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The Advisory: Volume 8, Issue 2, April 2010


Click here to view the PDF version of The Advisory

Composite Articles a Win-Win for Both Employers and Students

by Marie L. Gordon, QC, Gordon Zwaenepoel

Composite articles, in which students-at-law receive practical training at more than one law firm, is an idea whose time has come.

One of the most important yet stressful tasks for law students is to find the “right” set of articles, which provide students-at-law with an opportunity to experience and learn about the practice of law in the relatively risk-free context of supervised law firm placements.

Students who intend to practice law in any province in Canada must first spend a specified period of time as an articled law student. Articling terms generally extend from 10 to 12 months and begin in the summer following a student’s graduation from law school.

Law students know that their introduction to the real practice of law through the articling process is a crucial step in their professional lives and may shape their long-term career goals and prospects.

Many students will spend all of their articling year in one firm, hoping for as much exposure to different practice areas as possible within that firm. Other students may be interested in working in a variety of firms or organizations for their articling year hoping for exposure to family and criminal law, poverty law, and other areas of practice.

In support of students working on setting up combined articles, it makes sense to assist them with a roster of firms who volunteer to participate in the program and guidelines for what might be called composite articles.

What Composite Articles May Look Like:

Within the existing Rules of the Law Society of Alberta, composite articles might be:

  1. A two-month to a 10-month rotation in different firms or organizations.
  2. A roster of firms or organizations prepared to consider having a student for two to 10 months only.
  3. One principal, but a number of other responsible supervising lawyers in other firms who are acceptable to the Law Society.
  4. Law firms assuming the cost of the student only for the period that they work with a firm.
  5. Students working in a variety of firms can be exposed to different firm structures, cultures and practice styles.
  6. Students develop expanded contacts and potential job opportunities at the end of the articling year.
  7. “Hands-on” exposure to some of the most demanding but satisfying areas of law practice.
  8. A chance to really know what area of law might be a “fit” for a new lawyer.

How Composite Articles May be Set Up:

  1. Students may get assistance with coordinating composite articles from the career placement staff at the University of Alberta or University of Calgary by way of advice and maintaining a professional roster.
  2. Firms interested in participating in composite articles are encouraged to hire as early as during the June interview period after second year law school as students are considering their articling options at this time.
  3. Instead of an “ad hoc” practice of students having to search for combined articles on their own, a professional roster emerges.

Advantages for Law Firms and Employers:

A smaller firm only has a two to 10-month financial commitment, rather than a full year obligation to pay a student’s wages.

  • Many smaller specialized firms feel a professional obligation to help students looking for articles; this is a manageable way to do it, given their limited areas of practice.
  • There is no commitment or sense of obligation on any of the hiring firms to keep the student on after the completion of their articling year.

If you have any further questions or concerns about this, please don’t hesitate to call Marie Gordon in Edmonton at 780-425-9777.

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Law Student Responsibilities in Putting Together Composite Articles

Law students are required to contact the firm representatives on the roster set up at the Faculties of Law at the University of Alberta and University of Calgary. Neither Faculty is responsible for putting together composite articles for students.

Rather, it is the responsibility of the student to contact the representatives of the firm in question to:

  1. submit an articling application for part of a year,
  2. to arrange for interviews with each law firm or organization, and
  3. to coordinate with the other law firms or organizations a rotational arrangement which will comply with all of the requirements of the Law Society of Alberta in the completion of the student’s articling year.

For more information concerning those requirements, visit the Law Society of Alberta website at www.lawsociety.ab.ca (click on Membership Services and click on Students).

Principal to be Approved by Law Society

An articling student must have a principal approved by the Law Society of Alberta at all times during their articles. It is expected that students will have one principal, who will remain their principal for the entire year of their articles.

However, it is also expected that students will be working for other members of the Bar who would act as “supervisors.” These supervisors would have to be approved before the student’s articles can commence, in the same way as the student’s principal needs to be approved, by the Law Society.

When moving from one firm to another, students need to be aware of the Rules relating to Conflicts of Interest. Please review Chapter 6, Rule 4 of the Code of Professional Conduct and contact the Law Society Practice Advisors in either Calgary or Edmonton with any questions or concerns.

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How Law Firms Can Contribute Towards a Composite Article

Law firms can indicate their willingness to offer a student a position with their firm, as part of a Composite Article, for a period of between two and 10 months.

Lawyers may volunteer to be a principal for an articling student for the entire year, even if that student only works with the firm for part of the year. The Law Society requires that a student have a principal and that that principal assume the responsibilities as set forth in the Articling Handbook. In order to become a principal, a lawyer must meet the requirements set out in the Rules of the Law Society. Other firms may offer supervisors, who will oversee the work of the student-at-law when they are working for that law firm or organization. The identity of the principal and the supervisors must be known to, and approved by, the Law Society in advance of the articles commencing, as is the case with the principal and regular articles.

When a student is moving from one firm or supervisor to another, lawyers must consider the Rules relating to Conflicts of Interest. Please review and discuss with the student Chapter 6, Rule 4 of the Code of Professional Conduct and contact the Law Society Practice Advisors in either Calgary or Edmonton with any questions or concerns.

Lawyers can either volunteer to be a principal, or simply to be a supervisor for a period of time of between two and ten months. By assuming only part responsibility for an articling student, a lawyer can still offer a student an extraordinarily important experience in their area of practice.

It will be the student’s responsibility to put together the Composite Article which meets the lawyer’s approval.

How Law Firms Can Participate:

Edmonton firms: Contact Pat Neil at pneil@lawualberta.ca with their information which will appear on the Composite Article page under the Career Services’ secure website for students.

Calgary firms: Contact Maryanne Forrayi at forrayim@ucalgary.ca.

Please provide Ms. Neil or Ms. Forrayi the following information:

  • Firm name, address, telephone numbers, fax numbers, website (if applicable)
  • Contact lawyer
  • Length of time for which you would consider taking an articling student
  • Deadline for applications from students
  • The nature of your practice, and the main areas of practice that you can offer a student as part of their articles
  • Please indicate if your law firm would like to have its posting/roster participation available to University of Calgary students and your posting will be forwarded to them as well.

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How to Access the Composite Article Roster/Postings

University of Alberta law students can access the composite article roster/postings at the following web site www.law.ualberta.ca. Under ‘Current Students’, please select the ‘Career Services’ secure web page where you will find a link to Composite Article Information for Current Law Students. You can gain access to the page using the same ID and Password as for the regular ‘Job Posting’ service. Please contact Pat Neil, Career Development Officer, if you require assistance.

University of Calgary law students can access the composite article roster/postings through the JobLink, the job posting system that all students use to view postings. Once into the system, search by Composite Articles. Contact the Law Career Advisor, Maryanne Forrayi, for instructions if you have not accessed the job posting system in the past.

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