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The Victorian Legal Service Board + Commissioner (VLSB+C) has just released its Guidance for CPD Providers ‘Enhancing Legal Ethics Education in Continuing Professional Development’. The guidance follows the Royal Commission into the Management of Police Informants and in particular recommendation 84 that guidance should be provided on how legal ethics education should be embedded in the four compulsory fields of continuing professional development, rather than continuing to be delivered in isolation. The VLSB+C review of Continuing Professional Development in Victoria culminated in the Report ‘Getting the Point’ and echoed the sentiments of the submission made by ACC Australia that legal ethics education needed improvement – to be relevant by directly linking to areas of practice and taught in an interactive, scenario-based way.

The guidance covers three main issues to enable CPD providers to improve their current and future CPD activities and to prompt all legal practitioners in setting the expectations for their legal ethics education to meet their development and practice needs.

Embedding legal ethics education within non-Ethics CPD subject streams

The guidance notes that many CPD providers already embed consideration of ethical principles and issues into their non-Ethics CPD offerings, where it is relevant to do so.

For short duration (1 hour) CPD activities in the Substantive Law, Professional/Barristers’ Skills and Practice Management CPD subject streams, suggested opportunities to include ethics include: 

  • recent case law raising ethical issues and how those issues could have been avoided  
  • the identification of possible and relevant scenarios that could give rise to ethical issues

The guidance notes that longer CPD activities provide an opportunity for CPD providers to discuss ethical issues that are relevant to the subject matter of the activity and embeds legal ethics in a nuanced way to promote deeper thinking by legal practitioners. Programs directed at specific cohorts (for example, early career lawyers, specialty practitioners, law practice managers) could be structured in a way to alert lawyers to ethical issues early on, with an opportunity later in the program to consider the issues in scenario-based discussion groups.

Enhancing the effectiveness of legal ethics education within the Ethics CPD subject stream

Basic ethics CPD activities  that focus on the rules and how they apply are most suitable for early career lawyers or lawyers who would benefit from refreshing their core understanding at other points in their career, such as when changing roles or returning from career breaks. More experienced lawyers, who are familiar with the core elements of ethical practice, may need activities that focus on complex ethical issues that are more directly relevant to their practice.

The guidance suggests that all ethics CPD activities should encourage and allow time for lawyers to reflect on the content and make the connection with their particular practice area which could done by including a set of questions to prompt lawyers to link the content to their own circumstances.

Effective learning modes for activities within the Ethics CPD subject stream

The guidance observes that effective legal education depends on interactive engagement, particularly where complex and sometimes competing concepts require detailed exploration and nuanced guidance.

One of the options for delivering effective legal education identified by the guidance is workshops run for smaller groups of people, over at least half a day, and are facilitated by an expert/s in the subject area. This format enables lawyers to interact with other participants, discuss problems and scenarios, and explore a topic in depth with experts and peers.

Online Ethics CPD activities provide flexibility for lawyers who are juggling competing commitments or who might otherwise have difficulty attending a face-to-face activity. For regional lawyers, online activities are particularly important as they can access more diverse training opportunities than might be locally available.

To read more about the guidance for CPD providers in delivering legal education click here.

ACC Members can provide feedback on the guidance and suggestions of improvement to the LSB+C or the ACC Victorian CPD Committee. Further revisions to the guidance are likely following the establishment of the Ethics CPD Reference Group recommended in Getting the Point.

Prepared by: E. Poletti