CEO's Perspective

Toward a national standard for admission

Timothy McGeeby Timothy E. McGee

The Federation of Law Societies has made the development and implementation of national standards for admission to the profession one of its strategic priorities. I would like to share with you some background on this issue and highlight the latest initiatives.

The standards and processes used by law societies in Canada to regulate admission to the Bar vary from province to province. While considerations such as competencies, good character and pre-admission evaluation and testing are used across the country, there are significant differences in application. Why should this matter? Here is the Federation’s answer.

  Stephane Rivard, Alan Treleaven and Tim McGee

Stéphane Rivard, President of the Federation of Law Societies (centre) meeting here with Alan Treleaven, Director, Education & Practice (left) and Tim McGee.

First, a national admissions standards regime enhances public confidence in the legal profession by ensuring that each and every lawyer admitted in Canada has met clearly defined standards in the areas of education, competency and good character no matter where they earned their credentials.

Second, national standards of admission support the popular national mobility regime for lawyers in Canada. All of the provincial law societies (with certain exceptions for Quebec, given the civil code) have adopted and support the National Mobility Agreement under which lawyers in Canada can move easily from one common law jurisdiction to another. This approach reflects modern labour mobility policies based on a “mandatory mutual recognition” of credentials. The integrity of our system of national lawyer mobility depends on the existence of reasonably similar standards for admission to the bar across the country. The current differences in admission standards are hard to justify and undermine one of the underlying premises of the national mobility program.

Third, reducing the differences in admission standards across jurisdictions is consistent with the aims of fair access legislation now in place in Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia. In each case, a commissioner has the authority to review the admissions processes of regulated professions. This includes examining why processes differ from one jurisdiction to another and why different classes of applicant are treated differently. On a global scale, we also know that regulatory differences (even though they may be defensible) can fuel criticism of law regulators.

Fourth, national admission standards should result in greater efficiency for law societies by eliminating the considerable duplication of effort and expense that is inevitable in the current system where each law society develops and operates its own processes and standards for evaluating applicants.

The Federation has struck a working group of which I am a member to design a detailed project proposal on national admission standards for presentation to the Federation council in October.

The goals of this initial phase will be to:

define required bar admission competencies and good character standards;

articulate required educational competencies, relying on work already underway through the Federation Task Force on the Canadian Common Law Degree, chaired by John Hunter QC; and

develop and implement a nationally approved system of evaluation and testing compliance with the uniform standards.

All law societies will be encouraged to evaluate the proposal and, following consultation, provide input and approval to move forward.