CALT Letter to the Canadian Federation of Law Societies / ACPD Lettre à la Fédération des ordres professionnels de juristes du Canada
December 23, 2021
Dear Ms. Villeneuve,
Thank you for inviting representatives of CALT to participate in the focus group on the FLSC’s Competency Profile Development project on November 12, 2021. We shared some initial thoughts at the meeting and promised we would follow up by the end of the year.
As you are aware, we have concerns about the Competency Profile and the process that has been adopted to this point.
We are very much aware of, and in agreement with, the need for the renewal of the NCA process. We recognize that the increasing number of entrants to the practice of law who have not received a legal education in Canada is a regulatory challenge for all law societies. However, our concern, as the representative organization for Canadian law professors, is that the solution that you are proposing will inevitably have an impact on the National Requirement for Canadian law schools. While we question the presumption that the NCA process should necessarily impact the National Requirement, the facilitator in the focus group explicitly posited this inter-relationship. Our concerns, which we detail below, focus on what we see as deficiencies in content and process of developing the Competency Profile from the perspective of how it may impact Canadian law schools.
First, CALT is committed to the idea of life-long learning for lawyers, as are most law societies. For us this means there are at least three stages of legal education: academic training, pre-call bar admissions processes or their equivalent, and post-call continuing professional development. For each of these stages to work, there must be respectful collaboration between the law societies and the legal academy. Regrettably, the process that has been adopted to develop the Competency Profile for NCA students falls short of respectful collaboration. From what you have shared with us, it has been ongoing for at least two years without any formal communications with Canadian law schools or bodies representing the legal academy. Moreover, you have indicated that your hope is to complete the profile by February or March 2022, thereby indicating that you believe that most of the work has now been done. Our concern is that any consultations at this stage are too little and too late to be meaningful. This is especially so given the potential impact on the National Requirement. In our view, Canadian law schools, individual law professors with subject-matter expertise, and relevant associations of law teachers ought to have been integrated into this process in a more substantial way at a much earlier time. We are also concerned that the current work on the competency profile appears to have overlooked the need to consult with clients and communities, especially justice-seeking communities, about what competencies lawyers ought to have. As we will indicate in our final paragraph what is required is a fundamental rethink and reset of both the process and the aspirations of the project.
Second, our core concern is that by identifying an extremely detailed list of level one competencies, in effect the FLSC is presuming to dictate to law schools, whether they are in Canada or elsewhere, what to teach law students. Law schools have an academic mission that is distinct from the mission of law societies. One of the fundamental responsibilities of law schools, among others, is to help our students, through a variety of perspectives and pedagogical approaches, to think critically about both law and the legal system. However, the idea of critical thinking barely appears in your list of competencies. Rather, the goal seems to be to ensure that students are ‘practice ready’ in a highly technical sense. In keeping with the idea of a continuum of learning, law schools acknowledge that their programs lay an important foundation for legal practice across the range of knowledge, skills and values required for competent lawyering. But law schools do not confine themselves to that foundation and can only go so far in that direction. The foundation laid in law schools enables graduates to be ready to transition to practice, but it does not seek to make them practice ready in the narrow and limited sense spelled out in the draft Competency Profile. In our opinion this is an attempt to unilaterally change the objectives and operations of law schools, specifically by downloading the long-standing responsibilities of the legal profession for transitional practical training to them.
Third, the outlining of 11 domains, each with multiple sub-competencies, will generate numerous problems:
- If the profile, and all its details, is applied to law schools, it will dictate nearly the entirety of law school course offerings. Students will have to enroll in a substantial number of mandatory courses in all years of study. As such, the profile will limit student choice vis-à-vis their course selections. If students have to fulfill these competencies, there will be little room for them to explore the wide variety of offerings, both substantive and pedagogical, currently available at Canadian law schools. For example, in recent years, in response to student demands, many law schools have begun offering specializations/certificates in certain areas of law. To attain such a certificate, students are required to take a designated number of credits in a given field. This will be impossible to achieve if they must comply with the competency profile as it is currently designed.
- The competency profile itself presumes a uni-dimensional lawyer, because the focus seems to be to prepare lawyers for a traditional vision of generalized solo practice. Solo practitioners are an extremely important part of the legal profession and are often on the front lines of access to justice. However, even solo practise is highly heterogenous and increasingly specialized, and of course many law school graduates do not pursue this practice route at all. They join larger firms, become government lawyers, work in-house, and so on. Moreover, in all of those practise environments there is constant change in legal substance, processes and approaches – which are the focus of the competencies – whereas the deeper capacity for critical thinking, to which law schools are oriented, is an enduring requirement.
We agree that there should be support for lawyers who seek solo practice, and that law schools can play an important role in establishing foundations for solo practice. But law schools must limit themselves to that foundational role, while also providing a foundation for a broader spectrum of practise environments and in relation to the broader range of contexts in which our graduates may engage.
- The competency profile will stymie innovation and modernization of law school curricula. Law schools are very much aware that law and the legal profession are in transition locally, nationally, and internationally. We constantly assess and rework our course offerings to ensure that our students have a legal education that is relevant to a rapidly changing world. The micromanagement and inherent rigidity embedded in the competency profile is ill-suited to such a fluid and forward-looking understanding of the nature and function of university-based legal education.'
- The competency profile will result in a cookie-cutter approach to legal education, whereby each law school will have to offer a roughly similar curriculum. In recent years we have witnessed the increasing diversification of Canadian law schools, as each has pursued its own vision. Rather than embracing this diversity, the profile promotes uniformity and demands conformity.
- The channeling of students into a significant number of mandatory courses will dramatically impair joint academic programs between law and other disciplines such as computer science, Indigenous studies, social work, the humanities, engineering and business administration. It will also negatively affect the potential for students to spend a term on exchange at a university in another country. Both joint programs and exchanges depend on students having a reasonable amount of flexibility in their choice of courses.
As we have noted earlier, we envision the relationship between the law societies and universities to be collaborative and co-operative. To this end we suggest that the next steps should be 1) to create a new level one profile that better encapsulates the objectives of academic legal education and is the product of a partnership between law schools and the law societies and 2) to merge what is currently level 1 with level 2 and ensure that the law societies provide adequate transitional education opportunities prior to the call to the Bar, including, where appropriate, through collaboration with interested law schools (such as through the integrated practise program available in Ontario). Furthermore, in pursuit of the goal of life-long learning, we would also encourage for law societies, perhaps in partnership with law schools where appropriate, to design and deliver robust mandatory continuing professional development programmes.
We trust that this submission will provide a more specific articulation of the concerns of CALT and look forward to further consultation with the FLSC.
Richard Devlin & David Wiseman,
On behalf of the Executive of CALT/ACPD