MCLE’s new look

The cover story for National‘s March 2008 edition will explore mandatory continuing professional development, or MCPD, which will be up and running in Canada less than a year from now. If you’re from England, Wales, Australia, or any of the 43 US states with MCLE regimes, it might surprise you to learn that no Canadian jurisdiction currently mandates ongoing professional development among its members. If you’re from Canada, it might surprise you to learn that a Canadian jurisdiction is going to do just that.

A little less than three months ago (November 7/07), the Law Society of British Columbia’s Lawyer Education Committee released what I expect will one day be seen as a landmark report on MCPD. Earlier this month, the law society accepted the committee’s recommendation for a limited CPD regime in B.C. starting in January 2009. Other provinces are talking about MCPD to a greater or lesser extent, including Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia, but none currently intends to go as far as B.C. is going. I recommend the final report, and its interim antecedent, for a thorough and impassioned exploration of the state of post-call legal education in Canada and worldwide.

For me, however, the landmark nature of the report doesn’t arise so much from the new mandatory status of CPD. One way or another, either through law society requirement or through outside intervention by the marketplace or the state, the days when lawyers could choose whether or not to upgrade their skills and knowledge are coming to an end. What’s really promising about the B.C. decision is the broad range of approved CPD activities.

Traditional CLE course offerings are there, of course. But the report emphasized that CPD is broader than CLE, and the approved activity list confirms this. The law society will, for the purposes of filling the 12 hours of required CPD, also accept the following:

• attendance at CBA section meetings,
• attendance at an education-related activity offered by a local or county bar association;
• participation in or teaching at a group education program offered by a lawyer’s firm, corporate legal department, or government agency;
• participation in a law-related study group of two or more persons; and,
• writing law books or articles relating to the study or practice of law for publication.

Not only that, but thanks to the advent of phone-delivered, videotaped and online CLE, access to courses is finally becoming practical for lawyers who live outside major urban centers or whose inflexible schedules don’t permit in-person attendance at these sessions. Before we know it, the traditional image of CLE — lawyers sitting stiffly in classroom seats, taking notes on a thick binder while a lecturer reads out a speech or a PowerPoint presentation — will, finally, become a relic of an earlier age.

I think we’re seeing a major shift here: the legitimized redefinition in this country of what constitutes effective and acceptable CPD activity for lawyers. The new approach is more sophisticated in its appreciation of how adults actually learn and more cognizant of the realities of lawyers’ lives. Starting in 2009, post-call learning for lawyers should become more accessible, collaborative, interactive, and nuanced — and, it says here, effective.

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