Accreditation, Audit ‘Deficiencies’ Addressed

Photo: LSUC

Photo: LSUC

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.

Further Reading:

Substantive Exam Changes

PSC End-of-Term Report to Convocation

5 comments

  1. Anne Vespry · · Reply

    There may well be deficits in paralegal education as it is done in some institutions, but the suggested changes seem based more on a desire to close down smaller schools than on any real attempt to fix those deficits.

    The best example of that is the imposition of minimum class sizes with the intent of fixing situations where “[t]he lack of a critical mass of learners in this context undermines the opportunity for group discussion and peer networking which are required to support knowledge transfer and skills development in a professional learning environment.”[1] I would certainly agree that it is impossible to network in a class with only one student. On the other hand it is unrealistic to assume that there is more opportunity for group discussion the larger a class becomes.[2] I have taught in both community college and independent academy settings, and I have seen far more discussion and networking in classes of between five and ten students than I’ve ever seen in classes of more than twenty. Yet LSUC does not seem to care that colleges where 40-60 students are jammed into each class are somehow depriving those students of opportunities for group discussion.

    I would further suggest that charging the same fee for auditing a school with sixty students in each year of the program and a school with ten is administratively unfair. That said, economic discrimination between businesses is permitted in our society — or at least so the Court found in determining Ms. Lippa’s claim.[3]

    Fortunately for those smaller schools, fairness will not be the administrative question that applies to LSUC’s new charges. Instead it will be asked whether it is within LSUC’s power to demand money from a school. A cursory reading of the Law Society Act [4] suggests that LSUC has unlimited power to take money from licensees in virtually any way they wish. That reading does not, however, show LSUC having any power to charge fees, dues, duties, levies, or any other amounts to non-licensees. I’d be interested if someone can point me to a provision in the Act that says LSUC can impose this new fee. Absent such a provision, the fees are ultra vires and LSUC is overstepping its mandate and its jurisdiction in attempting to impose them.

    It is long past time that LSUC started consulting with educational authorities before attempting to “fix” either legal or paralegal education. The Ontario Institute of Studies in Education, one of the pre-eminent Canadian authorities on teacher education and education research, is located within blocks of LSUC. Perhaps rather than guessing at what is needed to fix the education system that LSUC itself created, it might wish to consult with folks that know. Consultation and a bit of luck could even mean that we won’t be in the position of having to reinvent the wheel again in another five years.

    ——
    [1] Page 1852 of the February 2014 Convocation Report, http://www.lsuc.on.ca/uploadedFiles/For_the_Public/About_the_Law_Society/Convocation_Decisions/2014/convfeb2014_PSC.pdf Accessed March 12, 2014.

    [2] Froese-Germain B, Riel R, McGahey B, Canadian Teachers’ F. Class Size and Student Diversity: Two Sides of the Same Coin. Teacher Voice. Canadian Teachers’ Federation [serial online]. January 1, 2012;Available from: ERIC, Ipswich, MA. Accessed March 12, 2014.

    [3] R. v. Lippa, 2013 ONSC 4424 (CanLII), Accessed March 12, 2014.

    [4] Law Society Act, http://canlii.ca/t/l355 Accessed March 12, 2014.

  2. I worry about the attempt to “recover associated costs”. In my experience this normally means that what the colleges will be asked “to contribute”, will be passed along to their students through tuition costs, if we consider that at the end of program, field placement and employability are barely available. “Low student enrolment”??

    “A more robust … assessment system that supports entry-level paralegal competence…” should not be based on one’s pocket resources; it should strive for quality and character of entrants into the program and intrinsically, into the profession.

    In my opinion, there should be more stringent standards and criteria for program entry to start with. These could be reflected in entry-level competence test in writing skills, delivery of thought, ethical frame of mind, before joining the college and before starting into the profession.

    Definitely a good start, requiring a more stringent standard for paralegal schools’ accreditation but it will lose its intent and results, if it is not accompanied by closer auditing, by someone – whether the regulator, since the MTCU does not really oversee the results of their approved colleges, or some other governing body within the profession.

  3. The standard for paralegal accreditation should be high. Clients expect competent paralegal representation and it all goes back to the institutions where the paralegal programs were offered. How effective were their assessment and testing?

  4. This is a welcome development and has long been a source of concern; very pleased to see they have recognized some of those deficiencies. There are only 6 law schools in Ontario, I see no reason why they should not be just as stringent in the standards for paralegal schools.

    1. Anne Vespry · · Reply

      LSUC recognizes graduates from law schools across Canada, and from Common Law jurisdictions around the world. Only when there are six (or more) Paralegal programs available and accredited in each of the other provinces might it be time to consider reducing the number of schools in Ontario.

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