unmet legal needs and access to justice into the work of the Taskforce on articling.   CERA is just one example of the organizations that could end up with valuable extra capacity if this is done.  After all, the LSUC is charged with regulating the legal profession in the public interest.  Looking at articling without looking at access to justice seems more like putting the self-interest of lawyers above the interests of the public.  Let’s hope it doesn’t turn out that way.