Areas of
Law Society of Alberta president Darlene Scott

Lawyer competence, diversity issues focus for new Alberta law society president

Wednesday, March 03, 2021 @ 3:25 PM | By Ian Burns

The new president of the Law Society of Alberta says she is looking forward to tackling issues of competency and diversity in the profession during a year in which the COVID-19 pandemic will still produce challenges.

Darlene Scott took office as part of the law society’s Feb. 25 bencher meeting. Scott, the sixth female president and 75th overall, has served at the bencher table for the past seven years and is a senior partner in the Edmonton office of Dentons Canada LLP, practising in the areas of commercial law, real estate and lending.

 Darlene Scott, president of the Law Society of Alberta

Darlene Scott, president of the Law Society of Alberta

Scott said she felt the law society did a “remarkable” job in 2020, saying it proactively responded to the uncertainty created by the pandemic and sought out innovation in how to do its work.

“All our hearings have moved to virtual form, and we are seeing increased public participation as a result,” she said. “I expect that when the pandemic is over, we will retain many of the initiatives that were introduced because of the pandemic.”

Looking ahead to 2021, Scott said the work she is most excited about in the upcoming year arises from the law society’s strategic plan and the committees it has established on equity, diversity and inclusion and lawyer competence.

“Competence is really at the core of what we do as a law society, and if we do that well, all our other work is easier,” she said. “While lawyers in Alberta currently do an excellent job of providing services to the public, I think our proposed new competence framework, which includes concepts of cultural competency and wellness, will greatly assist lawyers in providing those services.”

Scott said regulatory innovation was also of great interest to her.

“And of course, access to justice and legal services is integrally important to our mandate at the law society,” she said. “I am looking forward to furthering all these strategic goals during my term.”

During the meeting, benchers tackled several items, including the length of articling terms. Last year, in response to the potential impacts the pandemic might have on articling students and law firms, a rule amendment setting the term of articles at a minimum of eight months and a maximum of 12 months was approved. Benchers confirmed that the eight to 12-month articling term will remain in place for 2021-2022 as students and employers continue to navigate the pandemic.

“This decision is timely as planning for the new articling year is underway and students and principals require certainty regarding the upcoming articling term,” said Scott. “We know the pandemic continues to be a challenge, and we have also heard that students often struggle to manage their responsibilities for articling while simultaneously completing the bar admission requirement. By keeping the required articling term to a minimum of eight months and a maximum of 12 months we hope this will provide flexibility for both students and the firms or organizations that employ them.”

Benchers also approved a rule providing more detail on the process of putting a conduct review into abeyance and approved the bencher vacancy policy, which sets out how recommendations to fill vacancies will be made going forward. In June 2019, law society rules were amended to ensure that being “next in line” in the election results would no longer be the only consideration in filling a vacancy, with benchers wanting the ability to fill gaps at the table by taking diversity issues into account, as well as a candidate’s skill set.

Scott also noted the Canadian Centre for Professional Legal Education (CPLED) is also responding to feedback from students regarding workloads and is offering a 14-week accelerated bar admission program, called Accelerated PREP, beginning May 31, 2021. The accelerated format contains all the same content as the standard Practice Readiness Education Program (PREP) but requires students to attend full time for 14 weeks. This means students will complete their entire PREP before beginning their articling term.

“With this new option, it is important to note that students who choose to take the accelerated format, are still required to complete a minimum of eight months articling,” she said. “The 14 weeks of Accelerated PREP does not count towards the articling term.”

A video recap of the meeting can be found here.

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