CPD grows up

Precedent reveals how to get the most out of your CPD hours

By Lia Grainger

On Tuesday December 4th, 2012


Now just over a year old, the Law Society’s continuing professional development program is starting to hit its stride. While it may be a grind for those seeking to do the minimum, many lawyers are finding ways to leverage their mandatory hours by building their networks and bulking up their résumés

Did your heart flutter with excitement as you read those three little letters?

In January of 2011, the Law Society of Upper Canada implemented a new rule: all Ontario lawyers would be required to complete 12 hours of continuing professional development each year. While the purpose of the program is noble to be sure — keeping the professional knowledge of every lawyer and paralegal up to scratch — there were many who hummed and hawed about just how gosh darned inconvenient it was to get those  hours.

For those lawyers, it would seem that CPD is a bit of drag.

But for trademark lawyer Scot Patriquin, managing director of Patriquin Law, it was actually a connection made in a CPD course that jump-started his career. “Early in my career, I would attend CPD with goals in mind,” says Patriquin, who has headed his own trademark firm since 2004, just two years after graduating law school. “I wanted to meet people who were connected in practice areas I wanted to pursue, particularly instructors.”

As a young sole practitioner with little experience and fewer resources, he saw an opportunity in CPD and seized it. Patriquin knew he wanted to work in trademark law, so he registered for a course in the subject and became close with the instructor in the process.

As the course ended, they struck a mutually beneficial deal: Patriquin referred all his trademark work to his teacher — who kept the fees — but they would work on the file as a team. “I got trained, developed expertise, and eventually opened my own trademark practice,” says Patriquin. “I can definitely say that in some CPD courses, the instructor can be as important as the content.”

How’s that CPD looking now? Hardly a drag.

For curious and ambitious lawyers like Patriquin, CPD has become more than simply an extended education. It is a welcome networking and public relations tool and a way to move both practice and profile onward and upward — it’s just a matter of finding the right way to make CPD work for you. Thankfully, Patriquin and lawyers like him have uncovered a wide variety of ways to get everything out of the CPD system, and across such diverse mediums that you’d think the challenge would be reaching December without fulfilling your hours.

Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP partner Stephen Morrison is something of a CPD connoisseur. This seasoned lawyer, called to the bar in 1978, fulfills his credits by teaching lawyers and non-lawyers, writing for both legal and lay publications, and attending courses and webinars that spark his interest — and he sees promotional and networking opportunities across the board.

“I’ll probably have three times the minimum requirement on any given year,” says Morrison, “And a lot of that comes from combining CPD with marketing.” Teaching and writing for legal publications establishes him as an expert in his field, but he particularly enjoys speaking to and writing for the general public. They’re potential clients. “Getting out in front of industry users is often more interesting for me personally,” says Morrison, “and it can result in referrals.”

Lara Nathans, a partner in McCarthy Tétrault’s business law group, who was called in 2002, uses her CPD hours to further her relationship with existing clients, mainly by helping organize the firm’s free information sessions.

“It’s a chance to meet with clients outside of file work and learn what is important and relevant to them,” says Nathans. She also organizes and instructs other lawyers in-house for CPD credits — providing her colleagues with a chance to network. “Every opportunity to connect with other lawyers is great, and it improves your profile around the firm,” says Nathans.

While CPD and other networking opportunities abound in large firms, for lawyers like Nader Hasan, a partner at Ruby Shiller Chan Hasan Barristers, it’s trickier. “Oftentimes criminal law practitioners work in small firms or solo practices,” says Hasan. “We don’t network with our colleagues as much as our friends on Bay Street.” The remedy? Conferences. He says the Criminal Lawyers’ Association’s annual conference, aside from offering useful content and CPD credits, presents a chance to connect with peers outside of the courtroom.

Some lawyers have described the conference as essential — if you’re a criminal lawyer in Ontario and you’re not there, your absence will be noted. These sorts of expectations are common at industry conferences and organizers are aware that not all lawyers are able to afford the registration fees. The Ontario Bar Association offers a bursary program to members in good standing who qualify. Young lawyers can also take advantage of volunteering opportunities to assist at and attend its half-day programs while some Canadian Bar Association conferences give them discounted rates.

Of course, not everyone is going to be able to make it to a conference, or even to a class, which is why online options rule the CPD roost. According to the LSUC, approximately  percent of lawyers choose to view courses on the web to fulfill their CPD hours.

But webcasts and networking need not be mutually exclusive.

