Improving the Principal and Articling Student Experience

June 8, 2021

In 2019, we conducted surveys of articling students, new lawyers, principals and mentors to better understand the current state of the articling system. The results raised concerns about the inconsistency of mentorship students receive, with 51 per cent of new lawyers stating they lacked confidence and felt only somewhat prepared or unprepared for entry-level practice. Only one-third of students and new lawyers stated that a learning plan was used during their articles.

While the reasons for inconsistency in the articling experience are complex, one of the issues highlighted in the survey was the varying quality of mentorship and feedback from principals. The issue was raised both from the perspective of articling students not feeling they had sufficient guidance and from principals who did not know what was expected of them in the role. Principals and mentors mentioned a lack of time, resources and training as key challenges in mentoring articling students.

While many principals are doing a good job supervising and mentoring articling students, the survey results show there is room for improvement. Historically, about one-third of principals each year are serving in that role for the first time and often do so without a clear understanding of what is expected of them and the articling experience. Anecdotally, we have heard that other lawyers would like to serve as a principal but are hesitant to do so without support.

Mandatory Principal Training Approved

One of the strategies to address these issues is the development of principal training. At the June 2021 Board meeting, the Benchers approved the development of a training course for all Principals which will establish a baseline for consistency and quality assurance in the mentorship and training of new lawyers. When the principal training course is launched in 2022, participation in the course will be mandatory for all principals, regardless of previous experience.

The Law Society started discussing this possibility after reviewing the results of the articling survey and it was further reinforced in Jordan Furlong’s Lawyer Licensing and Competence in Alberta Report, approved by the Benchers in December 2020.

Mandating training will provide all principals with the skills and tools necessary to successfully fulfil their role in the articling system. The Law Society believes this requirement will establish baseline criteria for principals, improve consistency in the mentorship and feedback students receive, and provide principals with clarity for their role.

Parameters and Rule Amendments

Further details on the parameters and framework of the principal training, including time commitment, format and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) considerations, will be provided as the course is developed and more decisions are finalized. This includes any necessary Rule amendments required to support the decisions.