The Education of BC Notaries

I would like to take this opportunity to provide an overview of Simon Fraser University's MA in Applied Legal Studies (MA ALS) Program—our objectives, our approach to teaching students about the law, and our courses— and also provide a few words about the areas of law that I teach in the Program.

Many readers will be familiar with (and some will be graduates of) the MA-ALS Program, now in its 13th year. Graduation from the Program is one pre-requisite for admittance into The Society of Notaries Public. Students in the Program take nine courses over 16 months including:

  • Contracts, Property, and Personal Planning (advance planning instruments and Wills and estates);
  • Selected Topics in Applied Legal Studies (including business organizations, agency, tax, builders liens, and personal property security);
  • Legal Research and Writing;
  • Legal Philosophy;
  • Topics in Legal Practice; and
  • a course on Canadian Law and Legal institutions.

The latter course is designed to give students from diverse educational and professional backgrounds essential foundational knowledge about the law and about the Canadian legal system; unlike Quebec’s Master’s Degree in Notarial Law (available only tostudents who have completed a law degree), the MA-ALS Program is available to students with a Bachelor’s Degree in any discipline. The diverse experiences and backgrounds that our students bring to the Program are, in my opinion, one of its great strengths.

The objective of the Applied Legal Studies Program is to ensure that students know and understand those areas of noncontentious law relevant to BC Notary practice, and understand how to apply the law to the client’s situation to achieve the client’s objectives. That is the “applied” in applied legal studies, a client-centred approach to learning law.

As an expert legal professional, the BC Notary must also be skilled in explaining legal concepts, alternatives, and outcomes clearly and effectively to clients. The ability to do that depends first and foremost on the Notary’s complete and thorough knowledge and understanding of the law in question, together with excellent interpersonal skills—both listening and communicating.

I describe that aspect of the Notary’s role to my students as one of “legal translator,” where the client is relying on the expertise of the Notary to translate the client’s wants and needs (expressed in “everyday” language) into legal concepts, legal language, and legal instruments that will achieve the client’s objectives.

The client will tell you, “I’m worried about who will look after my child if I die,” for example; the Notary:

  • will know that the client needs a guardianship clause in her Will and will explain that concept to the client, together with the factors she must consider and the alternatives the law,
  • will listen carefully as the client describes her concerns and situation,
  • will identify the language that will meet the client’s objectives, and
  • will draft a clause that will meet those objectives.

Longtime MA-ALS instructor Ron Usher, recently retired from this role, used the acronym “IKEAD” to explain the Notary’s role to his students: 

  • “I” is the responsibility to provide information to the client.
  • “K” is knowledge of the applicable law and the keeping of careful notes!
  • “E” is explaining legal alternatives and consequences to the client;
  • “A” is providing advice;
  • “D” refers to decision-making for the client—the decision is how to proceed. For the Notary, the decision is whether to proceed, refuse, or refer the client to a professional with different expertise.

The legal education provided through the MA-ALS Program is designed with those aspects of the Notary’s role in mind. Learning substantive legal content is an essential first step; “K” (knowledge) is the foundation for all other aspects of IKEAD and the Notary’s role as legal translator. Knowing the limits of Notary authority, and recognizing when those limits have been met, is also key; that is one of the very first concepts that students entering the Program are told, and one that is repeated throughout the Program. Developing a deep expertise within those limits is a process that begins with the MA-ALS Program, but by no means ends there.

My role as Director of the Program includes the ongoing development of courses and course content and working with our fantastic instructors to ensure that we fulfill the objectives of the Program both in terms of what we teach and how we teach it.

I also teach two courses in the Program: Legal Philosophy and Personal Planning (including Wills and Estates and incapacity planning).

The Legal Philosophy course invites students to consider and discuss questions about the nature and purpose of law with which legal thinkers have grappled for centuries. The questions include the following:

  • What is law for?
  • What, if any, is the connection between law and morality?
  • How and why do judges make decisions?
  • Why do we follow the law and why should we?
  • How and why do laws change?

To understand how those questions inform law in Canada today, students examine a single case over the term from a number of different perspectives— answering the questions in different ways. The course gives students an opportunity to exercise their critical thinking “muscle” and take a step back to look at the bigger picture. 

Two long-time instructors (Elle Lecoq and Ron Usher) have departed from the Program and several new faculty members have joined us: Dr. Helene Love (teaching ALS 601); Dr. Katie Sykes (teaching ALS 611); Dr. Robert Russo (teaching ALS 610).

Dr. Love, Dr. Sykes, Dr. Russo, and our returning faculty Graeme Bowbrick and Todd McKendrick have each contributed articles to this issue of The Scrivener (including a brief biography).

Two new teaching faculty, Andrea Fammartino and Anil Aggarwal, will be joining us in May 2021 to co-teach the Property II course (ALS 612).

Andrea Fammartino is an Associate in the Strata Property Group at Alexander Holburn Beaudin + Lang LLP, where she advises on all areas of strata law with a focus on construction matters, strata governance, bylaws, collections, litigation, human rights, development, and Civil Resolution Tribunal matters.

Andrea regularly appears before various Tribunals and all levels of Court in British Columbia. Andrea also practises Residential Tenancy Law (with experience representing both landlords and tenants before the Residential Tenancy Branch) and is a co-author of Chapter 24 (Ethics and Professional Responsibility for Strata Lawyers) of the British Columbia Strata Property Practice Manual.

Anil K. Aggarwal is an Associate in Alexander Holburn Beaudin + Lang LLP’s Strata Property Group where he advises on all areas of strata law with a focus on strata governance, bylaw enforcement, collections, litigation, human rights, privacy, employment and Civil Resolution Tribunal matters. Anil regularly appears before various Tribunals and all levels of Court in British Columbia. Anil also volunteers his time by sitting on various Tribunals as an adjudicator. Anil is a co-author of Chapter 13 (The Civil Resolution Tribunal) and Chapter 24 (Ethics and Professional Responsibility for Strata Lawyers) of the British Columbia Strata Property Practice Manual.

Having taught in other programs, I can attest to the remarkable enthusiasm, curiosity, and real interest the MA-ALS students bring to the subject matter we study and that makes teaching in the Program a real joy. As Director of the Program, I am committed to matching our students’ enthusiasm for learning and to making the MA-ALS Program the very best that it can be!


Dr. Margaret I. Hall, LLB, LLM, PhD

Professor, Simon Fraser University (School of Criminology), Society of Notaries Public of BC Chair in Applied Legal Studies and Director of the Master of Arts in Applied Legal Studies (MA-ALS) Graduate Program.

Dr. Hall’s current research interests include law and aging, mental capacity and undue influence, legal responses to vulnerability, MAiD, and systemic theories of liability in tort law. Dr. Hall is the author of numerous academic publications, including (as a co-author) Canadian Tort Law. Prior to joining SFU in Fall 2019, Dr. Hall was an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Law at Thompson Rivers University (as a founding member of that faculty) and an Assistant Professor in the UBC Faculty of Law. Dr. Hall has also worked in law reform and was the first Director of the Canadian Centre of Elder Law Studies. Dr. Hall is an Adjunct Professor at the Australian Centre for Health Law Research in the Faculty of Law at the Queensland University of Technology (Brisbane, Australia) and a Research Affiliate at the Centre for Research on Personhood in Dementia (University of British Columbia).

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