Hebenstreit: Has the Time Come for Articling?

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IBA-hebenstreitDo you know what the term “articling” means? I did not until recently, but it is quite relevant to the discussions swirling around about the value and importance of a law school education.

The American Bar Association held its Annual Conference in Toronto, Ontario recently. Many have asked why a group of American lawyers would want to travel to Canada for a conference, but that is not the real point. As part of participating in the sessions for Bar leaders, I attended a forum concerning the similarities and differences of Bar Associations (or “law associations” as they are frequently referred to north of the border) in Canada and the States. One of the speakers was a gentleman who was the Immediate Past President of the Toronto Lawyers’ Association. It was interesting learning the differences between the 2 common law systems including that the Canadian trial lawyers actual “robe” to enter the courtroom.

What was most interesting for me was the concept of articling. It is founded on a medieval practice but is still practiced in Canada. After the typical 3 year law school education, the Canadian students still must pass the equivalent of the bar exam. But, to sit for the exam, they need to complete essentially a one year apprenticeship. During the period of articling, they attend the equivalent of our Bar Review course, but are not allowed to sit for the exam until they complete their articling responsibilities.

It sounds very similar to the traditional practice here in the States where a firm selects a second year student as a clerk and then hires that student to serve the apprenticeship after law school. The Canadian graduates are typically paid and are under the tutelage of an experienced attorney. There are apparently no real rules about how detailed the mentorship needs to be, but those with whom I spoke felt they received good value from the articling students—and typically hired them after successfully completing the Bar Exam. The law schools help to pair their students with a mentor, but it really is up to the student to find a mentor. Also, there is a limit to how many years within which a student must complete their articling requirement, so it is entirely possible that a student could never find a good match and consequently not be able to even sit for the exam.

Here in the States, there is growing concern about the high cost of a law school education as well as the concern that law students do not learn how to practice law in the traditional law school. I am not sure how that is different from 1977 when I graduated from IU Law School at Indianapolis. There were internships available, but upon graduation, I did not know how to practice—nor did I expect that. The culture, at least as I saw it, was that law school educated a student to understand legal principles as well as how to think like a lawyer. It was up to us to figure out what to do with it.

Certainly, the cost of a legal education was dramatically cheaper than it is now. Some student loan payments equal what our first monthly mortgage payment was. That truly is unfortunate. Students still have to figure out what to do with their education. The economic pressure is greater, but the problem is the same.

Much has been written about the cost of a legal education compared with the practical applications of that same education. Some writers have accused the law schools of deceit in enticing students into paying for law school when there are no jobs for them upon graduation. This seems a bit silly. If we believe that the students are smart enough to graduate from a law school, aren’t they smart enough to determine if it is a good course of action to take?

This year we have met with Dean Gary Roberts concerning whether or not the law school should be an institution of higher learning or a mere trade school. It is a conundrum because on the one hand, the schools would like to be more responsive to the needs of their graduates, but they still must meet the requirements of accreditation-- and national rankings are still important. The primary thrust of our discussions revolved around what is essentially a form of articling—some way that the mentors of the IndyBar could, or would, agree to provide some form of apprenticeship for the students. Those talks will continue, but perhaps we should look to our Canadian brothers and sisters for guidance.


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  1. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues