The Canadian Bar Association’s (CBA) recently released Futures Initiative final Report (report) Futures: Transforming The Delivery of Legal Services in Canada notes that “In our consultations, the education and training of lawyers was one of the most intensely discussed issues” The “intense” discussion focused on how to reinvent legal education. And so it should, because the report states with considerable concern that “clients are refusing to pay for junior lawyers or articling students” leading to the unpleasant reality that, overall, “Canadians seek legal advice for only 11.7% of justiciable events”.
What is feasible in the reinvention of legal education in North America? The CBA report along with the equivalents in the UK (Legal Education and Training Review ) and U.S. (ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education) all focus on several common themes.
First and foremost is that if a baccalaureate degree is a legislated (U.S.), de-facto (Canada) or optional (U.K.) pre-requisite for entry into law school the law degree must be truncated from three years to two years of legal education. The “’two year accelerated LLB/JD” is tacit recognition that the general law degree is in fact foundational education and a lever to skills based legal services practice management training. What can and will add value to the two- year model is the insertion of two new core mandatory courses, ‘ The Legal Services Marketplace Landscape’ and ‘Professional Services Entrepreneurship’. Contemporary law students are in desperate need of practical knowledge on the architecture of the legal services market place that is marginalizing the practice of law and a guide to thinking creatively about identifying professional services niches that will require them to self-design and, in many instances, personally jump start careers that will be multi-disciplinary; law if necessary but not necessarily the law.
The two year accelerated law degree is the “2” in the 2+1 configuration of legal education. The “1” is a third year of skills based training. The UK pioneered the development the post law degree year of skills based training in practice management as a prerequisite to becoming qualified to practice with its “Law Practice Course( LPC)” for aspiring solicitors and the “Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC)” foraspiring barristers. Replacing the outmoded articling system with a one year of hands-on professional services application training taught primarily by practitioners and professional services management specialists is a given in producing “practice ready law graduates”. To its credit, the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) has taken a leadership role in North America and introduced a “Law Practice Program (LPP)”, a hybrid model of the two UK programs. It’s noteworthy that a business school, not a law school, was selected as the initial provider in what is officially billed as a pilot but as the report notes must become the mainstream route to making lawyers practice ready. “It is expected that the current articling system will disappear in the medium to long term and that experimentation is required in knowledge and skills training between law school and admission to the Bar.”
The “new age” three- year practice ready “2+1” legal education/law practice management graduate must now embrace what is referred to as a “T” mindset and a corresponding multi-disciplinary practice management capability. Think of the vertical line in the “T” as the “2+1”. The horizontal bars are the niche add-ons. The report suggests there are a number of professional associations and colleges beyond the law school/university realm that law graduates should be looking at to add value to their law degrees and/or leverage them into multi-disciplinary legal services as entrepreneurial legal services providers. Two examples:
There is a desperate need in the legal services marketplace for legal project managers. The Project Management Institute (PMI) offers a comprehensive body of courses that equips graduates with an internationally recognized project manager designation. A lawyer with a professional project management designation is well positioned to either be a most attractive candidate for recruitment by a large law firm or position themselves as an entrepreneurial professional services provider to law firms for top dollar.
The ABA task force referred to above has recommended that the JD law degree be looked at from a “JD Advantage” perspective for those wanting to pursue professional careers beyond the confines of the conventional practice of law in a law firms. There are burgeoning legal careers in corporations, large governmental organizations and regulated public services such as hospitals and NGOs. These organizations are chock-a-block full of MBAs and MPAs and don’t need a batch of lawyers to become hybrid business managers. “Board controlled organizations” are very much in need of legalize expertise in governance issues. The Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ICSA) offers an internationally recognized governance designation certificate program. Many of the British Commonwealth countries require general counsel and corporate secretaries to obtain an ICSA designation. (Disclosure I was Chair of ICSA Canada’s national education program for three years and have a FICS designation). An enterprising law graduate who enrolls in the ICSA program is a prime candidate for an in-house counsel position.
And for those for whom law in its own right remains their passion there’s no need to cross the “T”. They can aspire to the two complimentary “i-I” pillars which are frequently multi-disciplinary;. The lower case “i” represents linear legal education at the LLB/JD level. The upper case “I”represents a graduate LLM master’s degree level study in a designated area of law or combined multi-disciplinary fields that qualifies the holder as a legal specialist. In reality, the legal specialist is a “Limited Legal Services Provider”. Large law firms with their designated practice departments are replete with specialists who are in reality high – end “Limited Legal Services Providers, frequently in multi-disciplinary fields such as a. regulated industry. They are much in demand at a premium rate. The “i-I” route is in essence a fast track to practice ready high end legal specialist/ “Limited Legal Services Provider” status.
Where do law schools fit into the scheme of re-invented legal education? Legal academe and the Federation of Canadian Law Societies (FLSC) have ‘get with the program’ and jump on board a reinvention train that has already left the station. According to the report,
It will be difficult, expensive, and unnecessary for every law school in Canada to provide the full breadth of education to cover this wide spectrum. Law schools may wish to specialize in distinct pedagogical approaches, specific career paths, or new types of academic education.58
Other educational providers like colleges, trade schools, and professional development educators may develop complementary education and training programs for the new legal service providers, similar to the development of nurse practitioners in the medical field, hygienists in the dental field, and opticians in the ophthalmology field. To the extent that these new career tracks need to be regulated, regulators or government should endorse the emergence of these educational streams and adopt regulatory mechanisms to protect the public.