On February 20, 2020, the Benchers unanimously voted to suspend the current requirement for Alberta lawyers to file a mandatory Continuing Professional Development plan for 2020 and 2021. Suspending the CPD program in its current form allows the Law Society to refocus its thinking and dedicate resources toward the next phase of lawyer competency.
At first glance, this decision may seem at odds with the Law Society’s commitment to supporting competency of Alberta’s lawyers in the public interest. Ensuring the competence of Alberta lawyers is still very much at the forefront of everything the Law Society does in both proactive and regulatory work. Our 2020 – 2024 Strategic Plan highlights competence & wellness as one of four strategic goals. Simply put, a competent lawyer is more likely to embody wellness and serve their clients ethically and effectively.
So, it’s reasonable to ask: why would the Benchers choose to suspend the current CPD requirement?
Recent efforts to improve our current CPD program have helped improve ease of use, effectiveness and accountability of the program. However, the fundamentals of the CPD program have not been assessed in many years. While our current program has been credited with understanding the nature of self-directed adult learning, it has some inherent issues that require us to rebuild a new competence model rather than repairing our existing program. The goal of this work is to better support Alberta lawyers in serving Albertans.
In the meantime, we encourage all Alberta lawyers to remain committed to participating in professional development activities that are of-interest or where there may be room for growth.
There are three main concerns with the existing program:
- While we require all Alberta lawyers to declare and submit their CPD plans, the Law Society has little oversight. The plans are not used for audit purposes unless there are regulatory concerns about an individual lawyer. In our view, if you are going to collect information, you must have a use for it.
- The existing CPD program treats all lawyers the same regardless of background, experience and practice environment. It also doesn’t consider access to competence programming from within the firm, company, organization or government. The 2019 articling survey told us that many early career lawyers felt unprepared for entry level practice and that more structured competence initiatives may be required in these formative years.
- The Benchers believe that a commitment to competence requires a holistic commitment to wellness. Initial Canadian research tells us there is a crisis in the profession regarding mental health and addictions issues. Beyond that, our conduct process reveals that many conduct matters have their genesis in a lack of wellness, rather than in the character of the lawyer. We are committed to finding proactive solutions to lawyer wellness and to incorporate them into a future competence model.
The bottom line is that we are in a better position than ever to embark on this work. We are equipped with feedback from our articling surveys, the new CPLED competency framework and a Strategic Plan that prioritizes competency as a key initiative moving forward.
A modern and dynamic competence framework may look entirely different from what is in place today. We need the space and resources to cultivate a new era of lawyer competency. That is what suspension of the current CPD program affords us.
The suspension in mandatory CPD filing allows us to dedicate our resources to two important projects:
- Work with our stakeholders to develop a new competence framework for a lawyer’s entire career that is proportionate, effective and dynamic, and incorporates wellness as a key component. We are committed to open dialogue as we work towards to this important goal.
- Establish an Indigenous cultural competency program for all Alberta lawyers to meaningfully address our obligation arising from the TRC’s calls to action. It is our goal to have an Indigenous competency program for Alberta lawyers beginning in 2021. Like our approach to competence, this program will not be one-size-fits-all and will respect the backgrounds and practice environments of Alberta lawyers.
This is exciting work for the Law Society. We believe that our goal should be a model that supports and empowers lawyers’ commitment to competence and does so effectively and proportionately. We are committed to listening and delivering a program that properly addresses this important need in a meaningful way.
Kent Teskey, QC