Law students preparing themselves for a legal career in B.C. want to see improved work standards for laborious articling jobs that are mandatory when becoming a lawyer in the province.
The Law Students’ Societies of both UBC and UVic say they want worker protections — including minimum wages and paid overtime — for articling students in the province. Articling jobs are not covered under B.C.’s Employment Standards Act and therefore aren’t subject to its protections.
“There’s this idea that articling is a gruelling year,” said Trevor Hunt, a second-year student at UBC’s Allard School of Law and academic director of its law student society. “It’s kind of viewed as the hardest part of your career.”
More than 100 law students from across the province have signed a letter directed at the Law Society of B.C., calling on it to develop a standard for minimum wages, hours of work, overtime and holidays that would apply to all articling jobs in the province.
Wages and employment standards currently vary from firm to firm.
“It’s pretty common for people to have weeks that are 50, 60, 70 hours, and in some cases, they don’t receive appropriate compensation, such as overtime protections,” said Hunt.
Next week, members of the Law Society of B.C. will vote on whether to establish these employment standards for articling students going forward.
Lawyers are not subject to the Employment Standards Act because they are self-regulated. According to the Law Society of B.C., self-regulation ensures a lawyer’s duty to their client and protections from the state. Articling jobs at individual firms are therefore also not subject to the act.
Articling jobs are mandatory in order to become a practising lawyer in the province. The apprenticeship roles are meant to get students acquainted with the legal profession, and support the firm through tasks such as research and document review.
“Articling is the first time we get to come across more meaningful work. We’re apprentices, and a lot of the work comes from the top down,” said Hunt.
However, they can often work long hours, and aren’t guaranteed any wages. While many firms do pay articling students, salaries vary, and often don’t include overtime or holidays.
“This issue is exacerbated by the high cost of living in B.C., particularly around downtown cores, which have the highest concentrations of law firms,” reads the student letter directed at the Law Society of B.C.
Pay, or lack thereof, means students might have to turn down certain opportunities because they can’t afford their expenses, the letter reads.
Annual general meeting
The Law Society of B.C. will convene for its annual general meeting on Tuesday, where it will be voting on whether to draft up an articling agreement that would establish several standards akin to those provided by the Employment Standards Act.
Hunt says the resolution was brought forward by two practicing lawyers in good standing with the society.
“It’s something that students don’t have the opportunity to vote on, so we were trying to do an advocacy push — because we are ultimately stakeholders as future articling students,” said Hunt.
“Votes like this don’t come around very often,” he added.