Q&A: PSC Candidates Answer Question 3

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Paralegal SCOPE presents the third in a series of Q & As for the PSC Election 2014. All answers are posted at the same time. Candidate names will be rotated, to ensure “alphabetical fairness.”

 

    Question 3:

      The licensing exam is being updated. How will this affect the profession?

 
Brian-Lawrie-better

Brian Lawrie

Updating the paralegal examination process is a step in the right direction, and one which will benefit the entire profession in the long term.

The examination updating is one of most important changes to paralegal licensing in the last few years. Adding substantive questions will ensure that the public understands that paralegals are professionals who have met a high standard of education and competency.

Another benefit is that the colleges will have to prepare students in a slightly different way than they do now. Their duty to prepare graduates to write a longer and more substantive examination will bring a new sense of urgency to the training.

It will no longer be enough to make sure students are familiar with the Rules of Conduct, their financial obligations and their ethical duties. Those are important. But to be successful professionals, students will need to be trained in the substantive skills needed to work in the practise areas. The colleges will have to make sure their students are ready to be tested on those core skills, on the law they will use every day in providing legal services to clients.

The LSUC developed the new examination after consultation with the legal community, and after the Five Year Review and the Morris Report. It is clear that the twin issues of education and licensing examination are being addressed and this will bring a new layer of professionalism that we can all be proud of.

Following up on the examination changes, and monitoring the effect they have on the profession, will be a priority for the PSC over the next four years. I look forward to being part of that process.

Link to the Morris Report, Five Year Review.

 

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Paula Callaghan

When I took my licensing exam, I was rather surprised that there was no substantive or procedural law included. While the exam tested my knowledge of ethics and practice management, it did not fully test the full scope of my knowledge and the level of education I had received.

I believe that the expansion of the licensing exam to include substantive and procedural law is a step in the right direction. It will raise the level of provable competency among new licensees, which in turn raises the public confidence in our profession and raises the “bar” for the profession.

An expansion of the exam will place the onus of full professional competency on both the candidates and the schools. It will no doubt have a positive impact on curriculum standards and highlight which schools are, or are not, meeting their curriculum obligations to the education of their students.

However, it will be incumbent on the LSUC Professional Development and Competency Department to monitor the results of the new exam and quickly identify candidates from programs with deficiencies. Accreditation of programs should be tied in part to performance metrics stemming from these new exams. I believe a review of raw exam score data is necessary, to ensure the exam is in fact a true representation of education standards and student academic performance.

A new expanded exam will encourage a more uniform curriculum across the province, guided by the standards set out by the Law Society, eliminating any educational gaps between institutions. As exam materials are provided and the exam is open book, this should be easily achievable. I have full confidence that candidates will be up to the challenge; changing the current narrative from “expected skills and behaviors of minimally competent, entry-level paralegal to “fully competent, entry-level paralegal.”

Changing the exam will be a good first step towards the long road to expanding the paralegal scope of practice.

Contact Paula Callaghan:

    paulasvoice@gmail.com

 

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Tami Cogan

The licensing exam being updated will affect the profession in several ways.

1) Education

The new exam will draw attention toward education and the accredited programs. With the shift toward substantial law material on the exam, I anticipate that the programs will also shift their focus toward substantive law. The success rate of students challenging the licensing exam should provide valuable insight on what is being done right, and what needs to change within the accredited programs.

  <ul>A) Substantive law</ul>

Law is forever changing. For someone to be more competent in substantive law they require the ability to conduct research on both legislation and case law. They also require the ability to comprehend what they are reading, and apply the principles of what they have read, to a set of circumstances. This should increase the level of competence we see in our newly graduated paralegal candidates.

  <ul>B) Drawbacks</ul>

As the pendulum swings toward substantive law, I do anticipate some drawbacks.
Some areas of education will be neglected. Some of these areas are already lacking.

My best example is the skill, or shall I say ‘art’ of interviewing. Without the ability to determine what the issues and evidence of a matter are, the substantive law is a moot point and the competence of our profession will appear to falter.

2) The new exam will be a trial of process for an expansion of scope of practise.
 <ul> A) Exam modifications</ul>

The drafting of a new exam is an arduous process. That process can later be applied to deal with new areas of practice.

