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Several jurisdictions in Canada are adding new continuing legal education requirements for lawyers, some of which offer more flexibility and variety than those traditionally available. In Canada, British Columbia will become the first province to mandate 12 hours of “continuing professional development,” or CPD. Alberta and Manitoba are rolling out new programs where lawyers will simply need to report which courses they plan to take for professional development, while Nova Scotia will soon require all lawyers to take a course. British Columbia’s program, which kicks off Jan. 1, 2009, will require lawyers in the province to engage in no fewer than 12 hours a year of continuing professional development. In addition to traditional classes and lectures, attending certain bar association meetings, in-house seminars, online courses and even teaching, writing and participating in study groups could count towards the 12 hours. British Columbia’s debate over whether to bring mandatory education dates to the 1970s. The convenience and smaller costs associated with online learning recently helped push the program forward, said Bruce LeRose of Thompson, LeRose & Brown in Trail, B.C., and chair of the Lawyer Education Committee at The Law Society of British Columbia. “We developed this program so that it’s quite broadly based, it’s not expected to take place in the traditional teaching program,” he said. “You can do online seminars and learning as long as they are interactive to some extent.” Lawyers will be able to track their credits online. The program will be monitored over the next five years so empirical data can be collected on its progress, LeRose said. Less than mandatory Alberta has stayed away from mandatory classes, but is rolling out a program that will require lawyers to declare their learning plan. “We know that adults learn best when they are self-directed and when they decide what to learn,” said Margaret Hollis, policy counsel at The Law Society of Alberta. “We are going to try out a plan based on the idea that most lawyers do keep up and what we’re offering them is the tools to do it properly.” Alberta lawyers will need to declare their plan for professional development by March 15. Lawyers who do not fulfill their plans will not be penalized, but those who refuse to declare their plan could be cited, Hollis said. The severity of the “cite” has not yet been determined. “The point is, once lawyers engage in their own planning, we believe they’ll do a better job,” Hollis said. Similarly, Manitoba will require lawyers for the first time to report their professional development activities by March 30. The province has also set a 12-hour minimum standard, but will not penalize lawyers for not reaching it. The Law Society of Manitoba is even offering a $200 credit to all lawyers in the province to use on continuing education this year. Going online Nova Scotia, meanwhile, is launching a program that would require all lawyers to take an online course on new civil law procedures, with lawyers whose practice consists of at least 20% of civil litigation being required to take a longer course than others. The program is a compromise between mandatory CLE that exists in most U.S. states and the suggested guidelines that exist in other jurisdictions, said Sean Layden, a partner in the Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, office of Boyne Clarke, and chair of the Continuing Competency Task Force of the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society. The approach is more targeted because it requires education only in areas of law that have undergone major changes, Layden said. “Mandatory education should be tools, not hammers,” he said. “We’re trying to avoid the punitive, patriarchal use of mandatory education.” In the United States, 43 states have mandatory CLE requirements. New Jersey is currently considering adding them, according to an American Bar Association spokeswoman. The New Jersey State Bar Association has recommended that 30 credits be required over a three-year period. The bar association’s president, Lynn Fontaine Newsome, a partner at Donahue, Hagan, Klein, Newsome & O’Donnell, called for fair and flexible requirements in a press release issued last month. She did not return calls seeking comment.

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