APLEC, Saturday am, second plenaries

by Paul Maharg on 12/11/2011

Sally Kift’s keynote presentation gave an overview of academic standards in AU HE — ‘Academic standards: the national context and remifications for legal education’. She outlined, as she said, a highly complex field, a ‘perfect storm’ of regulation for AU HE and PLT in particular.  Her presentation was vintage Kift: hugely informative, delivery at a pace that kept you on the edge of yr seat, stylishly presented, and so wide-ranging that I abandoned note-taking for just understanding. When I get a copy of her slides I’ll post them up.

Paul Wood, Exec Director with the Legal Education Society of Alberta (Edmonton, Canada), described the situation with standards in Canada. He set it in the context of Federation of Law Societies of Canada projects such as national mobility, National Model Rules to Fight Money Laundering, National Code of Professional Conduct and National Complaints and Discipline Standards (the Law Societies in Canada are still self-regulating).

National Admission Standards include Nat. Requirements for a Candaian Common Law Degree, for Assessing International Credentials, for New Law Degree Programmes, for Good Character, and Competency Standards.

The Nat Competency Standards brought together Law Soc expertise, consultants in redentialing & assessment, focus groups of recently called lawyers and a large scale survey of 5,000 lawyers. This reminded me of the Scots Law Society experience in developing similar sets of learning outcomes for professional legal education. Except that Paul pointed out that the survey will be used to validate the framework which will have been already devised by the others involved.  We used the survey in part to feed into the final development of the framework.

The standards break down into foundational knowledge, skills and tasks. The last are really client representational tasks, transactional-based. It’s important that the standards are ‘psychometrically defensible’, ie fair, valid & reliable. This is done partly by weighting competencies — ie how often does the competency arise, and what is the consequence should students get it wrong. Weighting has been used extensively and researched extensively in medicine, eg. The weightings are based on criticality and frequency.

Implementation is problematic. Key questions — where are the competences going to be assumed to be required? PLT stage? Articles? Earlier? National protocols for skills assessment? How should local differences culturally across Canada be dealt with, eg regional differences, Toronto large firms, regional rural law offices in British Columbia?

This will impact on PLT right across Canada. A national instrument for competencies and protocols for skills cannot but begin to vary where and when in the legal educational process the competencies and skills are met. Eg a student might challenge why she needed to undertake skills at PLT if she has already met them at undergraduate stage. Some astute points made about regulatory activities, and on the Canadian scene generally.

Last up was Elizabeth Loftus, Secretary of APLEC, on ‘What is happening around PLT?’ She discussed the Council of Legal Education, Victoria, Standards Report. The report acknowledges other accreditation systems; there is no differentiation between onsite and online, and there is a probably adoption date of November 2011.

The other matter she discussed was the Review of Compency Standards. The standards have been out for 10 years, formally adopted 2002 and incorporated since then. APLEC is putting out a discussion paper to be released to a wide list of stakeholders on the Competency Standards, to determine amendment, etc. Responses were required by 28 February 2012.

  • Already on the list are the following (with those who suggested it in brackets):
  • awareness of pro bono (LACC)
  • Statutory Interpretation (Judiciary)
  • Parliamentary Privilege (Queensland Parliament)
  • More commercial electives (some national firms)
  • Ability to do both Family and Criminal electives (some legal aid & Community sector lawyers)
  • Wellness & Resilience (College of Law, UTS, & ORS
  • Combine electives to broaden choice (various)
  • Limit Trust Accounts to theory and concepts not practice (APLEC)

On LACC (Law Admissions Consultative Council?), she pointed out issues on Disclosure Guidelines (ie of mental & physical disability). Elizabeth thought that, given recent experience, the Guidelines were necessary — a ‘breath of fresh air’. The duration of law degrees was an issue (excluding the JD). The interesting issue of PLT subjects not to be counted for academic credit in the LLB was on the agenda to be sorted.

She touched on National Legal Profession Reform. This is due July 2012, taking place in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and Northern Territory. The Central Body will be located in NSW. The interesting part for APLEC is that government have made it clear that it is only interested in overarching regulation, not micro-management. The regulations will be developed by the new Board.

Given the macro-context that Sally pointed out, and the excellent work carried out by the regulators in Canada described by Paul Woods, it will be interesting to see not so much if but how APLEC take all that into account in their final report. This valuable session is a graphic example of the increasing globalisation of regulation. Excellent and very thought-provoking session.

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