A Register for Articles

Last night, I was speaking to a legal colleague who is a second-year solicitor. She had a very negative experience at the firm where she completed her articles. She was sexually harassed in a way which could have come straight out of a text book on “What Not To Do in the Workplace” according to Equal Opportunity Law. Isn’t it ironic that lawyers tell other people how to behave according to the law, but are often the worst offenders in their treatment of their own employees? Fortunately, my friend managed to complete her articles and get a job at another firm where she is doing exceptionally well. But she is not the only one. I know other people who have had some very bad experiences too: someone was physically assaulted by a partner, another person was being bullied at a firm which she later discovered was notorious for bullying its juniors and had been the subject of many complaints to the Law Institute…the list could go on.

Late last year, when my colleague initially told me about what had happened to her, I contacted the Law Institute to see whether she could make a complaint about the sexual harassment she had suffered. I was eventually put through to a sympathetic man from the ethics department who sighed and said that the tale I was telling was all too familiar, but it was not technically in breach of the rules of ethics (which tend to concentrate on things like the handling of trust account moneys etc).

The problem is that (a) articles places are so scarce that articled clerks may feel they have to “put up with” bad behaviour and (b) there is nothing you can do about it anyway if something bad happens. If a firm seriously breaches its duties towards an articled clerk, then the articled clerk should be able to get the Law Institute to do something about it. My colleague has suggested that the Law Institute should maintain a register where people could call up (on an anonymous basis if necessary) and suggest that a particular firm or principal should not be allowed to take on an articled clerk. I think that this is a great idea.

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3 Comments

Filed under law, law firms, legal education

3 responses to “A Register for Articles

  1. cherry ripe

    What about a register of recommended law firms? Articled clerks could be given an anonymous survey where they could choose to recommend or not recommend their firm to other potential ACs?

    However, either way if there’s only one or two AC’s in a firm, any complaint (or lack of recommendation) would be traceable to that person. This is the real fear of articled clerks.

    I had the fortunate experience of not doing articles in a law firm (instead in the public service). This kept me very grounded – in that it taught me the value of my own degree, but also showed me the meaning of the work that I did, by having regular contact with non-lawyers, and being part of a multi-disciplinary organisation.

    I notice in friends who have been in law firms that it is an extremely neurotic environment, where intellectual egos are fragile and wielded mercilessly. Law students, articled clerks and young lawyers are hopelessly disempowered by the incestuous nature of legal practice. Their entire sense of self is fuelled by their status within the law firm and legal community. It’s a savage reiteration of Melbourne’s notorious private school parochialism: instead of “what school did you go to?” the question becomes “where did you do articles?”.

    Furthermore, law firms are now outsourcing articles – I have a friend doing articles at the moment, except it’s not articles – instead, the firm funds a place at Law College, in exchange for 18 months’ work. If the AC decides to leave at any time during the 18 months, s/he has to repay $5000! It’s indentured labour by stealth.

    I have often thought that articles breeds a poor legal profession for all these reasons. Perhaps a possible scheme to expand the experience of articled clerks would require four 3-month placements: one in a law firm, one funded place for 3 months with a community legal centre, one subsidised with a suburban practice, and one placement of choice. This might allow for a much broader experience for articled clerks, and a healthier legal profession.

  2. Pingback: Bullying, discrimination and sexual harrassment in law firms « The Legal Soapbox

  3. Pingback: Legal Education Review « The Legal Soapbox

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