Professional Legal Training Course turns 25

As the Professional Legal Training Course completes its first 25 years, it seems appropriate to review some of its history and development.

In the summer of 1983 a pilot project called the Professional Legal Training Program opened its doors in space provided by the Faculty of Commerce at UBC. Designed by Professor Neil Gold, one of Canada's best-known legal educators, the program was novel in its focus on skills and professional ethics, and in its structure as a full-time program in a classroom setting. The pilot project broke legal and practice skills into their basic components, providing students with opportunities to practise them and to receive feedback on their performance.

Each of Vancouver's larger firms and many of the smaller ones were asked to contribute at least one of their students to the pilot's six classes of approximately 90 students. Meanwhile, the rest of the 1983 student contingent attended the old bar admission program, conducted one evening per week in various law firms' boardrooms. Lynn Burns, PLTC's current Deputy Director, was a student in the pilot program.

In 1984, under the guidance of James Taylor, QC, many revisions were made to the program; its name was changed to the Professional Legal Training Course and attendance became mandatory for all articled students. PLTC was reviewed by an independent committee chaired by Hamish Cameron, QC, in 1986, by Legal Education 25Consultant Christopher Roper in 1999 and, together with the articling program, by the Bar Admission Task Force in 2001/2002. "While many changes and innovations have been made to the course throughout the years, today's PLTC remains true to its original focus on skills training and ethics."

President John Hunter, QC, addresses the May 2008 session of PLTC in Vancouver.PLTC is held three times a year in Vancouver at the Law Society Building and once each summer at the University of Victoria, Faculty of Law.

The course is taught by full-time faculty with many years of teaching and practice experience, and by contract instructors taking a break from practice. Their instruction and guidance is supplemented by volunteer guest instructors from the practising bar. Many of the contract and volunteer instructors return year after year, saying that teaching a class or judging a mock advocacy event helps to refresh and focus their own knowledge and skills.

"While many changes and innovations have been made to the course throughout the years, today's PLTC remains true to its original focus on skills training and ethics," says Deputy Director Lynn Burns.

"Students are taught current practice and procedure, professional responsibility and practice management. They put all that they have learned together to conduct simulated solicitors' and barristers' transactions. Over the years, students have consistently rated highly the value of PLTC's skills training and give the top marks for the course's professional responsibility component," says Burns.

The curriculum is set by the Benchers, who seek to ensure that PLTC's material and emphasis are consistent with the areas of competence required for call and admission by other jurisdictions in Canada.

In 2007, 366 students attended PLTC — a record number. Extra classes were put on in the spring and fall sessions in Vancouver to accommodate them. Enrolment is running even higher in 2008 in both locations.