Benchers approve 28 recommendations for admission reform
Changes ahead for articling and PLTC
This Fall the Law Society begins work on an implementation plan to introduce reforms to articling, PLTC, examinations and skills assessments, governance of the admission program and post-call competence.
The Benchers approved 28 recommendations for reform to the admission program this summer, as set out in the Task Force's comprehensive 2002 report, Admission Program Reform, available in the Resource Library/Reports section of the Law Society website at www.lawsociety.bc.ca.
Many of these reforms were first raised in an interim report, presented by the Task Force to the Benchers in December, 2001 and published to the profession for comment. The Benchers directed the Task Force on the options that merited further review, and the Task Force accordingly undertook a more extensive study, which included surveying and consultations with law school faculty and students, PLTC faculty and staff, CLE staff, the BC Branch of the CBA, current and former principals in large and small firms, local and county bar associations and others in the profession. The Task Force also considered the potential for on-line learning, and reviewed on-line learning initiatives underway in BC, other jurisdictions and other professions.
As noted by the Task Force in its interim report, the Law Society admission program is intended to ensure that those seeking call to the BC bar are competent and fit to begin the practice of law. The profession must be satisfied that newly called lawyers possess legal knowledge, lawyering and law practice skills, professional attitude, experience in the practice of law and good character.
The Task Force concluded that the admission program should retain both teaching and articling components, but that PLTC and articling should be better integrated and harmonized.
In the Task Force study, it became clear that articling was a weak link in the professional legal education process. Because articling functions in isolation, and the quality of the experience varies greatly, for some students it is now less significant than PLTC as preparation for the competent practice of law. Indeed, 1997 and 2001 surveys of articling principals and students, supplemented by interviews, confirm the perception that the most significant shortcomings of the articling term include inconsistencies in the quality of articling experiences, in supervision and feedback and in instruction about professional values and attitudes, as well as the powerlessness of students to ensure they receive satisfactory articles.
This became a focus of reform. "The Law Society ought not to continue with its hands-off approach to articles," the Task Force reported to the Benchers. "The Law Society should take steps to ensure that principals and articling students understand their obligations during articles and that a process exists to ensure that there is a reasonable level of consistency in the articling experience."
To overcome current shortcomings, students will be required to obtain experience during articles in a range of lawyering skills - to be set out in an admission program checklist - and in at least three areas of practice. Articled students and principals will also be required to file with the Law Society at the start of articles an articling education contract that incorporates references to the checklist, a joint mid-term report and a joint final compliance report.
The Professional Legal Training Course will retain its current structure, duration and classroom delivery model, but will be directly administered by the Law Society. The program will maintain full-time faculty, supplemented by guest practitioners and a primarily workshop format. PLTC, however, will place greater emphasis on skills, professional responsibility and practice management, and less on substantive law.
There will be no mandatory entrance examination as a prerequisite to PLTC or articling. Such an exam was proposed in 1999 as a way to reduce or eliminate substantive law components from the PLTC curriculum, to phase out the qualification exams and to allow students to focus more fully on skills training.
The Task Force took account of concerns subsequently raised over an entrance exam, including the narrowing effect it might have on the law school curriculum, the delay it might pose in students starting the admission program and the concern that students might go to other provinces.
As part of a greater outreach effort in the law schools, the Law Society will, however, advise law students that success in the admission program requires they be knowledgeable in core areas of substantive law, practice and procedure, as they will be examined on these but may receive little or no additional instruction in PLTC.
Lawyers from other common law countries with five years of practice experience will be able to apply for an exemption from parts of PLTC, as they may now do for the articling term.
As interprovincial lawyer mobility in Canada is becoming increasingly liberal, the Task Force expects that the Law Society may eventually wish to harmonize admission standards on a more national scale, warranting further reforms.
The Admission Program Task Force will bring its implementation plan, and any proposed rule changes, before the Benchers for approval in 2003. The Task Force was chaired by President Richard Gibbs, QC and was composed of Vice-President Howard Berge, QC, Bencher Robert Diebolt, QC, Mary Childs, Anne Chopra, William Ehrcke, QC, Susan Sangha, Life Bencher Jane Shackell, QC and Peter Warner, QC. Staff support to the Task Force is by Jim Matkin, QC, Lynn Burns (PLTC), Michael Lucas, Lesley Small and Alan Treleaven.
Admission program reforms - highlights
Here are highlights of the 28 recommendations of the Admission Program Task Force that have been approved by the Benchers. For a full list of recommendations and analysis, see Admission Program Reform - final report, on the Law Society website.
Admission program expectations
- In partnership with the BC law schools, the Law Society should offer to help law schools teach more about professional ethics and professionalism, increase its profile in the law schools and begin to explain the Law Society roles of protecting the public and serving the profession.
- The Law Society should inform law school students that it is fundamental to their success in the admission program that they be knowledgeable in the core areas of substantive law, practice and procedure on which they will be examined, but on which they may receive little or no instruction during the admission program.
- Articling students should be required to obtain experience during articles in all lawyering skills, pursuant to an admission program checklist, and also in at least three areas of practice.
- Articling students and principals should be required to file with the Law Society a) an articling education contract (incorporating references to the checklist), at the commencement of articles, b) a joint mid-term report and c) a joint final compliance report.
- A failure to complete the required items in the checklist should have the following consequences: a) For the student, an extension of the articling requirement until there is compliance with the required items, subject to a successful application to the Credentials Committee for an exception and b) For the principal, a caution and possible referral to the Credentials Committee before future articles will be approved.
- The required years of practice experience for eligibility to serve as a principal should increase from four to seven years, with each principal limited to two students at one time.
- Support should be provided for articling principals and students, including:
a) a comprehensive Articling Manual for students and principals, containing practical information and guidance on the student/principal relationship, including Law Society requirements and expectations, resources and contact information;
b) the designation of a Law Society staff member as the Articling Officer to answer questions relating to articling, including the new articling initiatives, to receive suggestions and complaints concerning the articling process and to refer students or principals to appropriate resources;
c) coaching/mentoring by PLTC faculty who will provide support, on request, to students seeking advice on skills, ethics, resources and the performance of articling tasks.
- The Law Society should coordinate with and promote the work of law school career service offices as a means of assisting students to find articles suited to their career goals, and to encourage the elimination of barriers that may be encountered in the articling recruitment process by Aboriginal and visible minority students and students with disabilities.
- PLTC and articling should be combined into a single admission program, governed and administered by the Law Society.
- The PLTC curriculum should be revised and adjusted as required to correspond to an approved "competency profile" through a) an increase in the instructional emphasis on skills, professional responsibility and practice management, b) a decrease in the substantive law teaching component and c) the incorporation of diversity issues.
- Lawyers applying for admission from foreign common law jurisdictions who hold a National Committee on Accreditation Certificate of Qualification (or a Canadian common law LL.B.) and have five years in practice should be entitled to apply to the Credentials Committee for exemption from parts of PLTC.
- Students should be advised prior to articles that they have the option to write the Qualification Examinations at any of the scheduled examination sittings during articles, whether before, during or after PLTC.
- There should be a change from the points system for examinations and skills assessments to showing a pass/fail grade on each.