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Lawyers in Ontario are now familiar with the Law Society’s requirement that they complete a minimum number of hours of continuing professional development programming each year. As the law grows ever more complex, CPD supports lawyers’ ongoing competency and helps them build practical skills that will can benefit both their clients and their own careers. This spring, the Law Society introduced changes to the CPD requirements, providing more flexibility in terms of the kind of content that qualifies (for example, co-writing and co-editing are now eligible activities). For a summary of the changes, visit the Law Society’s FAQ page on the topic.

Busy lawyers sometimes struggle to make time for CPD, or put it off until the last minute and then scramble to comply with the requirement.

Last minute choices are not always the best and most helpful choices. A small investment of time, early in the year, to consider the learning opportunities available and to create a learning plan for yourself can make the difference between grudgingly complying with the requirement, and reaping the rewards of personal and professional growth.

How to plan your CPD year?

First, consider your needs. From a substantive law perspective, is there a kind of matter you tend to refer away from your practice because you’re not comfortable with your knowledge in the area? If it’s a logical extension of your familiar area of practice, why not adopt the goal of building competency in the new area? Perhaps you could plan to attend an introductory-level program this year, an intermediate one (and some self-study) next year, and then two years from now, sign up for an advanced seminar and begin accepting work that you would have turned down two years before.

Do you procrastinate over or struggle with a particular practice task? For example, perhaps once a litigation matter is underway you’re an effective negotiator; but you find that it takes you several days of procrastinating to draft pleadings. Instead of resigning yourself to the belief that legal writing is not your forte, actively seek out practical courses that focus on your weaker skills and put them in your CPD calendar. You may not look forward to them with as much anticipation as you would programs that interest you more, but you may come away from them with increased confidence and a sense of having taken a step toward becoming a more well-rounded lawyer.

Remember – at least three of your CPD hours must be devoted to content that supports professionalism; however, this is a MINIMUM requirement. Since professionalism content can help protect you against complaints and malpractice claims, consider completing more than three hours of this kind of content – there is no upper limit.

Create a plan that works with your budget: Just as you budget for other office expenses, you can budget your CPD dollars to ensure you receive maximum value. There are many low-cost or no-cost programs available: For example, the many of the Law Society’s professionalism programs are offered free of charge. For lawyers who live far from major centres, participating remotely (for example, via weblink) in some CPD programming can help free up budget funds to permit travel to programs that offer valuable networking opportunities.

Be sure to choose some CPD options that support other business needs, like networking and business development. Writing and research in an area of interest can help put you on the radar of colleagues who may respond with referrals; attending programming that includes built-in, in-person networking opportunities (for example, a cocktail hour that allows you to move around the room, rather than remaining in your seat or watching remotely, over the internet) can help you make new contacts.

Finally, many of the CPD programs offered qualify for the LAWPRO Risk Management Credit because of their risk and practice management content. Each approved program can save you $50 on the following year’s LAWPRO insurance premium (up to a maximum of $100). practicePRO.ca has a full list of programs approved for this credit and details on how to claim it.

This year, why not resolve to avoid the mad end-of-year CPD scramble, and plan to make the most of your precious learning time?