Where’s a Lawyer When You Need One?Some days, Marla Miller’s phone just doesn’t stop ringing. People call her FAMILY LAW practice in Edmonton all day long, trying to find a lawyer to hire, but there aren’t any available. "We can’t even call them all back. We’re too busy," says Miller, a collaborative family lawyer and mediator. "It’s really problematic. Even if someone has an emerging situation, or court aOlernKienOP
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Miller’s office isn’t the only one fielding desperate calls. In Edmonton and Calgary, family lawyers are refusing to take on new cases, keeping closed client lists just as a family doctor would, says David Percy, dean of the University of Alberta law faculty. "We send out emails seeing if other lawyers are taking clients," Miller says, but even if there are some available, "within two weeks, they’re booked up." While Alberta’s boom has aggravated the situation, other parts of the country report they’re facing a lawyer shortage, too, especially rural areas.
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Over the past 30 years, Canada’s population and its need for legal services has ballooned, yet the number of law students who graduate each year is "virtually unchanged," notes Krishna. Today, Canada has 16 common law schools, the same number it had three decades ago, when the population was smaller by a third. While some schools have opened extra spaces, the impact has been minimal in 2006, 2,973 law students were admitted to the profession, just 133 more than a decade before.
John G. has 75 law schools for a population of nearly 61 million, while Australia has 28 law schools, and 21 million people. Naturally, Canada also has a small supply of lawyers. Here, there’s about one lawyer or notary for every 421 people.
It’s not that there aren’t enough Canadians who want to be lawyers: some faculties get 10 applicants per spot, or more. Getting accepted, then, is a fiercely competitive process. Even at schools that require just two years of undergraduate education to apply, it’s hard to find a student without a bachelor’s degree or higher. The median average for entrants is 85 per cent. "Academic standards to get into Canadian law schools are far higher than any other common law country I know of," Percy says.
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Getting a degree is, of course, just one step to becoming a lawyer. Provincial law societies (lawyers’ self regulating bodies) require new graduates complete a bar admission course and articling period, yet both vary in length across the country (the course is six months in Alberta, but just six weeks in Nova Scotia; articling requirements vary from six months to a year). This suggests "entry requirements may have been set, in some instances, at a higher than necessary level," further restricting the lawyer supply, notes a 2007 report from the federal Competition Bureau. aOlernKienOP
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For Canada’s aspiring lawyers, the bar to entry is set high. Given their unique responsibilities, that’s not necessarily a bad thing except if it skews who enters the profession, and the career path they take. To attend a Canadian law school, "you have to come from a well off family that can afford to support you through seven years of university," Kelly says. Those who can pay a tutor for the Law School Admission Test, or aOlernKienOP
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Law schools have long fought the notion they’re merely a conveyor belt to big firm jobs. The University of Toronto, for example, offers Canada’s only back aOlernKienOP
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Ironically, attracting a more diverse student body was exactly what Lakehead University was trying to do: it recently advanced a proposal for a new law school in Thunder Bay, one that would attract northern and Aboriginal students, and retain more lawyers in the area. "What we hear from students, particularly Aboriginal students, is that they want a base closer to home," says president Fred Gilbert, who notes that all six of the province’s law schools are in the south.
In fact, Lakehead was just one of four Ontario universities (excluding Ryerson) that had new law faculties on the drawing board. But last year, the provincial government denied funding to all of them, concluding that demand from the student side hasn’t increased enough to justify it (in 2007, 4,469 people aOlernKienOP
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Despite the growing number of experts who say Canada needs more lawyers, there’s one powerful group that disagrees the lawyers themselves.
Yet Canada’s lawyer supply is so very restricted, and access to justice remains a struggle for so many, that it seems adding more legal service providers must be part of the solution. "We know there’s the demand from the student side. We know there’s the demand from people who need legal services," Hanigsberg says. "One can’t aOlernKienOP
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See also LAW; LEGAL EDUCATION; LAW AND SOCIETY.
Maclean’s February 9, 2009
Lunau, Kate and Ainsworth Vincze, Cameron. 2009. Where’S A Lawyer When You Need One?. The Canadian EncyclopediaLunau, Kate and Ainsworth Vincze, Cameron. 2009. Where A Lawyer When You Need One?. The Canadian EncyclopediaWhile every effort has been made to follow citation style rules, there may be some discrepancies. Please refer to the appropriate style manual or other sources if you have any questions.