PLTC: bridging the gap between law school and legal practice
Recent graduates of the Law Society’s Professional Legal Training Course (PLTC) give high marks to the program, an independent assessment completed late last year concludes.
“We’re quite pleased with the results,” says Lynn Burns, the Law Society deputy director who oversees the program. “The response to our own course evaluations also showed high student satisfaction.”
PLTC helps articled students make the transition from law school to legal practice. Taught by experienced lawyers, PLTC uses case files and model transactions that replicate as closely as possible what students will experience during articles and when practising. Successful completion of the intensive, 10-week course is one of the conditions law school graduates must meet to practise law in British Columbia.
In 2006, the Law Foundation of BC, whose partial funding for PLTC has helped keep PLTC fees unchanged for many years, carried out an independent assessment of the program and found solid support among former students.
Those surveyed gave particularly high marks to PLTC’s practical skills programs, such as contract drafting and interviewing. Also ranked high were the instructors and the feedback they provide to students.
Survey respondents commented “very favourably” on PLTC’s teaching of professional responsibility issues, ethical obligations and practice management topics — subjects that are not always part of the standard law school curriculum. The majority of former students surveyed also said they continued to use their course materials in their practices.
“While the results are great, we’re always looking for ways to improve,” says Lynn, who works with a team of eight core instructors (four staff lawyers and four practising lawyers). Their work is supplemented by an in-house tutor, a legal editor, a coordinator, administrative support and more than 300 practitioners who volunteer their time to teach specialized topics or give the students feedback on their skills.
Law school graduates attending PLTC
Course material and lesson plans are updated annually. For example, in 2006, PLTC’s alternative dispute resolution lesson plans were completely revised, including new mediation and negotiation videos from Stanford University and the International Institute for Conflict Resolution.
“Some of the best ideas for improvement come from guest instructors, students and former students,” Lynn notes. “If you have ideas for how PLTC can continue to be a leader in legal skills education, contact me at the Law Society.”
PLTC enrolment over the last five years has gone from a low of 309 to a high of 354 in 2006; preliminary figures for 2007 are even higher.
There is room for 400 students per year in four sessions — 120 in each of the summer, spring and fall programs held at the Law Society building in Vancouver and an additional 40 in a summer session at the University of Victoria.
Recently, the majority of students or their firms have been asking for the summer session, resulting in a greater demand than can be accommodated and some empty seats in the other sessions.
“Suddenly everyone seems to want the summer,” says Lynn Burns, the program head. “It’s right after law school and won’t interrupt articles, law firms aren’t as busy at that time of year and larger firms already have a full complement of summer students on staff filling their student offices.”
PLTC’s policy is to give summer admission priority to students who will be articling outside the Lower Mainland. This is so they won’t have to move to another city after law school then come back to Vancouver for the course later, incurring unnecessary accommodation expenses. Firms with only one student are also given summer registration priority. “We are asking local firms that hire multiple students, because they have no accommodation issues, to spread them out evenly over the three sessions,” Lynn explains.
Lynn and her team are working on initiatives to encourage firms with two or more students to structure their articling rotation in a way that permits their students to attend any one of the three annual PLTC sessions, not just the summer session. “We have classroom space that sits empty in the spring and fall sessions,” she says. “We’d like to see it used to capacity.”
Call for volunteers
If you graduated from PLTC in 2004 or earlier, it’s time to come back as a volunteer.
You only need to donate a few hours of your time to judge a mock trial, talk about your law practice or take the students through a business or real estate transaction.
Teaching notes are provided, so preparation is not onerous and your time counts toward your annual professional development report.
If you want to help, contact Lynn Burns at email@example.com or 604 697-5808.