As of January 1, 2011, Ontario lawyers are now required to complete at least 12 hours of continuing professional development (“CPD”) in “eligible educational activities.” At least three hours must relate to “professional responsibility, ethics and practice management,” and must be obtained from a program that is accredited from the Law Society of Upper Canada. The nine hour balance must relate to “eligible educational activities.” This is on top of the 50 hours of self-study that every Ontario lawyer is expected (but is not required) to fulfill every year.
“No problem,” I thought, “I regularly keep updated on new legal developments.” I research and write articles for my firm, as well as ones that are published in legal newspapers and journals. I write articles for slaw.ca. On top of this, every day, I review new decisions released by the Ontario Court of Appeal, the Divisional Court and the Superior Court of Justice, and tweet interesting cases on my Twitter account. Surely this was the cutting edge of continuing legal education, I thought.
The articles I write for my firm? Even if it is law-related and falls within the CPD definition, it doesn’t count if it is intended “primarily for […] marketing purposes.” That doesn’t make sense. So long as the article was indeed written by the person listed as the article, and provided the article is law related, who cares what the person’s motivation is for writing the article?
The articles meant for publication in journals and articles? They count, but only to a maximum of 6 hours. This also doesn’t make sense. Why the arbitrary limit?
The overall purpose of the CPD requirements seems to be to encourage “collective” learning, rather than individual learning. That is why self-study does not qualify for CPD, and why there must be an “interaction requirement” in CPD programs. Under this criteria, recorded educational programs qualify, but not if you watch the program by yourself. It only qualifies if there are two or more participants watching the recorded program. Yet there is no requirement for me to say even a peep to the person who is watching the program with me. I could even spill coffee in their lap and I would still qualify.
The Twitter account? That is when things get really weird. Included among the list of 39 questions is whether “listserves, forums and network sites” are eligible for CPD. The Law Society’s answer is, unequivocally, “this type of information exchange is not eligible.” That also does not make sense. If the reason for requiring these CPD activities is to encourage interaction with other people, why wouldn’t these newest methods of social communication qualify if the very purpose of these tools is to exchange information and to discuss new ideas with other people?
Everyone agrees that lawyers need to keep up with new legal developments. Personally, I think it’s virtually impossible to force people to learn and that the problem would be better tackled by punishing lawyers who make mistakes because they didn’t keep up with legal developments. Whatever the solution may be, there are serious problems with the current implementation of the Law Society’s goal. I hope prospective Benchers who will be elected on April 29th give serious thought to how it can be changed.