As of June 2010, all new lawyers called to the bar in Ontario will be required to attend 24 hours of continuing legal education (CLE) in their first 24 months of practice. The Law Society passed the new requirements in January and further details about implementation are expected to be announced in September.
The new requirements follow consultation with law firms, legal education providers and bar associations. However, some of the country’s biggest firms are still unhappy with the outcome. Precedent has obtained a letter written to the Law Society of Upper Canada by Norman Letalik of Borden Ladner Gervais LLP and signed by directors of student and professional programs at 13 other firms that raises a number of concerns with the new program.
The signatories to the April letter support the concept of mandatory CLE, but see the accreditation process as worrisome. Fearing that “considerable bureaucracy” will be involved in accrediting CLE on a course-bycourse basis, the firms say they would rather be accredited as CLE providers and then make their own decisions about which programs meet the standards.
The firms also objected to the requirement that 25 percent of each course be dedicated to professional responsibility; not every course will lend itself to study of this nature they note. As well, the firms are alarmed that the penalty for lawyers who fail to complete the required hours is having their licence suspended.
Diana Miles, director of professional development and competence at the Law Society, dismisses such concerns. In a written reply to the firms, Miles emphasized that the programs, not the providers, will be accredited to “ensure that the programming addresses the requisite competencies.”
Miles agrees that not all CLE lends itself to professional responsibility. Nevertheless, she says that “this foundational learning is critical,” and reminds firms that they can still teach courses without this component — they just won’t be accredited. As for the punishment for failing to complete the required hours, Miles says lawyers will be given plenty of notice to ensure that CLE is completed on time.
Mandatory CLE is a growing trend in Canada. This year, the Law Society of British Columbia and the Barreau du Québec introduced mandatory CLE requirements for their members. In B.C., all practicing lawyers are required to complete 12 hours of CLE each year, while Quebec lawyers must put in at least 30 hours over a two-year period. Mandatory CLE is also de rigueur in England, Wales, Australia and 42 American states.