In 2008, the Law Society introduced Continuing Professional Development (CPD) requirements for lawyers in Alberta established in the Rules of the Law Society of Alberta.
The CPD program has continued to develop, undergoing an evaluation in 2012, done by Charis Management Consulting Inc., this CPD Evaluation showed that most lawyers support the CPD program. Through the evaluation process, lawyers indicated that the CPD program does contribute to their professional development and facilitates continuous learning and improved competency.
In 2015, the Law Society developed the online Lawyer Portal to allow lawyers to pay their fees online, update contact information and complete other requirements. Beginning in 2016, all lawyers are required to declare their CPD plan through the Lawyer Portal. Lawyers will be required to access one website for all of their membership requirements, resulting in ease of use and familiarity with one system.
Also beginning in 2016, all lawyers are required to develop their plan online, through the Lawyer Portal using a standard template. The 2012 evaluation process found that use of the CPD plan template improved the quality of members’ plans. Having a standard template, used by all lawyers in Alberta, will ensure that all lawyers are using a consistent process in the development of their CPD plans. The Lawyer Portal will be able to store multiple years’ worth of plans. However, the Portal is not an archive and lawyers will still be responsible, under the Rules, to maintain a copy of their plan for their records and the five year retention requirement. The Portal does contain the ability to print plans to accommodate this requirement.
In 2016, the Benchers approved two changes to the CPD Program going into 2017. The first change shifts the annual deadline for CPD declarations from March 15th to September 30th. The second change improves program accountability through the implementation of an administrative suspension for failure to declare a plan. Read more in the eBulletin.
While the CPD program is a mandatory requirement for all active lawyers in Alberta, it has been, and will continue to be, a flexible and convenient method to ensure lawyers meet their professional duty of competence and meets the Law Society’s public interest mandate by implementing a regulatory program to ensure the ongoing competence and professionalism of lawyers in Alberta. In this way, the program is not only of value to lawyers who may be struggling with their practice, but supports and encourages all lawyers, even those with significant seniority and high knowledge and skill levels, to improve their competence in a way that best addresses their own personal practice needs.
While the flexibility and convenience of the current CPD program is maintained, we are adding guidance to lawyers to better help them determine their ongoing professional development needs to ensure they remain competent.
The Code of Conduct states that “A lawyer must perform all legal services undertaken on a client’s behalf to the standard of a competent lawyer.” This rule is followed by helpful commentary regarding what is a competent lawyer.
In furtherance of compliance with this Rule, we are shifting its focus from a substantive law approach to a competencies approach in its efforts to ensure the ongoing competence and professionalism of lawyers in Alberta. This approach looks beyond the substantive knowledge that lawyers are required to have for their practice area(s) and takes a more comprehensive approach to the practice as a whole. This focus has come about, in part, due to the complaint history of the Law Society. The complaint history indicates that while substantive areas are important, the biggest risk to lawyers is a weakness in practice management, client relationships and ethics and professionalism. These are all areas of focus in a competency based approach.
The Federation of Law Societies of Canada has identified a National Entry to Practice Competency Profile for Lawyers and Quebec Notaries. The Law Society has used this as guidance for those competencies that are required not only upon entry to practice, but throughout the career of a lawyer. The integration of competencies into the CPD program was identified in the 2012 evaluation as something members want.
The competencies approach helps fulfill the goals and objectives of the CPD program. The goal is to enhance lawyer competence and to be accountable to the public for the ongoing professional development and competence of lawyers. The objective is to ensure that each lawyer in Alberta strives for excellence in the delivery of legal services through the mandatory annual planning and implementation of an effective CPD Plan. The CPD Program is structured to foster a self-directed and life-long learning approach to continuing professional development that enhances and ensures lawyer competence.