A Community that Values Professional Development for Lawyers

Jennifer Flynn, the new executive director of the Legal Education Society of Alberta (LESA), has made Edmonton’s Top 40 Under 40 list for 2013. The least surprising thing about this is that Jennifer would land on a list like this. Anyone who has ever worked with her knows that she is a smart, talented, and indefatigable leader, educator, and volunteer. If you’re working on a project, it’s bound to be better if she’s on your team. I’m lucky enough to know this first-hand.

But there is, in my view, something surprising about this. She made this list for her work in continuing legal education.

“WHY SHE’S TOP 40: She dedicates her work and volunteer time to ensuring that Alberta articling students and lawyers receive the support they require for their continuing education.”

Her community–not even the legal community, but the broader community of Edmonton–values this work. I don’t like to say it, but it’s hard to imagine this happening here in the United States, where continuing legal education is often considered a hurdle and a nuisance, rather than a service. When I linked to her page, I expected her to be on the list for any number of other community activities she may be involved in. I could not imagine a Top 40 Under 40 List that honors a commitment to the professional development of lawyers (even if you and I think it is deserving). But there it was–a printed validation of the purpose and impact of continuing education for lawyers.

In thinking about why the culture around continuing legal education might be so different in Edmonton, it’s first important to note that Alberta has a unique system, which I mentioned in my last post. Alberta does not require a mandatory minimum of credits. Instead, it requires lawyers to develop a continuing professional development plan that includes learning activities to fulfill the plan, where learning activities are defined as:

a. relevant to the professional needs of a lawyer;
b. pertinent to long-term career interests as a lawyer;
c. in the interests of the employer of a lawyer or
d. related to the professional ethics and responsibilities of lawyers.

Lawyers act as architects of lifelong professional development that serves the public interest. And LESA supports the process.

It’s also important to note that LESA has had a run of strong, respected, and education-focused leadership. Jennifer, of course, and before her there was Paul Wood, QC, and Hugh Robertson, QC, both of whom are considered among the best in continuing legal education. It is not a leap to suggest that their leadership has played a role in the public’s perception of the role of continuing legal education.

Alberta has a system that honors the public interest and LESA and its leaders have supported that system with a commitment to the true purpose of continued education… and the broader community values it. That’s really something. Maybe we can learn from it.

Congratulations, Jennifer.

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