Lawyer salary

LSO votes on mandatory minimum wage for interns

The Law Society of Ontario has voted to implement a mandatory minimum wage for articling students.

As part of the April 28 convocation, Benchers of the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) narrowly voted 25 to 24 (with one abstention) to have minimum pay for articling in the province – although those who s Opponents say such a move could hurt small businesses and further reduce the number of internship places in an already scarce hiring environment.

An LSO spokesperson has confirmed that the new target date for implementing a minimum wage scheme is May 1, 2023, when the 2023-24 licensing cycle will begin.

An actual amount has yet to be determined, Jennifer Wing said in an email to The lawyer’s daily life.

“The Professional Development and Competency Committee will determine how to successfully implement the mandatory minimum compensation policy and will revert to the Board for any decisions that require further policy approval,” she said.

The new mandatory minimum will apply to all Ontario articling students, including those taking the Metropolitan University of Toronto (formerly Ryerson) Law Practice Program and the Ontario Law Practice Program. University of Ottawa, two “experiential training” options that include work placement.

As expected, the vote did not go without another lengthy debate on the issue.

Some advisers said not having a mandatory minimum would help maintain potentially abusive hiring environments and negatively impact cash-strapped students — some of whom end up doing their internships for free.

Others said having one would cut more intern positions due to a mandatory salary that could impact bottom lines for small firms and independent practitioners.

According to a report by the LSO’s Professional Development and Skills Committee (PDCC) presented to councilors at a November 2021 call, an estimated 130-150 placements paid an annual salary of less than $20,000 or were completely unpaid. .

“The majority of these internships are done in individual firms or law firms of two to 10 lawyers,” he says.

Advisor Atrisha Lewis

As before, Councilor Atrisha Lewis said she was in favor of a minimum wage, noting that in 2001 the LSO had successfully called for “barristers and articling students [be] exempt from the Employment Standards Act in Ontario.

“Having made this request for exemption, we have now taken on the responsibility of ensuring that the most vulnerable in our profession are protected,” Lewis said, noting that there are other Canadian jurisdictions where lawyers and students in law are not exempt from the respective employment standards. legislation.

Lewis also said that through the consultations it has been learned that the profession in general is in favor of minimum pay. She noted that interns are usually strapped for cash to be with, and that makes some very vulnerable.

“I think it is important that this bench considers the situation of current trainees. I know many of us are more than decades away from what this…experience is, but the tuition fees and law school debt are sky high now. …And graduate students these days have an immense financial burden, which raises issues of equity when we think of a barrier to entry into the profession. This unduly burdens our most vulnerable members of our profession at a time when they have faced such a significant financial hurdle. »

On the matter, Councilor Jonathan Rosenthal said allowing students to work below a set minimum wage – or, in some cases, for free – is wrong.

“It’s illegal in any other job,” Rosenthal said, adding that such a thing does nothing to improve public opinion of lawyers.

“We are not a beloved profession. And we want to tell the public that we want people to work for free? … The profession has spoken, the students have spoken, and we shouldn’t say, you got it wrong, trust us. … There may be a solution to settle the internship, but that does not allow people to work for nothing.

But others said forcing lawyers and firms to pay a mandatory minimum would further reduce internships because smaller employers are unwilling or unable to afford the extra cost.

Councilor Murray Klippenstein

Councilor Murray Klippenstein

“I urge you to put the interests of current and future interns first, and I do so as someone on the other side of the equation, that is, the internship supervisor, i.e. the person who hires the interns, who decides how to spend the money,” said Murray Klippenstein, who noted that he, the “only director of a small business,” hired – and paid – about 20 students over the past two decades.

Combining a student’s salary with all the other usual expenses could mean some small businesses might just forgo hiring interns, Klippenstein said.

“Some people said that an internship is a job like any other, and that the main factor is the moral obligation to pay for the work. Well, an internship is not like other jobs, and I disagree that the overall factor is a moral imperative to pay for them. An internship is the first stepping stone to a lifelong career path. It’s not like other professions. And for us as advisers, yes, people should pay interns…but the moral issue we face is, as others have said, who is going to do the work? Who will hire people? We need to widen this circle.

Cecil Lyon, a family law attorney in Kanata, Ont., wondered if imposing a minimum wage would be a slippery slope toward regulating lawyers’ incomes.

“Where does it stop?” He asked. “Are we taxing first-year salaries? Are we forcing what sole practitioners should earn? How far does the bar want to interfere in the practice of law? And where does it end?

But Michael Lesage was one of the advisers who got into the long-running debate over scrapping articling altogether.

“In the United States, experience teaches us that there will always be high unemployment for new law graduates, and by having an internship, we actually require as a regulator that some students, often disadvantaged, work for free, which I think is just bad. Frankly, I hope that requiring mandatory compensation will help kill articling in Ontario.

The vote for a minimum wage was the latest chapter in a back-and-forth on the issue.

A mandatory minimum wage was originally approved by the Convocation in December 2018, but that decision was reportedly halted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Then the November 2021 PDCC report came out, recommending a “best practice approach to compensation that encourages rather than requires that all experiential graining placements be paid…”.

At the time, a divided assembly decided that the issue of compensation would be deferred pending further comment.

If you have information, story ideas or topical advice for The Lawyer’s Daily, please contact Terry Davidson at [email protected] or call 905-415-5899.