LSUC plans to reinstate articling evaluations

At Convocation today, the Law Society of Upper Canada passed a motion to implement performance-based evaluations for articling students.

Currently, students do not undergo evaluations during their articles — it’s up to their principal to sign off on their performance.

Prior to 2009, performance evaluations were required halfway through the articling term and at the end, but the law society removed these evaluations in an effort to increase the number of articling positions by reducing the burden on principals.

Bencher Janet Minor admitted the law society has been lacking on this front.

“Currently, we do not have very rigorous information or requirements about what goes on in articling. The law society doesn’t and hasn’t asserted control over exactly what happens or how the experience is felt by either students or principals. We haven’t monitored it in a way that we can ensure there is consistency and certainly there have been no assessment requirements, merely a sign-off on the part of principals,” she told Convocation Oct. 24.

Now the LSUC is creating  an additional path to licensing via the law practice program, set to begin in 2014, Minor said it’s not as much of a concern if students don’t secure an articling position.

“One of the reasons for that certain backing off after trying to have those standards was the resistance of the some of the profession and some of the persons who were acting as principals, and we were very concerned that we were going to lose articling positions if we maintained those expectations,” said Minor.

“That is less of a concern now because we know we will have the LPP and if there are principals who simply decline to participate in this kind of evaluation system there is an alternative.”

The articling evaluations will mirror the skills and competencies that students are expected to gain by completing the law practice program in order to have a more streamlined approach to training lawyers.

The LSUC’s professional development and competence committee September 2013 report, “Pathways Pilot Project: Proposal for Experiential Assessment,” outlines four key activities that articling students will be tested on:

1.    establishing client relationship
2.    conducting matter: matter management
3.    conducting matter: advocacy
4.    ethics, professionalism, and practice management

The law society also decided to defer consideration of the format of the culminating assessment for all candidates until it has more information about the articling program and the LPP.

Bencher Paul Schabas expressed some concern with this, arguing it will only extend the pilot project.

“Without a critical benchmark, I am concerned that this three-year pilot project will become a four- or five- or six-year pilot project,” he said.

But Minor said that through its consultation with “expert psychometricians,” the committee has learned that developing a final assessment will be a “complex and time-consuming process.”

Bencher Michael Lerner asked how the law society is going to assess students who complete clerkships. Minor said the committee is working with clerkship program administrators on this, adding it will be “a bit of a culture change.”

The report also states that all articling placements will require a formal training plan that is to be filed with the law society.

Ex-officio Bencher Bradley Wright took issue with the “additional bureaucracy, higher costs, and intrusions” these changes will impose, adding it will be “very hard to measure improvements.”

Wright also slipped up and confirmed that the new law school at Lakehead University submitted a proposal to provide the law practice program, which the law society is still mulling over. “We should consider the Lakehead model . . .” said Wright.

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