AdvocateDaily.com: Practice management a key focus of bar admission program
October 21, 2019
October 21, 2019
With a number of young lawyers expressing concerns over the level of their practice management skills post-call, the Canadian Centre for Professional Legal Education’s (CPLED) new bar admission program aims to place a heavier emphasis on these competencies, to ensure students feel more confident as they enter the profession, says the organization’s CEO Kara Mitchelmore.
A recently released survey by the Law Society of Alberta, in conjunction with the law societies of Saskatchewan and Manitoba — aimed at better understanding the current state of the articling system across those provinces — found inconsistent experiences in the competencies learned during articling.
As the survey notes, half of the former articling students, now new lawyers, were not confident in their training and felt only somewhat prepared, not very prepared, or not at all prepared for entry-level practice.
Last year, Mitchelmore notes that she also conducted her own research, asking law societies across the country where they were seeing the most complaints in the first five years post-call to the bar.
“No one was saying it was in substantive law. That was not the issue — these young lawyers knew the law. The problem was in practice management or client relationship management. So, it was not answering emails on a timely basis, not fully explaining a retaining letter, not checking for conflicts of interest within their firm, not billing properly, clients not feeling like they were heard,” she tells AdvocateDaily.com.
Her research matches what the law society survey found and is what led CPLED to develop a new competency framework, Mitchelmore says.
“The new competency framework puts a heavier emphasis on those enduring competencies that lawyers need to have throughout their career in order to be successful,” she says. “The new bar admission program, Practice Readiness Education Program (PREP) is built using the CPLED competency framework.”
PREP is a nine-month course consisting of four phases designed to teach articling students the skills, abilities and behaviours they need to work effectively in the profession, before admission to the bar of Alberta, Manitoba or Saskatchewan.
The program, currently being piloted in Calgary, with a second pilot starting in January in Manitoba, will officially launch next summer, Mitchelmore says.
While students in the previous program were required to complete one practice management module, it will be integrated throughout every part of the new program.
“I used to say that we have a ‘one and done’ program. You would do an interviewing module and then you’d never do it again. And then you’d do negotiation and never do it again. And how do you learn competence by that approach? You don’t. So the new program has been built where students, in a low-risk setting, will practice each of these elements with a rising expectation,” says Mitchelmore.
For example, she says, a student practising interviewing for the first time is going to receive initial feedback, will be able to view multimedia on what makes a good or poor interview and will be assigned a practice manager from the profession, who will see if they have applied the feedback and whether there has been improvement over time.
“They’re going to be practising all those skills that they say they’re not comfortable with. And some students won’t be comfortable — but that’s the only way they’re going to learn that skill,” Mitchelmore says.
The program will also allow students to use practice management software throughout, taking the same files from the beginning to the end so that they understand how an entire matter is managed, she says.
“Depending on where you article, you might get a piece of a file, and you might then pass that off to someone else. Not everybody gets that ability to see a file from beginning to end, so how do you know how to conduct that matter? How do you know how to negotiate or try to get to an alternative dispute resolution if you haven’t done it before?” says Mitchelmore.
Students will also be assigned a practice manager — a practising lawyer who has been through extensive training — who will work with the individual throughout the three one-month ‘virtual law firm’ streams and provide them with feedback.
“It’s a two-fold process. One, it’s where a person is giving them feedback, but also, if you do have someone who’s in a less-than-optimal article, there’s another senior lawyer for the student to speak to,” Mitchelmore says.
Ultimately, the survey and the creation of the new program show that law societies are serious about addressing the challenges identified by articling students and new lawyers, she says.
“The law societies are taking this very seriously, and in actuality, PREP is already being built to cover off some of these areas that have been identified as issues,” Mitchelmore says.