Benchers will discuss the Competence Task Force report at tomorrow's convocation
The Federation of Ontario Law Associations (FOLA) applauds the Law Society of Ontario for several recommendations in its final report on renewing the continuing competence framework to be discussed at tomorrow’s Convocation.
The Competence Task Force was established to ensure that the LSO’s competence framework remains effective, proportionate, and balanced while addressing career-long competence to protect the public interest and respond to the public’s legal needs.
Law Times previously reported that it had been 20 years since the LSO comprehensively reviewed its regulatory competence practices, and massive changes have occurred in the legal profession since then.
Upon reviewing existing programs, the task force recommended new initiatives that will help to fill perceived gaps and ensure the competence of paralegals and lawyers.
The Competence Task Force recommends that effective January 2024, all licensees who are sole practitioners for the first time would be required to take a practice essentials course comprised of practical training on foundational practice and business management topics.
The task force proposes an amendment of the Rules of Professional Conduct and the Paralegal Professional Conduct Guidelines to adopt the commentary regarding technological competence assumed by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada Model Code of Professional Conduct.
The task force also recommends eliminating the six-hour limit on claiming archived or recorded continuing professional development credit.
The task force suggests that existing certified specialists should be able to use the C.S. designation until they cease practicing. In addition, the Indigenous Legal Issues specialization should continue subject to future recommendations by the Equity and Indigenous Affairs Committee effective September 1.
Douglas Judson, chair of the Federation of Ontario Law Associations (FOLA), says the organization welcomes the final report and is pleased to see that the task force’s consultation process and evaluation of policies and programs arrived at thoughtful and evidence-based recommendations.
These recommendations reflect the sea change we have seen in the profession in the 20 years since the last review of competence-focused programming, Judson says.
In the past two decades, Judson says lawyers have seen changes in the use of technology in legal practices and institutions, in the economic model of practice, and in understanding how issues of equity, racialization, and reconciliation intersect with the law and legal practice.
“How the Law Society adheres to its statutory mandate to ensure those practicing law meet standards of learning, professional conduct, and professional competence must keep pace with these realities.”
FOLA applauded the Task Force for suggesting introducing standards for technological competence because the COVID-19 pandemic permanently changed the legal practice.
“Technology is poised to play an increasing role in how we serve our clients, communicate with other counsel, appear before courts and tribunals, and safeguard client confidences. Failing to meet reasonable standards of technological competence creates risk and cost for all participants in a legal matter.”
FOLA recognized the value of the proposed practice essentials course for first-time sole practitioners and urged the LSO to ensure that the requirement remains low-cost, CPD-accredited, and flexible for licensees.
The organization also applauded the LSO for eliminating the six-hour cap on archived or recorded CPD programs eligible for credit because it would support licensees practicing outside of urban areas to meet their annual requirements at a reduced cost.
LSO benchers will deliberate on the report tomorrow, and FOLA is urging them to consider the role of Ontario’s County and district law libraries.
Judson says local law libraries play a critical role in ensuring that resources which uphold our statutory mandate of competence are available in all corners of the province and provide licensees with access to resources which may be cost-prohibitive for small practices to acquire. Law libraries also serve as a hub for disseminating information from the courts or providing locally-responsive professional development programming, further supporting a competent profession.
“We encourage Convocation to formally recognize, in its motion on the Task Force report, that ongoing, suitable, and sustainable funding for Ontario’s county and district law libraries is a pillar of maintaining consistent standards for licensee competence and learning across Ontario.”