LSO approves $620/week mandatory minimum compensation for articling, LPP students

By Amanda Jerome

Law360 Canada (October 28, 2022, 3:55 PM EDT) -- Mandatory minimum compensation for articling students in Ontario has been set at $620 per week and an exemption framework for law firm principals has been established for those who want to be excused from the policy.

On Oct. 27, the Law Society of Ontario’s (LSO) Convocation approved a motion brought by the Professional Development and Competence Committee, requesting that the regulator: “1. Adopt a mandatory minimum compensation for lawyer licensing candidates during articling and the work placement component of the Law Practice Program (LPP) / Programme de pratique du droit (PPD) of $620 per week; 2. Maintain the existing mandatory minimum compensation for a period of three years, followed by a review of the policy; and 3. Approve the recommended exemption framework to the mandatory minimum compensation policy.”

A mandatory minimum compensation policy for lawyer licensing candidates was initially approved by the LSO in December 2018, but had not been implemented, the committee’s report explained.

After much debate among benchers and consultation with the profession, the regulator confirmed the mandatory pay regime in April 2022, determining the policy, would come into effect in May 2023.

The committee’s motion on the issue addressed Convocation’s need for a “minimum compensation amount, an exemption framework, and an enforcement policy.”

Committee chair Barbara Murchie

Committee chair Barbara Murchie

Committee chair Barbara Murchie presented the motion to Convocation, noting that “the minimum compensation policy is intended to address barriers to the profession, including issues related to exploitation and inequity during experiential training.”

“We want to minimize the risk of that exploitation in these circumstances,” she added.

Murchie explained that the $620 compensation amount was chosen so that articling principals would know “how much they’re going to have to pay before offering positions.”

“As has been the case throughout the discussion on the mandatory minimum compensation, there were a number of critical considerations,” she said, noting that the committee “wanted to establish a fair wage for articling and LPP students as unpaid and underpaid placements can represent a barrier to entering the profession for low-income students.”

“We also wanted to ensure that placements were valuable learning experiences, but at the same time, we also wanted to minimize job losses,” she emphasized, explaining that the committee “looked at various markers” to come to its conclusion.

“For instance,” she noted, “the low-income measurement in Canada is about just over $500 a week. We looked at peer incomes for same-age university graduates and that’s closer to $800 a week. We also looked at the minimum wage equivalent for a 40-hour work week in Ontario and that would be $620 at the current minimum wage of $15.50 per hour. We also looked at the payment to other articling students in the provinces, some of which require adherence to their employment standards policies, but for the most part without overtime provisions.”

Murchie explained that the “majority of the committee concluded that minimum compensation of $620 a week was a fair compromise.”

“Given the considerations and the different benchmarks, that amount would raise the floor for the bottom 25 per cent of candidates who are currently earning less than that, but at the same time $620 a week would keep the hiring of candidates reasonably affordable for smaller firms with less financial flexibility,” she added.

As for the recommendation to adopt a three-year pay period followed by a policy review, Murchie said it will “allow the law society to gather data and to monitor and assess the impact of the policy over several years.”

“Also, maintaining the mandatory minimum compensation at $620 will facilitate the data analysis, so the law society can directly compare data for each licensing cycle for a couple of years. And then if recommendations for amendments are in order, they can be made after that,” she added.

Regarding the framework for exemptions, the committee “outlined three important criteria” that it believes “should be used to help evaluate whether a principal or supervisor should be eligible for an exemption,” Murchie said.

The criteria are: “a high-quality training experience, a declaration regarding an inability to pay, and a clean, recent discipline history,” she added.

“The committee felt strongly that the criteria that were recommended should be universally applicable to all placement types, so that we didn’t get into a situation where we had to decide” between small firms, or not-for-profit clinics,” she explained, noting that “any potential articling principal can apply.”

Bencher Chi-Kun Shi spoke against the motion, noting that it “has not addressed the issue that there will be students,” whose job prospects are “already not good,” are going to be “left without articling.”

“If we worry about employers exploiting the students, could we have the students themselves, before articling interviews start, indicate whether they are able to take a position with less than the minimum pay mandated by the law society? That is, to give the students a choice to say if no employer could offer you the law society mandated minimum, do you still want to do it and get called to the bar or not?” she asked, indicating that she would vote against the motion.

After hearing Shi’s comments, bencher Gerard Charette also said he would vote against the motion. Despite these votes, and a few abstentions, the motion passed with the majority in support of the policy’s implementation.

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