The Advisory: Volume 10, Issue 2, April 2012

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Common Law Degree Implementation Approved and Underway

By James Eamon, QC, Bencher and Chair, Credentials and Education Committee, Law Society of Alberta

The Law Society’s strategic plan includes promoting and ensuring high ethical standards and competence on the part of all those seeking admission to and practising law in Alberta. The Law Society has taken a significant step forward in this plan by accepting the Federation of Law Societies of Canada’s proposal to implement a uniform national requirement for Canadian common law degrees.

Law Societies, including the Law Society of Alberta, control the requirements for registration as a student member. They historically admitted Canadian common law school graduates as student members on the assumption that holding a Canadian law school degree was sufficient qualification. There was no formal program in place to assess the suitability of the degree granting institution or its program, little formal accountability to ensure that law schools continued to meet minimum standards for resource and program content, no assessment or audit system, no approval mechanism for new law schools, and no formal program recognizing the need for a coordinated approach by Law Societies across Canada in the context of the national mobility standards.

Between 2007 and 2009, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada undertook a comprehensive review of the requirements for recognition of a Canadian common law degree program entitling graduates to apply to a Canadian law society for student admission. From this review, a Report of the Task Force on the Canadian Common Law Degree was generated. The proposal includes setting standards for law schools, which validates the degrees they grant, so that Canadian law societies can accept such degrees on an informed basis. Establishing and publishing objective program standards, and auditing compliance, will enhance the Law Society’s strategic goals and its accountability to the legal profession and the public which the Law Society serves.

The report contains 20 recommendations which can be categorized as follows:

  • The competencies which must be taught by law schools, including ethics and professionalism;
  • The program design and resources, including requirements for pre-law admission, length of law program, staffing, facilities, information technology, and law library;
  • Structures for a program approval or student approval model, permitting law schools options to offer a program that qualifies all graduates for student admission to a law society, or a more flexible program which permits students to choose whether to undertake a program automatically qualifying them for student admission;
  • Compliance and reporting processes, through an Approval Committee, including annual reporting requirements, deficiency notification, deficiency rectification, and publication of the Approval Committee’s final reports; and
  • Mandate, structure and operation of the Approval Committee.

The Approval Committee will operate through the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, providing a broad base of expertise to accomplish its mandate and spreading the cost of approval and assessment across many law societies.

The Task Force’s implementation report was approved by the Law Society Benchers at their November 2011 meeting.

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