Task Force introduces options for PLTC and articling reform

The Admission Program Task Force is exploring options for reform and enhancement of the Law Society Admission Program, including some integration or harmonization of PLTC and articling. The Task Force is committed to consulting with the law schools, law students, principals and other interested lawyers and invites comment on the reform options outlined in its interim report, which was presented to the Benchers in December. The report is available in the Resource Library/Reports section of the Law Society website at www.lawsociety.bc.ca.

In 1999, Christopher Roper, Director of the Centre for Legal Education (Sydney, Australia), conducted an independent, comprehensive review of the Professional Legal Training Course. In his report, New Directions for Practical Legal Training in British Columbia (the "Roper Report"), he concluded: "The course is very successful in achieving what it sets out to do. But now it is time to review it. Quality control begins at the entry gate and so, naturally, the training for those about to enter the profession must be put under scrutiny, regularly and critically."

The Benchers dedicated their 2001 retreat to considering PLTC and articling program reform and enhancement and set up an Admission Program Task Force, chaired by First Vice-President Richard Gibbs, Q.C. The Task Force is mandated to review the Admission Program, including PLTC and articling, and to recommend reforms to ensure the program meets the needs of the profession and students, and fulfils the Law Society's statutory mandate to serve the public interest.

In December the Task Force presented to the Benchers an Interim Report, setting out a series of options for reform for further exploration. The options are put forward, not as recommendations, but as options that merit further analysis and require consultation by the Task Force with the profession, law schools and students. The Task Force expects to prepare a final report and recommendations for the Benchers next May.

The Interim Report recognizes that the mandate of the Law Society Admission Program is to ensure that students admitted to the B.C. bar are competent and fit to begin the practice of law. The Task Force endorses the conclusion in the Roper Report that the profession needs to be satisfied that newly called lawyers possess: 1) sufficient legal knowledge; 2) sufficient lawyering and law practice skills and professional attitude; 3) sufficient practical experience, and 4) good character.

The Interim Report considers the potential for enrichment of the Admission Program by linking and harmonizing the content of PLTC and articling. As noted in the Roper Report: ".the one year period from graduation to Call must be seen as a whole; as an integrated time of professional preparation, with its own objectives and components. I also suggest that the proposed content of PLTC . be, in fact and with some slight adaptation, the prescribed content of the articling year itself."

Both the Admission Program Task Force and many of the Benchers at the 2001 retreat have identified articling as a weak link in the professional legal education process. Because articling functions in isolation, and the quality of experience varies greatly, for some students it is now less significant than PLTC as preparation for the competent practice of law.

Yet, from the first day of law school to call to the bar, articling is the one part of the pre-call education and qualification process that is dedicated to helping students acquire, in a real-life context, the competence to practise law. As such, it is analogous to the teaching hospital experience for medical students. As important as the articling experience is, it can unfortunately fall short. The Law Society's approach to articling has been largely hands-off. While providing modest guidelines to principals and students on what should happen in articling, the Society largely ignores whether these guidelines are met.

In its review, the Task Force is assessing a number of articling options, including a system in which principals and students would agree to a comprehensive, detailed educational contract, including an educational plan, followed up by mid-term and final progress reports.

Options for PLTC reform include revising the curriculum to correspond to a new Competency Profile, which has been developed in cooperation with the other western provinces and recently approved by the Benchers. [This competency profile can be found as an appendix to the Interim Report.] Also under consideration is using on-line technology (as the Roper Report recommends) to integrate articling and PLTC and to improve access to materials, registration and information services.

The Interim Report lists additional options that the Task Force has considered but, along with the Benchers, has decided against pursuing, such as eliminating the articling term, eliminating PLTC and replacing it with examinations and skills assessments, or substantially lengthening the PLTC term.

The Task Force invites lawyers and students to read the Interim Report and welcomes comments and suggestions on the report by February 28, 2002. Please contact:

Alan Treleaven
Director of Professional Legal Training
Law Society of B.C.
845 Cambie Street
Vancouver, B.C. V6B 4Z9
Fax: (604) 669-5232
Email: atreleaven@lsbc.org

Lawyers without internet access are welcome to request a hard copy of the report from the Law Society office.