Changes to Articling Requirements and PREP Subsidy Due to COVID-19

April 6, 2020

In direct response to concerns from both students and the wider profession related to the economic and logistical challenges that are resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Law Society of Alberta has made changes to the articling requirements and has increased the Practice Readiness Education Program (PREP) subsidy to add flexibility for firms and organizations as they navigate the articling period.

Changes to duration of articling terms

Effective April 6, 2020, the articling term in Alberta changes to a minimum of eight months and a maximum of twelve months for any student-at-law enrolled after January 1, 2019. Students clerking with the Courts also have more flexibility in the term of articles.

Prior to April 6, students-at-law clerking with the Courts would complete a 10-month term and then an additional five months with an active member of the Law Society. With the changes to articling requirements, these students can now spend a minimum of eight months to a maximum of 10 months at the Courts, and then complete a minimum of three months to a maximum of five months with an active member of the Law Society.

These changes directly impact current students-at-law who are in the middle of their 2019-2020 articling term and students scheduled to commence their 2020-2021 articling term this spring or summer.

Articling requirement changes will be reviewed by the Board before the end of 2021

The Board has committed to reviewing these changes to the articling requirements before the end of 2021 once we have a full understanding of the impact of the change on the profession.

Changes to PREP subsidy

In another effort to help alleviate financial stress, the Law Society of Alberta has increased the subsidy provided to the Canadian Centre for Professional Legal Education’s PREP students by $1,000, thereby reducing the tuition payable by the student or their firm from $3600 per student to $2600 per student for students who commence PREP in 2020. This additional subsidy is for one year only.

Additional changes to support students and principals

The Rules of the Law Society of Alberta have also been amended to allow official transcripts from Canadian universities and Certificates of Qualification from the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, respectively, to be provided through secure electronic means, which eliminates the need for paper copies of transcripts to be mailed.

If students are seconded, rule changes have been implemented to clarify the supervision requirements for secondment of students if lasting longer than one week. While students retain their designated Principal during secondments, the supervisor at the secondment must meet the same prerequisites of a Principal.

Lawyer competence and articling remain a priority

Despite the challenges presented by the current environment, the Law Society will continue to address lawyer competence and articling as a pillar of our 2020-2024 Strategic Plan and remains committed to ensuring that Alberta’s newest lawyers are given every opportunity to succeed. The newly-formed Lawyer Competence Committee will be exploring strengthening the continuing professional development requirements for early career lawyer particularly during the first five years of practice.

Have questions? Read the FAQ below.

Frequently Asked Questions

The Law Society decided on a minimum articling term of eight months after examining the length of articling in other Canadian jurisdictions and the reduced articling terms that have been introduced by other Law Societies as a response to COVID-19.

The intent of changing the duration of the articling term is to provide flexibility and hopefully create more opportunities for firms and organizations to determine if they are financially able to keep students. The duration of the articling term will be a decision made between the firm/organization and student.

The goal of these changes is to create flexibility for firms, courts, Principals and students in these challenging times. Some firms with highly developed articling programs and rotation systems may prefer to have students article for a full 12 months so their programs are not disrupted. Other firms may prefer, for financial or other reasons, to shorten the articling term to less than 12 months. Again, the intention here is to create flexibility and allow firms, courts and students to decide what works best in their circumstances.

Prior to April 6, Students-at-law who are clerking with the court must complete a 10-month term with the court, and an additional five-month term with an active member of the Law Society. Under the new rules, these students have a minimum of eight months and maximum of 10 months at the courts and a minimum of three months to a maximum of five months with an active member of the Law Society.

Supervision of an articling student who is working remotely could take the form of daily telephone calls to check-in, videoconferencing, increased email communication, use of SharePoint sites to review work product, etc.  There should be a plan between the student and principal about how to communicate should the student need help and they are not in the office. Consider having backup contact information for another active lawyer that a student can reach out to for assistance in the event a principal becomes ill or is not available. As long as supervision occurs (remote or otherwise,) the student would still be considered to be articling. Please contact Membership Services or a Practice Advisor if you have specific questions about supervision.

If the employment relationship between the principal and student-at-law ends before the agreed upon end date of the articling term, you must notify the Law Society immediately.  If the termination is mutual, please send a letter, signed by the student and principal, to the Law Society indicating the end date of the articling term. If one party chooses to end the employment relationship, please send a letter to the Law Society indicating the end date and provide proof that the other party has been provided proper notice of the termination. Please contact Membership Services directly if you have any questions about the termination of an articling position.

The reduction in the term of articling is a temporary measure to assist students and firms through very challenging economic times. It is difficult to assess how long the COVID-19 pandemic will last and what the future economic impacts will be in Alberta. We will continue to assess the situation on a go-forward basis and will communicate any Rule changes to the profession.

There is currently no impact to the recruitment period.

When the pilot program for part-time fees was originally launched, the decision was made that only full-time lawyers could act a principals. However, the economic situation in Calgary has changed drastically since that decision was made and many lawyers may be seeking a status of part-time as a result.  In order to preserve as many articling positions as possible, the Law Society has decided to allow part-time lawyers to act as principals to students who are articling on a part-time basis.

If students have completed the minimum eight months of articling, they are eligible for enrollment and may submit bar call documents to the Law Society. Pursuant to Rule 52 of The Rules of the Law Society of Alberta, students can continue to work as a student-at-law at their current firm for 90 days past the articling term end date and then you must enter into an approved working arrangement (see Rule 52 for more information). Students must work under the supervision of an active lawyer who has at least four years of practice experience in Alberta and who will sign an undertaking to provide direct supervision until called to the bar.

The Law Society has additional resources and mentorship opportunities for newly called students and young lawyers in this situation. The Law Society’s Mentor Connect program engages experienced counsel to guide those with less experience to realize their career goals and achieve greater personal and professional balance in their lives. For a program with lower commitments for the mentees as well as mentors, Mentor Express allows mentees to browse an online listing of mentors and choose sessions with whichever mentors they are interested in meeting.

First, the student and principal should have a conversation about the reduction in the term of articles and decide if this is the appropriate course of action. Once a decision has been made about the appropriate length of that students articles, the student needs to email Membership Services and advise the Law Society of the revised articling term and how much of a reduction will occur.

If you do not anticipate any changes and you plan to article for 12 months as originally anticipated, you do not need to notify the Law Society.

The decision to shorten the articling period has no impact on the duration or published schedule of the PREP program. Students do not have to be working as an articling student to commence PREP. The changes to the articling term may encourage students to start PREP prior to joining their firm to have a portion of the program complete before joining their firm. This is a matter for the firm, Principal and student to decide.

The Law Society recognizes the extremely difficult economic situation the profession is facing. By increasing the PREP subsidy, we hope to lower the costs of the bar admission program and the overall cost of the articling process for students, principals and firms.

Currently, CPLED and PREP are not impacted by the changes to articling. Contact the Legal Education Society of Alberta for COVID-19 related updates for the 2019/2020 CPLED Program. Contact the Canadian Centre for Professional Legal Education for updates for the 2020/2021 CPLED Program.