“Even in an online setting, there’s often the chance to be interactive, and lawyers want that,” says Heather Gore. She’s the business development and program lawyer at Osgoode Professional Development, and she says lawyers like the flexibility that webcasts offer, but they still want feedback, personal attention and the ability to ask questions and interact. It seems even when staring at a screen, a good lawyer still recognizes a networking opportunity.

To fulfill those demands, Osgoode and the LSUC both offer scheduled replays of webcasts that allow multiple lawyers to sign in simultaneously and live chat with one another. It’s an option that gives lawyers face time with peers that may be on the other side of the country — and all without leaving the office.

Still, there are plenty of online courses that don’t require interaction, and Morrison points out that’s something CPD doesn’t really regulate. “It’s easy for someone to log in to a webinar and simply turn down the volume and ignore it — there’s no one monitoring that,” says Morrison of a potential way to cheat the system. But with all of the opportunities that CPD provides to connect with peers, clients and the world at large, those who take shortcuts are really only cheating themselves.

Wanna rack up hours and hobnob with colleagues and industry leaders? Attending conferences is the way to go. Here are some big ones not to be missed:

The granddaddy of legal conferences in Canada, this is the only national gathering that welcomes lawyers from all practice areas, and takes place in a different Canadian city each year. Attendance is usually around the one thousand mark, so attendees can connect with a huge range of judges and lawyers and gain insights into legal issues beyond the scope of their everyday practice.
THE DEETS: August 18–20, 2013, in Saskatoon

With session names like “Beyond ‘Shaddup’: Ten Things to Chat About With a Client in Police Custody,” “50 Shades of Grey — Ethics,” and “‘Bye, Bye Jailbird’: How to Prepare for What Comes After Your Client Goes to Jail” in the 2012 edition, it’s clear that the conference organizers pull out the stops to keep things fresh and entertaining at this annual event. But beyond the talks and workshops, this is the place to see and be seen in the world of Canadian criminal law.
THE DEETS: November 1–2, 2013, in Toronto

This annual joint conference covers administrative, labour and employment law, and regularly features some very noteworthy speakers — last year Justice Thomas Cromwell of the Supreme Court of Canada did a fireside chat. The “View From the Bench” session features judges from across the country speaking on recent developments, and is a chance for lawyers to connect with the men and women who make the rules they enforce.
THE DEETS: November 29–30, 2013, in Ottawa

Calling all lovers of the Constitution! This conference gathers together leading constitutional scholars and practitioners to discuss the latest developments on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. From Supreme Court decisions to upcoming cases and trends, you’ll get to sit side-by-side with the best and brightest in the field and shoot the breeze about the Charter on its 31st birthday.
THE DEETS: Fall 2013 in Toronto


The deadline for completing your 2012 CPD is December 31. Not sure if you’ve got enough hours? Here’s how to do the math

Professionalism — These hours cover professional responsibility, ethics and/or practice management and must be accredited by the Law Society.

Substantive — These cover pretty much everything else ranging from brushing up on the latest developments in your practice area to learning new things outside your specialization. These hours need not be approved by the Law Society.

Lawyers in their first two years: You are required to complete 12 CPD hours per calendar year, including a minimum of three professionalism hours and up to nine substantive hours. Any program you attend must include at least 0.5 professionalism hours. As of last April, you can now apply to the LSUC to have an activity such as writing or teaching accredited.

Lawyers with two-plus years of experience: You’ll need 12 CPD hours with a minimum of three professionalism hours and up to nine substantive hours per year. Substantive hours need not be accredited and non-legal subjects are eligible as long as they pertain to your area of practice.


There are a lot of ways to get CPD hours while also boosting your profile and connections, but how many actual credits will you earn?

Writing an article: As long as the content is law-related, you can write articles and books for any audience — lawyers or lay people — for a maximum of six hours per year.

Giving a lecture or teaching a class: You can earn up to six hours per year teaching, and actual teaching time is multiplied by three to reflect your prep time. A guest lecture may be all you need.

Attending a conference: The number of hours earned is based on actual attendance time, so a week-long conference might take care of all your CPD hours in one go while a day-long conference will likely only count for three to five hours. These hours are broken down into substantive hours and professionalism hours.

Attending a live or replayed webcast with live interactive chat: Like conferences, these are calculated based on the actual attendance time, and are broken down into substantive and professional credits.

Web exclusive:
Read about how lawyers recently got creative with their CPD hours at an improv workshop held by Osgoode Professional Development.