Message from the Outgoing President of the Law Society, Steve Raby, QC
This is my last article as President of the Law Society of Alberta. I would like to thank all Alberta lawyers for your support and encouragement during my term, and for the opportunity to serve the Law Society in regulating the legal profession in the public interest.
One of the most frequent questions
I have been asked is: what were the biggest surprises you encountered during your term?
There were two things that surprised me the most. The first is that, while I had a sense that lawyers give a lot back, almost every day I encountered something (an anecdote, resumé, a letter of thanks, etc.) confirming just how much lawyers voluntarily do to better the profession, their community and to assist those portions of the public that are in need. Of course, this is contrary to what we perceive that the public perceives of the legal profession. I have concluded that our perception of the public's perception of us may not be quite accurate. However, I believe that in performing these voluntary services, lawyers tend to be quite humble and their contributions often end up below the radar screen. While maintaining a sense of humility, we can all do a better job of increasing public awareness of the significant contributions made by members of the legal profession.
The second surprise is that it is truly remarkable as to how much change has occurred in the legal profession over the past decade and is likely to continue. For example, we have seen self-regulation turn into independent regulation in England, the rise of consumerism in the regulation of the legal profession, the rapid explosion of the use and benefits of technology, and the adoption of national standards in Canada as a corollary to national mobility. We have also been witness to rapidly changing demographics, resulting in their own set of issues including: how we can properly train all those who wish to enter the profession, and how we can improve access to legal services. Some people are now beginning to ask a very fundamental question: should the legal profession have a monopoly on the ability to provide legal services to the public?
In response to such change, we have asked the legal profession in Alberta to educate themselves in order to understand, adopt and support those changes. We have a new Code of Professional Conduct, a new trust safety regime, and are now working on national admission standards, electronic interaction with the Law Society and similar initiatives. It is in my view that it is essential to monitor the changing environment so we are not hesitant to make change when and where it makes sense.
The theme of this issue relates to the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Program, a subject that fits nicely into a discussion of change. Until recently, we were completely reactive to issues of professional competence.
After significant analysis, the Law Society of Alberta CPD model is based on the premise that adults learn best when their learning is self-directed and that the vast majority of lawyers want to improve their practice to best serve their clients. Most other law societies in Canada have adopted a traditional model requiring mandatory number of hours of attendance at CPD programs (commonly referred to as the "bums in seats" model).
I have personally always been a big proponent of the Alberta CPD Program. I firmly believe that, where feasible, most lawyers will take advantage of any appropriate opportunity to better their delivery of legal services to their clients.
As we move to national standards however, it seems inevitable that there will be a clash between the two models. If we truly believe that our model is advantageous, we are going to have to be in a position to convince other law societies that the Alberta lifelong learning CPD planning model is a better approach for a modern regulator focused on outcomes.
Moving forward, the Law Society will be focusing on programs that proactively establish quality assurance in the delivery of legal services.
In closing, I believe that the Law Society is in excellent hands to deal with both core business requirements and future change. I wish the staff and the Benchers, led by incoming President Carsten Jensen and President-Elect Kevin Feth, all well in the coming year.