As part of its public interest mandate to regulate paralegals, the Law Society of Ontario (Law Society) has created a paralegal education program accreditation process for colleges of applied arts and technology and private career colleges. The Law Society grants accreditation status to those programs that meet required criteria and standards, including in respect of course content and delivery; program and field placement policies, procedures, and practices; and faculty experience and training. This Paralegal Education Program Audit Policy and Framework sets out the principles and processes for the auditing of accredited programs. Audits are conducted by counsel and coordinators in the Law Society’s Professional Development & Competence division; audit reports and recommendations are reviewed and approved by Law Society management.
II. Audit Policy
The Law Society audits accredited paralegal education programs at periodic intervals. Audits are designed to ensure that the representations made during the accreditation process are accurate and that the college maintains required standards thereafter. Audits are a means by which the Law Society can review, assess, and report on accredited paralegal education programs.
Audits help to ensure that colleges comply with the goals, criteria, and standards of paralegal education programs and that students are exposed to, and have the ability to develop, the knowledge, skills, and attitudes required to provide legal services to the public. Audits also facilitate consistency of practice among colleges offering paralegal education programs.
III. Framework of Audits
As part of the accreditation process, the Law Society reserves the right to audit a college’s accredited paralegal education program. Initial audits are conducted for each accredited program within the first three years after accreditation. Subsequent audits are conducted at least once every five years thereafter, at the Law Society’s discretion.
The areas that the Law Society reviews during the audit include
- course offerings, content, and assessment methods;
- concordance between course content and competency development;
- concordance between policies and practices;
- qualifications and capabilities of teaching faculty;
- field placement policies, procedures, and practices; and
- compliance with Law Society requirements.
The audit process comprises two parts: documentation review and site visits.
The Law Society requires that colleges submit specified documentation for review, including
- a copy of the college’s funding approval and certificate of registration;
- course descriptions and outlines for specified courses;
- a faculty list and a list of the courses taught by each faculty member;
- copies of examinations or assignments;
- a report setting out field placement policies, procedures, and practices;
- advanced standing policies and practices; and
- information regarding classes to be observed during the site visit.
The Law Society provides prior written notice to the college of the documents required to be submitted as part of the documentation review.
The second part of the audit process is conducted through one or more visits to selected campuses where the accredited paralegal education program is offered. Site visits allow Law Society auditors to obtain feedback by meeting with faculty, administration, and students and to observe how programs are delivered to students. Site visits include
- meetings with the program coordinator and senior administrative staff of the college;
- meetings with a representative group of students;
- meetings with faculty;
- observation of classes in session; and
- meetings with the field placement coordinator.
The Law Society provides prior written notice to the college of proposed site visit dates and works with the college to schedule the site visits. The length and scope of each site visit is decided by the Law Society’s auditors. Program administrators must remain available to Law Society auditors for follow-up or clarification of audit results once the site visits are completed.
IV. Audit Reports
Once the documentation review and site visits are completed, Law Society auditors review and analyze the collected information. These results are compared against the college’s accreditation application, Law Society requirements, and established standards for paralegal education programming. The auditors note any discrepancies, noncompliance, gaps, or other deficiencies.
The Law Society auditors notify Law Society management of their findings and any courses of action that the college is required or recommended to take. The Law Society provides the college with a closure letter, compliance notice, or audit report within approximately eight weeks of the site visits for that program.
V. Post-Audit Actions
If the audit report finds that a college is in compliance with required criteria and standards, no further action is required. The college is expected to maintain its standards of program delivery and to notify the Law Society of any substantive program changes.
If the audit report finds that there are minor to moderate deficiencies, the Law Society sets out in the report reasonable deadlines by which the deficiencies must be corrected to the satisfaction of Law Society management. In such cases, a college may, prior to the stated deadlines, request additional time to remedy deficiencies. Such request must be in writing and set out the reasons for the additional time required. Law Society management reviews the written request and responds in writing. The request may or may not be granted, depending on the reasons for the request, the length of additional time required, the severity of the deficiencies, the impact of the deficiencies on students in the program, and the relevance of the deficiencies to the Law Society’s obligation to govern legal service providers in the public interest. If a college indicates that it refuses to remedy the deficiencies or if it fails to do so by the deadline or any agreed extension of the deadline, Law Society management may recommend revocation of the program’s accredited status.
If the audit report finds that there are serious deficiencies that cast doubt on the college’s ability to deliver its program to an appropriate standard, the Law Society sets this out in the report and notifies the college that Law Society management may recommend suspension of a program’s status as an accredited program unless the deficiencies are corrected to the satisfaction of the Executive Director, Professional Development and Competence.
If the audit report finds that there are grave deficiencies that indicate that the college cannot or will not deliver its program to an appropriate standard, the Law Society sets this out in the report and notifies the college that Law Society management may recommend that the program’s status as an accredited program be revoked.
Where Law Society management recommends the suspension or revocation of a program’s status as a result of an audit, such recommendation will be brought before the Paralegal Standing Committee (Committee) for review, consideration, and approval. The findings of the audit report will be presented to the Committee, together with any additional information arising from the audit or other information available to the Law Society. The Law Society will provide written reasons to the Committee. Any suspension or revocation of accreditation status approved by the Committee will be communicated to the affected college and reflected online.