AdvocateDaily.com: CPLED transforms students into competency-trained lawyers
August 27, 2019
August 27, 2019
AdvocateDaily.com interviewed Dr. Kara Mitchelmore, Chief Executive Officer and Janet Pierce, Education Consultant & Project Manager recently on CPLED’s new competency framework.
Law schools teach students the intricacies of the legal system and its guiding statutes, but not necessarily all of the skills they need to succeed in the profession, says Kara Mitchelmore, CEO of the Canadian Centre for Professional Legal Education (CPLED).
“When we asked law societies across the country where they receive the most complaints about lawyers in the first five years post-call, it wasn’t in their knowledge of the law, but instead it was on their lack of durable competencies such as being able to bill properly, operate a practice, manage their time or prioritize tasks,” she tells AdvocateDaily.com.
To address these concerns, CPLED developed a competency framework that includes the skills, abilities and behaviours lawyers need to work effectively in the profession, plus a new bar-admission course, Practice Readiness Education Program (PREP) encompassing all of these competencies, she says.
“Some law schools have a practical component, but others seem to be of the mindset that their job is to teach the law and not to instruct students on how to be lawyers, which shows the value of this new framework,” Mitchelmore says. Before becoming a lawyer in Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan, students must complete a bar-admission course as they article, she says, adding the course remained substantially the same since it was created almost two decades ago.
To address that, education consultant Janet Pierce was brought on board as a project manager and tasked with guiding the construction of a competency framework that focuses on the competencies required to practice law and integrate practical skills with the knowledge of substantive law obtained in law school.
“We did a lot of research to ensure it would be relevant, current and encompass the core competencies needed by lawyers entering the profession today and prepare them for where it is heading,” Pierce says.
She started by looking at similar frameworks around the globe, such as the Australian Practical Legal Training Council (APLEC) Competency Standards, the Bar Standards Board Professional Statement and Competencies 2016 and Canadian frameworks from the Law Society of Ontario and the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society.
“They were selected on the basis of their currency in addressing what lawyers need to know to practise today,” Pierce says.
Drawing from the lessons learned from others, the CPLED Competency Framework was substantially revised and expanded significantly in the area of practice management, in particular, she says.
“The number of required outcomes in practice management grew from 13 to 47, which shows where the transformation in the new bar-admission course PREP is focused,” Pierce says.
“The new framework puts a real emphasis on how to manage a legal practice, and it also brings in softer skills, such as emotional intelligence, empathy, compassion, integrity and respect, plus how to handle the stress of being a lawyer,” she says. “We want to enable students to add value to their firms immediately and also should they decide to start their own practice, they will have the skills to operate a well-run practice in a client-focused manner.”
As the framework took form, Pierce says approximately 20 legal subject matter experts were asked to review its various elements, along with working groups made up of members of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan’s provincial bar-admission program.
“They all provided detailed feedback, and the framework went through a number of iterations before we landed on the final version,” she says, cautioning the word “final” should not be interpreted literally.
“The framework is a living, breathing document,” Pierce explains. “As the work of lawyers changes and their world of work changes, the competency framework will also evolve.”
She says CPLED does not expect newly called lawyers to have the same skills as lawyers who have been practising for 10 years.
“As students are assessed on various competencies in PREP, they are clearly told how entry-level competence is defined and demonstrated so they can work towards achieving that level by the end of PREP,” Pierce says.
“The legal profession has been lagging in this area,” she says. “Anyone can learn things at university, but competency is about demonstrating that knowledge in a real situation.”
Pierce gives an example of how PREP requires participants to conduct interviews with trained simulated clients, who provide feedback on how well the student did in ascertaining the information relevant to the case they were given.
“When we talk about competencies, it’s not just a list of things they need to know, they also have to demonstrate they are ready to be called to the bar,” she says.
“We are required to train them to be effective lawyers,” Mitchelmore says. “Effective lawyers should mean fewer complaints to the law societies, and that should mean lower insurance costs, a significant issue for lawyers.”