National Requirement for Approving Canadian Common Law Degree Programs
Canada’s law societies are mandated by statute to regulate the legal profession in the public interest. As part of this mandate, each provincial and territorial law society is responsible for the admission of new members of the profession in its jurisdiction.
Entering Law Society Admission Programs – Legal Education that Meets the National Requirement
Individuals applying for admission to a Canadian law society must hold a law degree earned at a Canadian law school or a Certificate of Qualification issued by the Federation’s National Committee on Accreditation.
In 2010, Canada’s law societies agreed on a uniform national requirement that graduates of Canadian common law programs must meet to enter law society admission programs. The national requirement specifies the competencies and skills graduates must have attained and the law school academic program and learning resources law schools must have in place. The national requirement will apply to graduates of existing and prospective Canadian law schools effective 2015. It will also need to be met by NCA candidates. A copy of the National Requirement is part of the report of the Task Force on the Canadian Common Law Degree and is available here.
Canadian Common Law Program Approval Committee
Canada’s law societies agreed to establish a committee through the Federation of Law Societies of Canada to review common law degree programs and to make a final determination about compliance with the national requirement that would then be applied by the law societies. The Canadian Common Law Program Approval Committee (the “Approval Committee”) was set up by the Federation in February 2012. The law societies agreed to respect the determination of the Approval Committee in order to avoid duplication of work at the local level and to ensure consistency across Canada.
The Approval Committee is a technical committee comprised of seven members with special expertise appointed by the Council of the Federation - four have regulatory experience in Canadian law societies and three are Deans at Canadian law faculties. The Council appoints the Deans after receiving recommendations from the Council of Canadian Law Deans. The Approval Committee does not set policy or have the authority to change its mandate or the national requirement.
Existing Canadian Common Law Degree Programs
To ensure that graduates of common law programs seeking entry to law society admission programs have the required competencies when the national requirement comes into effect, the Approval Committee has begun the process of assessing the existing common law programs. Law schools are asked to report on how their programs meet the national requirement or how non-compliant aspects will be brought into compliance by 2015. An example of the report form is contained in the Report of the Committee on Implementation of the Task Force on the Canadian Common Law Degree and is available here.
The Approval Committee’s determination of whether a law degree program complies with the national requirement will be posted on the Federation’s website as of 2015.The Canadian law schools whose graduates are currently accepted by all law societies in Canadian common law jurisdictions are displayed here.
In establishing the national requirement, and after consultation with the Deans of Canada’s law schools, the Federation determined that it would be neither necessary nor appropriate to dictate how individual law schools choose to teach the required competencies. The only exception is the requirement for a stand-alone course on professional responsibility. The Federation and its member law societies recognize the importance of academic freedom and the value of innovation and diversity in the teaching of law. Enquiring into the teaching methods or philosophies of the programs would go beyond what is necessary to ensure that graduates have acquired the competencies specified in the national requirement.
In keeping with this approach, the mandate of the Approval Committee is limited to determining whether law degree programs meet the national requirement. In assessing whether a law program meets the national requirement, the Approval Committee considers whether the program offers a curriculum that includes the substantive knowledge of Canadian law specified in the national requirement. Beyond ensuring that the minimum admission requirements set out in the national requirement are observed, the Approval Committee makes no enquiries into the admission practices of either the law degree programs or the universities of which they are a part.
Proposed Canadian Common Law Degree Programs
The Approval Committee will also be assessing proposals for new law degree programs to be offered by Canadian universities. The establishment of new law schools at Canadian universities is subject to the approval of the relevant provincial government authorities.
The Approval Committee replaces an Ad Hoc Committee that was established pending completion of the work of the Task Force on the Canadian Common Law Degree. The Ad Hoc Committee reviewed proposals by Thompson Rivers University, Lakehead University and the Université de Montréal for new common law degree programs to determine whether the programs would comply with the national requirement. All three proposals were conditionally approved by the Ad Hoc Committee. The Ad Hoc Committee was subsequently dissolved.
Verification of future compliance with the national requirement by these new law degree programs is now carried out by the Approval Committee. You can verify the current status of Canadian law school programs, including those conditionally approved here.
For the sake of consistency and fair treatment, the Approval Committee takes exactly the same approach to evaluating proposed Canadian law degree programs as it does for existing ones.
Trinity Western University's Proposed Law School Program Granted Preliminary Approval
In 2012, the Approval Committee received an application by Trinity Western University (“TWU”) to assess whether its proposed law school program will meet the national requirement. The Approval Committee completed its review and determined that if implemented as proposed, TWU’s proposed program will meet the national requirement. The proposal has been granted preliminary approval and will now be subject to the same regular review process as existing law school programs. The Approval Committee identified three concerns and made one comment on aspects of the proposed program that will be monitored in these reviews. The concerns relate to the teaching of legal ethics and public law, as well as the budget for the proposed law school. A copy of the report of the Approval Committee is available here. (Note: this is a large document)
TWU’s application for approval of its law school program raised a number of issues falling outside of the mandate of the Approval Committee relating to the provisions of the university’s Community Covenant Agreement. The Council of the Federation recognized the importance of addressing these issues and established a special advisory committee of respected leaders of the legal profession to examine them.
The Special Advisory Committee on Trinity Western University’s Proposed School of Law (“Special Advisory Committee”) concluded that there is no public interest reason to exclude future graduates of the program from law society bar admission programs as long as the program meets the national requirement. A copy of the report of the Special Advisory Committee is available here.
The reports of the Approval Committee and the Special Advisory Committee have been provided to Canada’s law societies.
TWU’s law school proposal has also been approved by the government of British Columbia under the province’s Degree Authorization Act.
More information on the review of TWU’s proposed law school program is available here.