The Law Society of Upper Canada will reform the accreditation and audit framework for paralegal education programs, with a system approved today at Convocation. The Paralegal Standing Committee (PSC) approved the report and its recommendations.
More rigorous accreditation standards and monetize the accreditation and audit process will be in place next fall.
The Professional Development & Competence Department report tabled today addresses “areas of deficiency in paralegal college programs,” as part of a strategic plan to strengthen the paralegal licensing platform.
This Accreditation and Audit framework responds to recent trends in the paralegal education sector, the report notes. More stringent standards and processes for approval, including a proposal for monetization, are among the changes.
The new framework is to be introduced in the fall of 2015; the new standards and fees and are to apply to college programs from September 2015 on.
Recommendations presented to Convocation today include:
- More stringent standards and criteria for program accreditation
- Mandatory Reaccreditation Process requiring colleges to renew their accreditation on a five-year cycle, to confirm alignment of curricula,
faculty and program structure
- Implement a fee structure to recover associated costs
- Allow flexibility to introduce additional program standards and administrative processes where appropriate
- The Executive Director of Professional Development and Competence, or designate, will have the authority to adjust the criteria in accordance with the policies set out in the report
In October 2012, the Paralegal Standing Committee (PSC) approved expanding the paralegal licensing examination framework, to incorporate substantive areas of law. This is the first step in moving toward a more robust testing and assessment system that supports entry-level paralegal competence.
A paralegal licensing examination framework is well under way. The report notes that a new set of substantive competencies has been developed and validated by the paralegal profession. LSUC has a blueprint for the new licensing examination, in accordance with the Law Society’s standardized process for examination development.
Examination questions and study materials to support the new testing platform are among the tasks coming up.
Competence has been a priority for the Law Society since October 2012.
Accreditation of colleges that provide paralegal training includes discussions with the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) respecting the high volume of colleges, both community and private, that continue to seek accreditation. The report notes that one significant problem is the “impact that this influx of college students is having on the job market for newly licensed paralegals.”
Common Deficiencies in Accredited Paralegal Education Programs
The report notes deficiencies, including:
A number of programs submitted for accreditation are poorly planned, lack appropriate leadership by qualified individuals, and are of a lower quality overall. These issues tend to affect smaller, private career colleges or franchise operations which appear to operate on a business imperative and do not have a solid academic foundation.
After one or two accreditation rejections, a college learns how to craft their application document s to fulfill the threshold requirements, but their capacity to deliver quality professional training may remain limited.
It is not until the audit stage that many of the deficiencies are fully revealed.
A handful of career colleges purchase curricula for their paralegal programs from third parties who have minimal connection to the paralegal training arena, rather than developing the content themselves.
Colleges that are not immersed in the field of study or lack a complete grasp of the rigorous training required for entry into a profession, may not be capable of delivering education that promotes entry-level competence.
During more than 30 site visits, issues identified include:
- Uneven coverage of required competencies
- Inappropriate assessment methodologies
- Inaccurate marking/lack of feedback to students
- Inadequate program oversight
- Low student enrollment
Information gathered during sessions with representatives from the Ministry suggest that MTCU will have limited oversight of college program
curriculum and training. The Ministry defers to regulators to determine which institutions should be permitted to educate in a particular field, according to the report. This means that MTCU looks to the Law Society to set standards and benchmarks for paralegal education programs.
Substantive Exam Changes
PSC End-of-Term Report to Convocation