The Federation of Law Societies of Canada and Online Teaching

Like many Canadian law faculties, the University of Ottawa has been delivering a significant amount of its teaching virtually or bi-modally during the COVID-19 pandemic. I have been teaching administrative law in a flipped classroom format for the last two years: students consume recorded lectures beforehand and participate via Zoom in small- and large-group class discussions to work through problem questions. Personally, I think this format is pedagogically effective and has some functions, such as breakout rooms and screen-sharing, which cannot be readily replicated in an in-class setting.

Enter, however, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, the non-statutory regulatory entity which serves as a coordinating body for Canada’s provincial and territorial law societies. The FLSC has advised my Faculty that students entering their final year of studies in 2022-2023 must take all of their credits in person in order to graduate. Here is an FAQ based on the advice received from the FLSC. (I am not sure whether other law faculties are in a similar position to the University of Ottawa and what has been communicated to them.)

The message is that third-year students cannot take any classes which are delivered virtually. Nor, for that matter, can they do a ‘directed research project’, in which they produce on their own initiative, with advice from a Faculty member, a term paper of around 8,000 words (I’ve supervised quite a few of these and the quality has invariably been very high).

As far as I know, the FLSC has not published its advice (but I will happily link to it if it is publicly available).

Why does the FLSC seem to think that third-year students who take even one online class in 2022-2023 at the University of Ottawa (and similarly situated faculties, if there are any) will not be eligible to graduate?

The advice seems to emanate from the FLSC’s Policy Manual. Section 7.2 is the “Interactive Learning Requirement”. I have included the full definitions of some of the key terms in square brackets:

7.2 Interactive Learning Requirement
The National Requirement requires that two-thirds (or two (2) out of three (3) years) of an Applicant’s law degree must have been obtained through In-person Instruction or instruction involving direct interaction between instructor and students in an Approved Law Program [defined as something “other than an Approved Canadian Common Law Program”].
To be recognized as meeting this interactive learning requirement, a Course that is not wholly delivered through In-person Instruction must meet the following criteria:
I. Courses using Interactive Online Instruction must be part of a Program [defined as “the complete set and sequence of Courses, combinations of Coursesand/or other units of study, research and practice prescribed by an institution for the fulfillment of the requirements of a degree”] that consists of no less than one (1) year of In-person Instruction [defined as “instruction that occurs through synchronous, face-to- face interaction conducted with the instructor (teacher or professor) and students in the same physical location (e.g. classroom)”] as defined in this Policy.
II. Courses using Interactive Online Instruction must provide opportunities for students to develop legal problem solving and legal communications skills and include no fewer than six (6) of the following eight (8) components [and there follows a long list, the key point of which for present purposes is that 1/3 of the class time must be synchronous]

Reading this I see, first, that it is a Policy which does not purport to regulate the content of Canadian law programs in any way, shape or form. It is a Policy for non-Canadian law programmes.

Canadian law faculties are regulated by the National Requirement. Adherence to the National Requirement makes law faculties an “Approved Canadian Common Law Programme”. The National Requirement provides in Part C 1.2 that “The course of study consists primarily of in-person instruction and learning and/or instruction and learning that involves direct interaction between instructor and students”.

I do not think there is any shade of a doubt that online teaching (appropriately structured, of course) is “primarily…instruction and learning that involves direct interaction between instructor and students”. And therefore there is no doubt that throughout the pandemic my Faculty (and other similarly situated faculties) has been meeting the National Requirement.

If the FLSC believes that the National Requirement should be modified, they should modify the National Requirement. But I struggle to understand how the FLSC can rely on a Policy which specifically does not apply to Canadian law faculties to impose requirements on Canadian law faculties.

Even if the Policy did apply to Canadian law faculties, however, it would not support the FLSC’s position. The Policy Manual specifically refers to “prescribed” course requirements. The “prescribed” requirements at my Faculty are for more than 1 year of in-person instruction. The fact that it has not been possible to deliver in-person instruction across the board because of the COVID-19 pandemic does not change the fact that the “prescribed” requirements are for more than 1 year of in-person instruction.

In summary, whatever the reasons the FLSC has for adopting it, the FLSC’s position on online teaching is not supported by its Policy Manual, which in any event specifically does not apply to an approved Canadian law programme.

Of course, it is possible I am missing something and if there is further information in the public domain (or which can be put in the public domain) I am happy to link to it.

Finally, I appreciate that the relationship between online and in-person learning raises a whole set of questions about mental and physical health, academic freedom, personal choice, medical exemptions and many other matters. These are difficult questions with which law faculties (and the legal profession) have been grappling for the last two years. My point in this post is not to make the case for any particular answer to these questions, but simply to highlight the absence of a basis for the FLSC’s position on online learning in Canadian law faculties.

This content has been updated on April 29, 2022 at 14:34.