The Law Society's Board of Directors (Convocation) has approved several initiatives that enhance the career-long competence of lawyers and paralegals, protect the public and respond to the legal needs of Ontarians.
Last year, the Law Society's Competence Task Force issued a consultation report: Renewing the Law Society's Continuing Competence Framework, and invited lawyers, paralegals, legal organizations, members of the public and others to participate in the Call for Comment. In addition to the many submissions from the legal professions, 10 focus groups were held – including two with members of the public who had retained the services of a lawyer or paralegal in the last three years.
Today, Convocation debated the Task Force's follow up report on this matter and approved a new Competency Framework.
"The Law Society has a mandate to regulate the competence of lawyers and paralegals," said Teresa Donnelly, Treasurer of the Law Society of Ontario. "I'm proud of the extensive work the Competence Task Force has done to review the Law Society's existing programs for relevance and effectiveness and to best determine what changes should be made to ensure licensees serve the public well."
The new Competency Framework includes the creation of a practice essentials course which will be mandatory for lawyers or paralegals within one year of setting up as a sole practitioner for the first time. This will take effect as of January 2024. The approximately 30-hour online course will set new sole practitioners up for long-term success by focusing on foundational practice and business management topics.
"Our consultation and research demonstrated that the existing Law Society programs provide a strong basis for career-long competence," said Bencher Sidney Troister, Chair of the Competence Task Force. "The Task Force identified opportunities to enhance technological competence, practice management and client communications amongst sole practitioners which the current programs do not fully address. The practice essentials course will set new sole practitioners up for success — ensuring they have the requisite knowledge and resources to operate as sole practitioner — which in turn increases public protection."
As part of the new framework the Rules of Professional Conduct and the Paralegal Professional Conduct Guidelines will be amended to adopt the Federation of Law Societies of Canada Model Code of Professional Conduct commentary (Section 3.1-2) regarding technological competence.
The Law Society requires licensees who are practising law or providing legal services to complete 12 Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Hours each year. Currently, there is a six-hour limit on archived or recorded CPD programs that are eligible for credit each year. The new framework waives this limitation.
The new framework also calls for the wind-up of the Certified Specialist Program (CSP). Licensees who are currently Certified Specialists may use that designation until Dec. 31, 2022. The Indigenous Legal Issues specialization will be continued subject to any future recommendation made by the Equity and Indigenous Affairs Committee to Convocation regarding the specialization.
"As a modern regulator, the Law Society must strive to achieve a balanced and proportionate approach to ensuring that lawyers and paralegals maintain their professional knowledge, skills, and judgement over the course of their careers," said Bencher Troister. "The development of the new Competence Framework allows us to do that, which ultimately protects and serves the public well."
The Law Society regulates lawyers and paralegals in Ontario in the public interest. The Law Society has a mandate to protect the public interest, to maintain and advance the cause of justice and the rule of law, to facilitate access to justice for the people of Ontario and to act in a timely, open and efficient manner.