For Ontario lawyers, the call to the bar used to be the last step of formal legal education. However, as of January 1, 2011, the Law Society of Upper Canada will require all lawyers to participate in 12 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) annually.
Despite the extra workload, the response has been positive, says Laurie Pawlitza, treasurer of the Law Society and former chair of the LSUC’s Professional Development and Competence Committee. “We already had an expectation about the number of CPD hours that should be completed,” says Pawlitza. “So we’re really just formalizing that.”
Three of the 12 hours must relate to ethics, professionalism and practice management, plus ethics-related material must be preapproved by the Law Society. For lawyers in their first two years of practice, all their courses must be LSUC approved.
Beyond those regulations, the Law Society has attempted to define qualifying CPD hours as broadly as possible. Lawyers may attend courses, participate in study groups, write, edit or teach. While the LSUC itself will offer free ethics-related courses via webcast, lawyers may choose from a number of CPD providers.
The new CPD will operate largely on the honour system. Still, lawyers should be diligent: any caught without having completed their hours on time will have their licences suspended until they do.
The new measures are good news for those who provide continuing education to lawyers, and not just because they are likely to drive up registration. “It sends the right message to the public that things are being regulated,” says Michelle Steele, marketing director at Osgoode Professional Development, which has provided CPD programs since 1997.
For Bay Street firms that already offer CPD courses, it’s business as usual. “The content itself will be tweaked, but will remain largely unchanged,” says Joanne Clarfield Schaefer, whose firm, Bennett Jones LLP, offers in-house CPD to its lawyers. Nevertheless, the director of professional development sees two advantages to the new requirements: standardization and ensuring that lawyers at small and solo firms have access to training.
So why now? If most lawyers already do CPD, why regulate it? For one, other law societies in Canada already have similar requirements. Moreover, Pawlitza says, “It’s our obligation as the Law Society to make sure our members are competent.”