Linguistic dualism and the LPP
The launch of the Law Practice Program in 2014 marked one of the most significant changes to the licensing process in Ontario in decades. So it was no surprise that all eyes were on the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Professional Development & Competence Committee last fall as members considered the future of the pilot project. They recommended ending it – however after receiving more than 130 submissions from lawyers, law students and organizations, Convocation voted to extend the project for another two years.
The move was especially significant to members of the francophone bar. Many celebrated it as a sign of the law society’s commitment to meet the distinct needs of Ontario’s French-speaking community. Indeed, even the PD&C report that recommended ending the program acknowledged the unique role and importance of the French LPP and recognized the principle of linguistic dualism. The report further noted that the LPP had enhanced competence in the delivery of French-language services and the practice of law in the language.
The LPP was required to “take into account the unique needs of the francophone community” according to its agreement with the LSUC. And the LPP gave itself the unique mandate of promoting access to justice for Franco-Ontarians by training future lawyers capable of providing legal services in French. Its approach has rested upon three main pillars: accountability to community; the promotion of language rights and community involvement.
A key value in the design of the LPP was accountability to the community. A team of 10 francophone judges and senior lawyers were recruited to form an advisory board. Members represent a rich diversity of practice areas, including in-house counsel, community clinics, small firms, sole practitioners, not-for-profit organizations, and academia. Two members hail from francophone communities in Northern Ontario. During the LPP’s first year, the advisory board met monthly to closely monitor the development and implementation of the program. The board now meets in person annually for strategic planning and is consulted regularly to help ensure the program is training its candidates to meet the needs of the Franco-Ontarians community.
Raising awareness regarding language rights is essential to the promotion of access to justice in French. It follows that the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Rules of Professional Conduct provide that lawyers must inform their clients of their language rights. In order to ensure that LPP candidates meet and exceed their professional responsibilities in this regard, the tasks completed are evaluated through the lens of training future lawyers who can provide legal services in a minority language context and in a manner that best promotes the language rights of their clients.
The third pillar of the LPP is community involvement. Serving a client in a linguistic minority context must be done holistically and in close collaboration with community partners who help ensure a seamless experience of French-language services. For example, during the training component, candidates meet several francophone community partners, such as tenant empowerment organizations, community legal clinics, and accountants, to whom they can refer future French-speaking clients. Candidates are also strongly encouraged to volunteer with these community groups.
This unique approach to the training of future lawyers has garnered considerable community support. More than 225 French-speaking lawyers have been involved in the LPP in some way since its launch. As acknowledged in the PD&C reports, the LPP has contributed to the advancement of French legal services in Ontario and is widely regarded in the community as a respected alternative
While the creation of an alternative path to the profession is undeniably an important innovation by the law society, the recognition of linguistic dualism through the creation of a unique program by and for the francophone community is perhaps an equally important development, particularly for members of minority groups. It is hoped that the LPP will serve as a model in the development of other law society services and programs for Francophones and other minority groups in the future.
Anne Lévesque is a human rights lawyer and the co-director of the Law Practice Program at the Faculty of Law of the University of Ottawa.