Strength in Numbers
August 26, 2019
August 26, 2019
When Don Thompson, QC came to the Alberta Law Society 20 years ago, the quality of Bar admission programs was on his mind. “I had been working with the British Columbia Law Society and there were some conversations amongst Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan about labour mobility challenges, and four separate training programs was part of that discussion.”
While British Columbia ultimately pulled out of the conversation, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba decided to pool their resources to build a single online Bar admission program that would be recognized in each province. “We knew a program like this needed a huge capital investment,” said Don. “Building the program together allowed us to have something of higher quality.”
The three law societies created the Canadian Centre for Professional Legal Education (CPLED) in 2002 and two years later launched their online Bar admission training program.
The program was a success, but with three provinces all managing delivery separately, inconsistencies started to creep in. In 2016, the law societies conducted an external review of the program to see where improvements and updates could be made.
“We knew that the technology and content needed an update,” Don recalls. “But we realized through the review that we needed an overhaul – from the competencies that lawyers need to develop, to the delivery of the program and making sure that governance was consistent for all provinces. CPLED had become a ‘side-of-the-desk’ effort for most of us and we knew we needed major change.”
So why does all of this matter? Well, Don points out that most complaints to law societies are usually not related to matters of the law, but with professionalism, ethical behavior and client service. “Law school doesn’t teach you how to manage a practice, balance your work and family life or support a struggling client,” Don adds. “But we can, and we should do that through the bar admission program.”
With CPLED relaunched as a separate organization under a new CEO, Dr. Kara Mitchelmore, the daunting task of overhauling the Bar admission program began. This month, students in Alberta have started the first pilot of the Practice Readiness Education Program or PREP.
Built on best practices from around the world, PREP delivers practical skills and competencies in a consistent, integrated approach that combines interactive, transactional learning and simulation within online foundation modules, face-to-face workshops, working within a virtual law firm, and a final capstone case. Assessed at each phase of the program, candidates also receive coaching and mentoring from instructors and practice managers.
Through PREP we are taking graduates who know the law and helping them prepare to practice law,” says Don, who is the current Chair of the CPLED Board. “For the law societies, this is key to their mandate to serve the public interest. It is our responsibility to make sure that lawyers called to the Bar are equipped with the skills, competencies, professionalism and ethical character to serve their clients well.”
A second PREP pilot will take place in Manitoba in January 2020 with the full program launching in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan in Summer 2020.