Legislators favour setting up an internship programme within the Legislative Assembly for Caymanian prospective lawyers who cannot find placements to do their articles of clerkship with local law firms.
Government members last week supported a private member’s motion by United Democratic Party backbencher Dwayne Seymour to introduce an intern programme, participation in which would result in credits toward trainee lawyers’ articles of clerkship.
The interns would help legislators and Legislative Assembly staff with research and library work.
Mr. Seymour said there is a growing number of Caymanian graduates of the Cayman Islands Law School, who had successfully completed their professional practice course but are unable to get the articles of clerkship to enable them to qualify as attorneys-at-law in the Cayman Islands. By taking part in the proposed internship programme, the graduates would help fulfil a need for more research and library assistance, as well as professional assistance on working committees, within the Legislative Assembly, he said.
“I must endeavour to get our young local law students the ability to be called to the Bar, that is our goal, which can’t be done until their articles are complete, as you can’t become an attorney until your articles are done,” Mr. Seymour said.
“We have some situations, sadly, that some law students have been looking for approximately two years, trying to find a company to be paired with, trying to find a company that will employ them so they can article and they have not found anyone yet. We see this programme as an opportunity for students to build credit,” he said.
Mr. Seymour said assistance from the Attorney General’s office and the Legal Advisory Council would be needed to develop the internship programme.
Leader of the Opposition Alden McLaughlin, who supported the motion, cautioned that working as an intern in the Legislative Assembly was unlikely to count significantly in credits toward a law student’s articles. He also warned against creating an impression that government was considering “watering down” the legal apprenticeship programme.
He said he had heard from some legal quarters that there were moves afoot to abolish the articles programmes in Cayman law firms because they were considered to be too expensive and firms were reluctant to hire law students as clerks.
“[T]he credit they’re going to get for anything done here [in the Legislative Assembly] is so infinitessimal that it is going to count for nought as far as practical experience is concerned within those law firms,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “I know that they will provide a source of cheap labour to the government and to this House and provide a service we very much need, but I don’t want us to create an impression that somehow this is really going to assist those who are trying to get qualified as lawyers.”
He cited an example of a law student who had completed her articles with the Cayman Islands Legal Department. When she took a job with a private law firm, she was informed that she did not have enough experience and would need to retake her articles. “As the example of the lady who came through the Legal Department articles system shows, experience gained in the House is unlikely to be given much weight as far as the private sector is concerned,” said Mr. McLaughlin, who practised as a lawyer before being elected.
To qualify to be an attorney in Cayman, one must complete a law degree, a professional practice course and 18 months of articles.
Mr. McLaughlin said he had heard presidents of law firms say they cannot afford to put students through articles, an assertion he described as “ridiculous”. He said law firms had an obligation to take on law students and give them an opportunity to qualify as attorneys.
Premier McKeeva Bush said articles of clerkship for young Caymanian lawyers, which had been a “vexing issue” for several years, would be addressed in an upcoming Legal Practitioners Bill, which would come before the House by September.
He said the introduction of an the internship programme in the Legislative Assembly would not dilute the articles of clerkship for Caymanian law students. “Standards will be maintained,” Mr. Bush said.
“We set up a group of lawyers to go through the Legal Practitioners Bill and they have been working … with the private sector and Legal Drafting [department] and the Law Reform Commission has had input … We have an obligation to deal with this and settle this matter once and for all,” the premier said.
“There are many attendant issues to this, not just articles,” Mr. Bush said. “It is a bad situation to find that you have young lawyers who are not getting articles. I don’t know that we can tell people who to make a partner, except that Caymanians should be partners. How they get it, that should be left to the firms … but certainly we must say Caymanians must be partners and we must say that they should be articled,” Mr. Bush said. The premier added that government was “not going to do anything to hamper our financial industry and the legal profession that is attendant to it”.
Attorney General Samuel Bulgin said the legal professional was not advocating abolishing articles, but based on discussions about the difficulties that students were experiencing in securing articles, a hybrid programme had been suggested in which students who wanted to complete articles could do so and others could spend five years at law school – involving three years of degree work and two years of a practical course – after which they would be entitled to practise.
Mr. Bulgin said the bar association was also looking at pilot programme to address the issue of articles.
All members present in the Legislative Assembly for the vote on the motion on Wednesday, 11 April, voted in favour of it.