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In 2020, the Benchers set the strategic direction for the Law Society to develop a new approach to continuing professional development (CPD) for Alberta lawyers. One key goal of the new approach was to make the annual planning process more meaningful and engaging for lawyers by providing guidance on what the Law Society believes are important areas of focus for professional development. An integral element was the development of a Professional Development Profile that will serve as the foundation for all our work to enhance lawyer competence and CPD going forward.
Professional Development Profile
Professional Development Profiles are used by organizations to understand the skills and abilities (competencies) that individuals should have to do their role/job effectively. Individuals may either already possess some of the competencies or can develop them with training and learning over time.
The new Profile for Alberta lawyers sets out the competencies the Law Society believes are important to maintain a safe, effective and sustainable legal practice in Alberta today. Lawyers can decide to develop or refine any of these competencies as part of their professional development.
By “professional development,” we mean any formal or informal activities lawyers might undertake to improve their knowledge, skills and abilities in each area. This includes anything from reading an article to taking a seminar, attending a conference, shadowing someone or teaching a course.
Competencies are broad areas that lawyers can choose to develop such as practice management or lawyer-client relationships. The competencies include examples of performance indicators that highlight observable behaviors to demonstrate the selected competency.
The Profile does not include substantive areas of law, but broad areas of knowledge and skill that lawyers practising in all areas might look to develop or expand. As always, lawyers are encouraged to pursue CPD specific to their practice areas in addition to the areas in the new Profile.
Our previous CPD program used a set of competencies from the Federation of Law Societies of Canada’s National Entry to Practice Competency Profile. These competencies served us well, but it was time for an update. We set out to provide guidance to all Alberta lawyers on what the Law Society believes are important areas of focus for professional development, regardless of experience or practice area.
The Profile is meant to foster a holistic and innovative approach to lawyer competence for legal practice in Alberta today and in the future. It is intended to serve as a source of inspiration and aspiration for lawyers when planning their CPD activities. The Profile will serve as the foundation for all our work to enhance lawyer competence and CPD going forward.
The purpose of the Profile is to:
- Guide Alberta lawyers in understanding what competencies are associated with safe, effective and sustainable legal practice.
- Support the CPD of Alberta lawyers through ongoing self-assessment and learning.
- Support lawyers in developing their professional identify throughout their career.
- Provide a definition of competence to offer guidance for other regulatory and educational purposes that support competency development.
- Assist employers and articling principals to develop work experiences and practices that support competency development.
- Inform continuing legal education providers about the competencies that are important to legal practice today to assist in future content development for Alberta lawyers.
- Support the Law Society’s development of a professional development program for lawyers in Alberta.
The Profile is not intended to:
- Be a checklist of requirements.
- Duplicate entry to practice competencies developed by other organizations.
- Address substantive legal knowledge and procedures specific to different areas of legal practice.
- Include every competency that lawyers practising law in Alberta might need.
- Create a legal standard to be used in professional negligence claims.
- Set threshold standards for purposes of discipline.
The goal was to ensure that the contents of the Profile:
- serve the public interest;
- embrace a broad concept of competence and fosters high standards in the profession;
- be innovative and proactive in matters relevant for legal practice in Alberta today;
- be equitable, representative and inclusive; and
- be responsive to the professional development needs of lawyers.
The Profile was developed using a rigorous process that involved expertise, input and feedback from over 65 individuals at key points in the development process. The Law Society hired an external consultant, ACT Inc., to facilitate the process while the 2021–2022 Bencher Lawyer Competence Committee served as the project Steering Committee.
Focus groups were also held with the Law Society’s Indigenous Advisory Committee, Lawyer Competence Advisory Committee and Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee, volunteers from the profession, Law Society staff and key external stakeholders.
The Law Society also assembled a volunteer Task Force comprised of Alberta lawyers to lead the drafting of the Profile. Volunteers were selected from those who responded to a province-wide call for participation. Appointments to the Task Force were made to balance practice setting, role, location, gender and representation of equity-deserving groups among other considerations.
To draft the Profile, the Task Force relied on their own expertise, information from focus groups, as well as referencing competencies developed by others including the Canadian Centre for Professional Legal Education, the Law Society of New Brunswick, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System.
The profession was surveyed (online) in January 2022 and asked to provide feedback to validate the draft Profile and it was approved by the Benchers at the April 2022 Board meeting.
The Profile reflects the current understanding of the demands on lawyers who have been admitted to the practice of law in Alberta. The Profile outlines nine domains (in no particular order) in which professional development may be undertaken by Alberta lawyers:
- Legal Practice
- Continuous Improvement
- Cultural Competency & Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
- Lawyer-Client Relationships
- Practice Management
- Professional Conduct
- Professional Contributions
- Truth & Reconciliation
Each domain contains competencies or areas a lawyer may want to develop. The competencies should be thought of as a menu of options for lawyers to pursue when creating CPD plans, rather than as a checklist of requirements.
Performance indicators show observable behaviors in the area outlined by each competency. The performance indicators provide examples of different aspects of the competency that a lawyer can develop.
A proficiency scale, developed by Principia Assessments, Ltd., accompanies the Profile and is intended to help lawyers assess their current proficiency levels in various competencies and to set goals to improve or enhance those proficiency levels.
The proficiency scale can be applied to any competencies in the Profile or to any other competencies a lawyer chooses to focus on. Using the proficiency scale will assist lawyers when they are identifying their professional develop goals and developing their annual CPD plans.
While the Law Society can offer guidance and suggestions, it is up to each lawyer to determine how to best improve proficiency in chosen areas of professional development, depending on level of experience, practice context and goals.
The Profile and related documentation are intended to evolve and change as the demands on lawyers evolve and change. The Law Society will monitor the effectiveness of this new approach and we welcome feedback from lawyers.
Professional Development Requirements
The Profile is designed to provide guidance to all Alberta lawyers, regardless of experience or practice area. The competencies should be thought of as a menu of options for lawyers to pursue when creating CPD plans, rather than as a checklist of requirements.
Are lawyers required to select professional development in all nine competencies areas of the Profile annually?
The Profile was designed to have broad application to various practice settings and some content will not be applicable to all lawyers, or at certain stages of their careers. The Profile is not intended to be a checklist and lawyers are not required to demonstrate competency in every area of the Profile each year. It is meant to provide guidance when lawyers are selecting areas for professional development that are meaningful to them and their practice.