<ul> B) Competency</ul>

Competency in substantive law must be demonstrated in the current Scope of Practise, by those newly graduated paralegal candidates. Demonstrated on a broad scale, it can be used to support an expansion of Scope of Practise.

I see the update of the licensing exam to be an important first step toward the desired changes within our profession.

 

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Cathy Corsetti

The paralegal licensing exam will be revised for the August 2015 graduates. The PSC presented this proposal to Convocation in October 2012, and it was approved.
See PSC October convocation.

Convocation approved this revision as a result of some deficiencies found during audits of the college training — not all college programs, but some. In addition, during the Legal Needs Analysis, in discussions with members of the PSC and other representation of the profession, concerns had been raised about the entry-level assessment; a broader spectrum of substantive and procedural competency assurance was required for entry level into the paralegal profession.

This was later echoed in the Five Year Review and ultimately the Morris Report.

The paralegal profession gave submissions both to the Five Year Review and to Mr. Morris, that the educational standards are below what they should be. To quote the report (page 19):

    “While it is the duty of the Law Society to facilitate access to justice, it is also its duty to protect the public interest. Calls for broadening of the scope of paralegal practice simply cannot be reconciled with the seemingly widespread criticism of the current paralegal education and training regime and standards of professional conduct.”

The new Paralegal Licensing Exam will be a full-day exam, as opposed the current half-day. It will comprise 240 questions, double of what the exam is currently.

The implementation of a substantive exam will allow our profession to develop in additional areas of practice, while ensuring that the public interest is protected and that all stakeholders are assured that the quality of new licensees is being maintained.

So to answer the question, “How will this affect the profession,” I believe we will have qualified professionals graduating and that will lay the groundwork for our scope of practice to be expanded.

 

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BURD-Rbt

Robert Burd

The new licensing examination that commences in 2015 will bring respect to our profession. The new exam will be on substantive law rather than only on the Rules of Professional Conduct.

I remember when I was preparing for the grandparenting exam. I thought the licensing exam was going to be so hard that many people would fail. I thought it was going to be like the bar examination. I studied for countless hours and stressed like you would not believe, thinking my future was at stake. While I was writing it I kept thinking: Is this it? Could it possibly be this easy? Nobody is going to fail this.

Well, I was almost right. The exam was easy, but a few people did fail.

In order for our profession to be respected by others and ourselves, it has to be a profession. One can’t say, “Hey, I want to be a paralegal” and then a year after an accelerated program and an easy examination, you are in. Lawyers write LSAT examinations, then law school, and then the bar examination. Hundreds of people fail at each one of those three stages every year, which makes becoming a lawyer a true honour. I hope this is the direction we are heading.

The substantive law testing will also facilitate the discussion of expanding the scope of practice. Lawyers and the public will be more confident that we know the law and thus better-able to provide legal services in a competent fashion. This eliminates one of the biggest obstacles to expanding our scope of practice.

This was an initiative of the PSC that I am very proud to have been a part of.

 

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michelle-Haigh-three-quarter-body

Michelle Haigh

Enhancing the licensing exam is a positive step for the profession for many different reasons. The public, judiciary, regulators, and fellow legal practitioners assess our profession on a whole, with what they personally experience. If these parties encounter a paralegal who is knowledgeable, professional, and well spoken, the entire profession benefits.

Education is the first step in gaining the skills needed to become a paralegal. Accredited colleges should be challenged to provide high quality program content, skilled educators, and an experience that will enhance the skills being taught.

Improving the licensing exam to include substantive content ensures that the new members of the profession are learning the required competencies to become a paralegal. This will also assist in determining which colleges are providing the required educational components, and which colleges which are not. This improvement will create more accountability to the colleges to select the appropriate applicants and provide the required education to their students.

I believe that the profession will benefit greatly from this step, but it is just the beginning. We need to improve the student experience in their work placement, we need to have admittance standards prior to acceptance to the program, and we need to implement more mentoring opportunities to new licensees.

The only way to ensure that progress continues is through the ongoing efforts of the PSC, colleges and paralegal professional associations.

 

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    Question 4:

      How do the different roles of the professional associations and the PSC fit together, and how do you see that relationship evolving over the next four years?

 
 

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