Alberta lawyers to vote on resolution calling for repeal of professional development rule

By Ian Burns

Last Updated: Thursday, February 02, 2023 @ 1:43 PM

Law360 Canada (February 2, 2023, 12:01 PM EST) -- Active lawyers in Alberta will soon have the chance to express their opinion on the provincial law society’s rule on mandating continuing professional development (CPD) requirements such as its mandatory course for Indigenous cultural competency training.

In response to a petition signed by 51 lawyers in the province — one of which was later found to be inactive — the Law Society of Alberta (LSA) has called a special meeting to vote on a resolution Feb. 6 to repeal its rule 67.4, which allows benchers “from time to time” to “prescribe specific continuing professional development requirements to be completed by members, in a form and manner, as well as time frame, acceptable to the benchers.”

“The law society is dedicated to protecting the public interest by promoting and enforcing standards of professional and ethical conduct by Alberta lawyers,” said law society CEO and executive director Elizabeth Osler. “We are committed to ensuring a fair and transparent special meeting format.”

So far, the only program the law society has mandated under the rule is The Path, an Indigenous cultural competency training course which was approved by benchers in October 2020. Active lawyers were required to complete it by Oct. 30 of last year or face suspension. According to the law society, there were 9,769 active lawyers required to complete The Path by the initial deadline. Of those, 26 lawyers were administratively suspended for failing to complete the requirement and only eight remain suspended.

But even if the resolution passes it is not binding on benchers — it must be considered at its next meeting, which is scheduled for Feb. 23. A two-thirds vote of benchers would be required to implement the resolution, and if that it is not done a second petition can be submitted requesting the benchers hold a vote of all active members to repeal the rule, which would also require a two-thirds vote.

In a letter to the profession law society benchers are urging a no vote Feb. 6, saying CPD programs “serve the public interest by strengthening public confidence in Alberta’s legal profession.”

“Alberta lawyers are required to participate in activities that enhance their skills, integrity, knowledge and professionalism. CPD programs have, in fact, become an essential aspect of professional education in Canada,” the letter said. “Most law societies and regulators of other professions across the country have implemented compulsory CPD programs from time to time.”

The benchers said they have no current plans for other compulsory programs like The Path.

“This motion comes as self-regulating professions face intense scrutiny. Policymakers, along with the general public, are paying close attention to whether organizations like the Law Society are focused on the public interest or on member interests,” the letter said. “If we value self-regulation, we must ensure that we continue to discharge our duties using the lens of the public interest in everything we do, including continuing professional development. We believe that Rule 67.4 serves the public interest and should not be repealed.”

The Advocates’ Society has also thrown its hat into the ring, saying it is opposed to the resolution.

“As a regulated profession, the privilege of practising law comes with professional obligations that ensure the protection of the public. These obligations include the completion of mandatory CPD education to ensure legal competency, professional competency and that lawyers are informed about societal issues impacting the justice system,” the society’s release said. “The Advocates’ Society also asserts that lawyers across Canada should share in the project of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. Reconciliation includes Indigenous cultural competency training for lawyers in accordance with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Call to Action #27.”

A notice of the special meeting, the accompanying petition and registration were sent to active lawyers on Jan. 26. The meeting will be held virtually on Feb. 6 at 11 a.m. MT.

Only active Alberta lawyers are permitted to attend. In order to participate, interested active lawyers must register by no later than Feb. 3 at 11 a.m. MT.

A petition organizer declined an interview for this article.

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