Mixed reaction to law society’s RFP for new practice program

The anticipation is over for those who have been chomping at the bit to find out what the Law Society of Upper Canada is looking for in its law practice program with the release of its request for proposals at the beginning of this month.

In the RFP, the law society outlines its requirements for potential providers seeking to offer the law practice program.

The LPP, to be delivered by one or more third-party providers, will be a combination of a training course and a co-op work placement for a total of eight months.

The law society states the training course needs to teach and assess the skills and tasks set out by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada; incorporate a variety of skill and task training platforms; and involve training by practising lawyers. The proposal also needs to specify the location of the training course.

For the work placement, the RFP states it can be either paid or unpaid, however, “the provider is encouraged to seek out paid placements where possible.” The LSUC would also like placements to be offered in underserviced practice areas and locations. The provider is required to list a minimum of 80 confirmed placements in its proposal.

Potential providers need to demonstrate the quality of the placement supervisors (including references for each staff member); the quality of the placement’s skills and tasks activities; the adequacy of the work environment; the performance assessment process; the monitoring and auditing of placements; and the provider’s qualifications, administration, and supports.

The law society says it’s open to the possibility of changing the duration of the training course or the work placement as long as providers demonstrate why it would be necessary.

In terms of costs, the RFP states they will form a part of the overall licensing fee and the law society will pay the provider for the total cost of the program in accordance with the terms to be worked out in a contract. Providers need to give a breakdown of the overall costs in their proposals, along with a timeline for the development of the program, and must be able to demonstrate they can fund the program for a minimum of three years.

Notices of intent to submit a proposal are due to the law society by March 15 and proposals are due by May 31.

“We fully expect that the RFP will generate interest among potential providers, but we are not limiting who those providers may be. In terms of the number and nature of the responses to the RFP, and how we will react, that would be speculative at this point. We will review all the responses carefully before any further recommendations are brought to Convocation,” says LSUC spokesman Roy Thomas.

Osgoode Hall Law School dean Lorne Sossin says it will be “extremely challenging” to put together a proposal in four months, noting it took years in some other jurisdictions.

“It is daunting to think of how you’d put this incredible [LPP] together in just a few months and then be ready to deliver it,” he says. “It’s one thing just to design something in blue print, but you’ve also got to be working on all the moving parts to then make a success out of it.”

Lee Stuesser, founding dean of Lakehead University’s new law school to open in Thunder Bay, Ont., this fall, says if a provider is serious about it, four months is enough time.

Both Osgoode and Lakehead are closely examining the RFP, but neither dean would confirm if his school is going to submit a proposal.

Sossin says it will be a really significant undertaking to come up with a well-designed program.

“If [the LPP] is going to be better than articling, it’s going to take real work, thought, and effort, but I think that ought to be the goal,” he says. “In other words, the providers I would like to see are bringing the ambition of what is the absolute best transitional training that we can imagine and deliver, not what is a poor substitute for articling that we can manage to stitch together for those who can’t find articles.”

Stuesser says he sought some clarification from the law society because there seemed to be a notion of having one national provider, whereas Lakehead is more interested in having a regional solution to address the shortage of lawyers in northern Ontario as well.

“As long as the law society has a degree of flexibility, it does seem doable,” he tells 4Students. “We’re a school that wants to incorporate the practice of law into the theory, so we’re very comfortable with a lot of the skills that are outlined [in the RFP] because that’s exactly what we want to try and do with our students as well.”

Stuesser says he isn’t sure if other law schools will submit a proposal, but he expects the law society will consider the clinical education some law schools already provide.

“Some of the schools are not interested, and that’s fair ball. We’ve reached a stage in legal education where we don’t all have to be following the same path,” he says. “[But] I think [the law society] may well look favourably upon the reality that in many law schools students receive a very good clinical experience.”

Kimberley Stewart, owner of the Canadian Centre for Verbatim Studies, says there’s a rigorous process involved in starting an educational program.

“Hiring your teachers, getting the expertise on board to develop the curriculum, reaching out to industry associations for their assistance in terms of putting the curriculum together, hiring a third-party evaluator to ensure that all your Ts and Is are crossed and dotted — it’s a lengthy, arduous process to do that,” she says.

Stewart says it took her roughly a year and a half to get the court reporter college up and running, as there were some unexpected bumps along the way, including finding the right teachers, determining a good location, etc.

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