Professional development remains voluntary in BC, but the Benchers urge lawyers to target a minimum of 12 hours of coursework and 50 hours of self-study each year
BC lawyers to report annually on voluntary continuing legal education
BC lawyers will be required to report to the Law Society on an annual basis their professional development (continuing legal education) activities for the preceding 12 months. This report will be added to the Annual Practice Declaration beginning this summer.
The Benchers approved this new reporting requirement at the recommendation of the
Lawyer Education Task Force, which presented its first interim report in March. The Benchers also now encourage each practising lawyer in BC to complete a minimum of 12 hours of coursework (the equivalent of two full course days) and 50 hours of self-study each year. The targets are set as minimum expectations for the profession and are not mandatory. Continuing legal education remains voluntary for BC lawyers.
The Lawyer Education Task Force, chaired by Cariboo Bencher Patricia Schmit, QC, has contemplated a range of options for the professional development of lawyers, as a means of maintaining and enhancing the delivery of quality legal services.
The Benchers set up the Task Force in June 2002 to develop proposals for a comprehensive, strategic approach to promoting the excellence and competence of lawyers through post-call learning and information support. The Task Force was guided by one of the central goals of the Law Society's strategic plan: "To ensure that lawyers are competent throughout their careers to provide quality legal services."
For BC lawyers, staying current on the law has always been a matter of professional responsibility. Rule 1, Chapter 3 of the Handbook provides that, with respect to each area of law in which a lawyer practises, he or she must acquire and maintain adequate knowledge of the substantive law, knowledge of the practice and procedures by which that substantive law can be effectively applied and skills to represent the client's interests effectively.
The Task Force concluded that, by setting recommended minimum expectations for professional development coursework and self-study and by requiring BC lawyers to report on their professional development, the Law Society would publicly affirm its commitment and that of the profession to continuing legal education. The Society will also be able to collect comprehensive data for tracking continuing education in the profession and determining the future needs of BC lawyers.
Although mandatory continuing legal education (common in the great majority of US states) may possibly lie ahead in BC, the Task Force has concluded that its specific minimum expectations for professional development, combined with mandatory reporting, will meet the Law Society's objectives at present.
A lawyer who does not meet the recommended minimum expectations for professional development, or takes no professional development over the course of a year, faces no consequences on reporting that fact to the Law Society - with one exception. If complaints or concerns have arisen over a lawyer's competency, and if the Practice Standards Committee orders a review of that lawyer's practice, the lawyer's record of professional development activities may be considered in the course of the practice review and be noted in the resulting practice review report. As a result, the issue could be considered by the Practice Standards Committee or by a hearing panel should the lawyer's conduct or competence ultimately warrant a formal hearing.
The mandatory reporting of continuing legal education is not a new idea. Lawyers in both Ontario and Alaska are subject to such reporting requirements, and the issue was raised by Law Society committees in BC dating back to the 1980s.
In recognition of the fact that any new reporting requirements present some inconvenience to lawyers, the Law Society intends to make this report as simple as possible by incorporating it into the Annual Practice Declaration.
Lawyers will be asked to report the continuing legal education courses and programs they have attended in the preceding 12 months, and also to specify how much of that time was devoted to professional ethics or practice management material. They will also be asked to report on the hours they devoted to self-study during that period, excluding any research or review of material undertaken in connection with specific files in their practice.
The Lawyer Education Task Force is developing guidelines to assist lawyers in determining what constitutes coursework and what constitutes self-study. In general terms, it is anticipated that reported hours of coursework will include time a lawyer has committed to:
- live programs, workshops and conferences, such as those offered by the CLE Society of BC, Trial Lawyers Association of BC, Canadian Bar Association, Federation of Law Societies and other continuing education providers,
- in-house legal education programs offered to employees by law firms and in-house legal departments,
- telephone programs, such as teleseminars,
- interactive online programs, such as those of the CLE Society of BC,
- video replay programs in an organized group setting,
- organized education discussion groups, such as at CBA section meetings,
- participation in a post-LL.B. degree program, and
- preparation for and teaching in PLTC, continuing professional education programs and law school programs.
Reported hours of self-study are expected to include hours a lawyer has spent in the study of legal material in the following media:
- print material (such as publications of continuing legal education providers, legal texts, case law and articles in the Advocate, Law Society publications, Canadian Bar Review, BarTalk and other legal journals),
- internet material, including online versions of the publications noted above,
- videotape (other than in an organized group setting), and
Lawyers will receive more information on the filing of their Annual Practice Declaration in advance of their next filing deadline.
If you have any questions about reporting on professional development activities, please contact Alan Treleaven, Director of Education and Practice, at email@example.com or 604 605-5354 (toll-free within BC 1-800-903-5300).
Annual Practice Declaration will be filed online beginning this summer
The new professional development reporting requirements will be incorporated into the Law Society's Annual Practice Declaration beginning this summer.
In the months ahead, the Law Society will introduce online filing of the Annual Practice Declaration by practising lawyers in BC. The Declarations of individual lawyers in a law firm will be filed in the same timeframe as the firm's filing of its annual Trust Report, which means filing deadlines will vary from firm to firm. Firms will receive details on their filing requirements from the Law Society's trust review staff in advance of their filing dates.
Practising lawyers who are exempt from insurance, such as in-house counsel and Crown Counsel, will file the Annual Practice Declaration in September.