Substantive legal knowledge is at the core of your day to day practice. For every area of life, there is an area of law. This leads to a huge amount of substantive content to access to ensure that you are up-to-date with amendments and developments in legislation, as well as case law that impacts your practice area.
While deficiencies in substantive legal knowledge don’t tend to form the basis of many complaints to the Law Society, they are identified in some claims made to ALIA and have a direct impact on your ability to serve your clients effectively. Most of us do take the time to ensure we review new cases as they come down from the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada. We read legal newspapers and publications relevant to our practice specialties and pay attention to legislative amendments.
These habits tend to form the basis of remaining current in our areas of focus. There are other ways to remain up-to-date as well, such as reading the latest legal text published by well-known experts in the field; attending practice update sessions put on by the Legal Education Society of Alberta and other legal educators; attending national conferences relating to areas of specialization; and receiving legislative update newsletters from the Queen’s Printer.
No matter what your practice area, but in particular if you practice in a well-known area of law, such as oil and gas transactions; administrative law, family law, criminal law, employment law or wills and estates, you likely receive many notices of programs that are available to you to enhance your knowledge of the subject, including Canadian Bar Association – Alberta subsection lunch ’n’ learn sessions. To develop a well-rounded and competent practice, it is valuable to identify other areas of law that could impact your primary practice area.
Constitutional law is in the background of many areas of law and there is a large body of case law that exists around Charter issues. Consider reviewing some of the key cases to remain current on areas that form the foundation of our society.
Alternative Dispute Resolution processes are becoming an important component of legal work. Many courses are available to improve negotiation skills, discuss collaborative law and educate lawyers on the many ways a dispute can be resolved outside of traditional court processes.
Aboriginal law impacts many areas of law that deal with energy and property rights but also provides us with cultural competence when working with First Nations and Aboriginal clients. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommends that lawyers develop cultural competence and an understanding of Aboriginal rights and legal issues borne out of the history of our First Nations and Aboriginal citizens.
A search for educational opportunities related to subsets of substantive law that may not be part of your day-to-day practice but that will enhance your ability to serve your clients is well worth the effort.
You can find additional suggestions within the online lawyer portal as you go through the CPD plan template. When you expand the areas of learning and knowledge, as well as the activities tab, within each competency, you can find practical suggestions for how to incorporate this competency into your annual professional development plan.
Written by: Jennifer Freud, Policy Counsel