National Admission Standards

Only individuals who follow a rigorous training program and demonstrate their suitability to serve the public with a high level of competence, are eligible to join Canada’s legal profession and be licensed by a Canadian law society to practise law.

Because Canada’s national mobility regime requires each law society to recognize the credentials of members of the legal profession wherever they were initially licensed to practise law in Canada, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada is leading initiatives to ensure that admission standards are consistent across the country.

National Competency and Good Character Standards

Law societies are mandated by provincial and territorial statutes to regulate members of the legal profession in the public interest. The licensing of members of the profession is a key component of that responsibility.

Applicants for admission to the profession must demonstrate that they possess the core skills and knowledge necessary to practice law competently. Members of the legal profession are also expected to be of good character.

The legal profession is increasingly mobile. Under the terms of a series of agreements between Canada’s law societies, members of the legal profession may move with ease from one jurisdiction to another. With admission to one law society effectively permitting admission to every other Canadian law society, consistency and defensibility in admission standards are desirable.

The Federation undertook a major initiative on behalf of the law societies to develop national standards for admission to the legal profession. The drafting of a profile of the competencies required upon entry to the profession and the development of a common standard for ensuring that applicants meet the requirement to be of good character were the goals of the first phase of the project. Implementation of the standards, including the identification of appropriate methods for assessing whether applicants meet the standards, has been the focus of the second phase of the project.

In September 2012, the Council of the Federation took a major step in the development and implementation of consistent, high standards by approving the National Entry-Level Competency Profile for Lawyers and Quebec Notaries (the “National Competency Profile”). The National Competency Profile was developed with the assistance of law society leaders and senior staff and practitioners from across the country under the guidance of a consultant specializing in credentialing. The draft National Competency Profile was validated through a large-scale national survey of members of the profession to ensure that it accurately reflects the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for new members of the profession to practice competently. The National Competency Profile has now been adopted by 13 law societies, on the understanding that adoption is subject to the development and approval of a plan for implementation.

Work has also been progressing on the development of the good character/suitability to practise standard. A working group of law society policy and credentialing staff has been tasked with developing a standard for approval by the Federation Council and consideration and adoption by the law societies. The working group circulated the National Suitability to Practise Standard Consultation Report  in July, 2013 to solicit input on its preliminary views on the content of the good character/suitability to practise standard. The responses to the first consultation report raised both policy and operational considerations and identified areas for further consultation. Work on this aspect of the project was set aside to concentrate efforts on the assessment phase of the National Admission Standards Project.

In September, 2015, the National Admission Standards Project Steering Committee released a proposal for the development of a national qualifying assessment system for admission to the legal profession in Canada (“assessment proposal”).  Most law societies have provided their feedback on the assessment proposal.  Following extensive consultation with law societies and consideration of the needs of the law societies, the Steering Committee has concluded that there is not a critical mass of law societies ready to move forward with the development of a national assessment tool.  It was a precondition of the assessment phase of the project that commitment from a critical mass of law societies would be required to move forward.

The Steering Committee has recommended to the Council of the Federation that all work on developing a national assessment tool cease.  Federation Council will consider the Steering Committee’s recommendation on June 14, 2016. Should Council accept the Steering Committee’s recommendation, law societies will retain the ability to determine the appropriate mechanisms to assess the competencies of entry level lawyers.  It is expected that each law society will continue to rely on the National Competency Profile as it sees fit.