The Law Society will be rolling out a new and improved Education Plan on June 1, 2015. Anyone applying to be a student-at-law (student) on, or after, this date must use the new form. Any student who has already started articles may switch to the new education plan or continue to use the previous one. Students who want to change will need to coordinate with their principal and submit the new form to the Law Society.
The focus of the education plan has shifted away from a substantive law based approach toward entry level competencies. The new education plan aligns articling students in Alberta with nationwide standards for entry into the profession.
The five key competency areas and objectives that must be met by students under the new education plan are:
- Ethics and Professionalism
At the end of the articling term, the student will be able to act ethically and professionally in accordance with the standard set by the Law Society of Alberta Code of Conduct.
- Practice Management
At the end of the articling term, the student will be able to effectively manage time, files, finances, and professional responsibilities, as well as being able to delegate tasks and provide appropriate supervision.
- Client Relationship Management
At the end of the articling term, the student will be able to effectively manage client relationships.
- Conducting Matters
At the end of the articling term, the student will be able to conduct a range of matters handled by lawyers on a regular basis.
- Adjudication/Alternative Dispute Resolution
At the end of the articling term, the student will be able to identify core elements of a dispute and resolve disputes through use of alternative dispute resolution or adjudication.
A sample of learning activities for each competency are also included in the new education plan. The learning activities are not a checklist but rather recommendations to help guide the principal and student. At the end of the articling term(s) the student should meet the competency objectives at a level corresponding with entry to the profession, but not at the level of mastery.
What does the new plan mean for students and principals? Listed below are the top five things we think are important to know about the release of the new education plan.
1. It aligns the Law Society of Alberta with the National Competencies
The current education plan has been in place for over 30 years and is a checklist requiring students to be supervised in at least five areas of law.
In September 2012, the Council of the Federation of Law Societies approved the National Entry-Level Competency Profile for Lawyers and Quebec Notaries (National Competencies). The National Competencies were subsequently adopted by the Law Society of Alberta.
Why are nationwide standards so important? Under the 2013 National Mobility Agreement, admission to one Law Society permits admission to every other Canadian Law Society. While the agreement makes it easy for lawyers to transfer from one jurisdiction to the other, it also calls attention to the importance of consistent entry criteria across provinces.
There are three components to the National Competencies: knowledge, skills and tasks. The revised education plan focuses on tasks while knowledge and skills are met in other ways.
Cori Ghitter, the Law Society’s Director of Professionalism and Access, explained that “we are looking at all of the education a student has had leading up to their call to the Bar. The acquisition of substantive knowledge comes from a students’ experience in law school while the CPLED course teaches skills. Our new education plan focuses on tasks and real life practice experiences.”
2. It reflects the realities of law practice today
Every year the Law Society hosts a long service award reception for lawyers who have been practising for 50 or 60 years. We ask recipients: “What has changed the most in your time practising law here in Alberta?” The most common response is the decline of lawyers engaged in general practice.
The current education plan is not compatible with this transformed legal world. As a result, students are struggling to find a principal who can meet the minimum five areas of law requirement.
“Realistically we don’t have very many general practitioners who dabble in multiple areas of law. In adopting the new education plan, we are just trying to more accurately reflect the way people practice,” said Cori. “Even where principals and students are currently checking off five substantive practice areas, we recognize that not all of those areas are going to be fully covered.”
While developing the new education plan, we welcomed feedback from a sample group of principals. One of the top concerns they identified with moving away from substantive areas of law is that some students may be missing key skills when venturing out on their own.
While substantive areas are important, our complaint history indicates that the biggest risk to lawyers venturing out on their own is a weakness in practice management, client relationships and ethics and professionalism. The new education plan emphasizes these competencies.
Cori stressed that it is the professional responsibility of all lawyers, regardless of years of experience, to limit their practice to areas where they are competent. It is the ethical obligation of the lawyer to seek advice or resources if they are in need of further development.
3. It opens up articling opportunities for students and principals
Articling is no longer a one size fits all approach. There are a variety of opportunities for students to explore outside of the multi-practice law firm setting. The new competency-based approach encourages in-house lawyers, sole practitioners and lawyers working in non-profit settings to take articling students.
“We are hopeful the new education plan can remove some barriers and inspire lawyers to think differently about what a good articling position looks like,” expressed Cori.
Some firms or principals may not be able to accommodate a full 12-month article. Therefore students-at-law can build their own articling experience through composite articles and secondments. The new education plan makes it easier to hire a student for a shorter period of time.
“Another part of it is a cultural change to say to lawyers, who never thought of themselves as being qualified to offer either a full or partial article, that you have something to teach and can take on a student.”
4. It streamlines the application process
A number of other changes to our application forms for principals and students stem from the significant changes we’ve made to the education plan. Regardless of whether the principal is a judge or a lawyer, the forms are now the same. Other changes include:
- Principals are no longer sign-off on the Application for Admission form (Form 2-1).
- The Articles of Clerkship Forms (Form 2-8 and Form 2-9) have been combined into one document. This revised form also replaces the last page of the articling manual that was previously signed by the principal acknowledging the CPLED program.
- The Evaluation Certificate (Form 2-7), which must be submitted halfway through articles, has been revised to align with the requirements of the new education plan. Note: We will leave the original evaluation certificate on our website until the end of the year for students using the previous education plan.
The revised forms will be available on our website on June 1, 2015. Questions regarding these changes they can be directed to Law Society membership services at 403.229.4700 or email.
5. It is part of an ongoing review of competency for lawyers
Revamping our education plan is an evolving process and we welcome any feedback that you have on any of the form changes and key competencies.
The Law Society continues to explore ways to help lawyers advance their competencies throughout their entire career. Fostering excellence in lawyer competence is a fundamental way to avoid complaints and support the quality of legal services available to the public.