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Facilitator's Guide to Study Groups

What is my role as facilitator?
Your role is to keep the discussion on track and productive and to create an environment for fruitful discussion, the sharing of ideas, and the exploration of different approaches to the issue. As a facilitator, you are generally responsible for the following:
  • Introducing the topic
  • Maintaining organization and time in the session
  • Confirming the objective
  • Creating an open forum for discussion
  • Leading and encouraging discussion
  • Asking open-ended questions to stimulate thought
  • Making sure everyone has an opportunity to participate
  • Reinforcing and clarifying the content

How do I run a facilitated discussion session?
  • At the beginning of the discussion, introduce yourself and set a positive tone for the session.
  • State your role/position, goals and hopes for the session.
  • Make the group objective clear before the conversation begins – the group must agree on this before it can move on to generate alternatives or an action plan.
  • Encourage participation by opening with an ice-breaker that gets the participants talking early in the session.
  • Ask someone to volunteer to be your "what have we learned" reporter for the end of the session.
  • Make sure you are knowledgeable about the topic and feel comfortable with people questioning your sources of information.
  • If you are asked a question that is beyond your expertise, offer alternative strategies and resources.
  • Your role is not to lecture or answer the questions. Don’t be judgmental – allow everyone to express their views so that they will feel comfortable about contributing to the discussion.
  • Do not accept answers such as "I would call the Law Society." Turn those kinds of answers around by saying, "You're the Law Society. What would you tell the lawyer or paralegal in this case?".
  • In closing, summarize the discussion and ask the volunteer to give the "what have we learned" report and then emphasize one or two points that the group thought was good to keep in mind.
  • Stick to timelines.

How do I encourage discussion among study group members?
One of your main responsibilities is to encourage discussion of the issues.  There are several ways to do this, including acting as a provocateur or devil’s advocate to encourage conflicting opinions.  You can also offer real-world scenarios and examples.  Be sure to ask lots of open-ended and follow-up questions, such as:
  • What would result if...?
  • What facts would you select to show...?
  • What approach would you use to...?
  • How would you use...?
  • What inference can you make...?
  • What is the relationship between...?
  • What evidence can you find...?
  • What things justify...?
  • What could be changed to improve...?
  • How would you test...?
  • What way would you design...?
  • What outcome would you predict for...?
  • How could you select...?
  • How could you prove...?
  • How would you prioritize...?
  • What information would you use to support...?

 How do I handle challenging study group members?
The over-talker has plenty to say and likes to be the first person to say it.  Remind everyone that it is an equal participation study group so if you have five people in the group, you want each person to contribute 20% to the discussion.  If the problem continues, talk to the person outside of the group and ask for help in getting some of the other members to contribute more.

The non-talker is the quieter person in the study group who doesn’t say much.  Try calling on him or her periodically to contribute and provide lots of affirmation for the contribution.

The tangent-starter can quickly get the study group off track.  Feel free to allow the person to go off on these tangents once in a while but then firmly bring the group back on track.  If this becomes a problem, speak with the person outside of the group and express your appreciation for their contribution and share with them the challenges you have in facilitating the group, and ask for help in keeping it on track.

The insensitive person gives advice, makes fun of answers and other people, cuts people off or does other things that may offend study group members.  This person is detrimental to the group.  Remind everyone of group guidelines and speak with this person outside of the group and offer advice on how he or she can be a better group member.

Keep in mind that young lawyers and paralegals may feel too intimidated to speak for fear of getting it wrong.  Be especially encouraging of these members and be sure to affirm their participation.

What are the signs of a successful facilitated discussion?
  • Each member of the study group contributes.
  • Only one member of the group speaks at a time and the others actively listen.
  • Members are prompt and come prepared.
  • The study group stays on topic.
  • Members are free to ask questions and provide constructive feedback.

Is facilitating a study group an eligible educational activity for the purposes of fulling the CPD Substantive Hours requirement?
Yes, lawyers or paralegals who facilitate a study group or a roundtable session may claim up to three Substantive Hours of CPD for every one-hour session to reflect preparation time.

Can facilitating a study group be considered an eligible educational activity for the purposes of fulfilling the CPD Professionalism Hours requirement?
In order for a study group (or roundtable session) to be eligible for Professionalism Hours, the group session must address topics related to professional responsibility, ethics, practice management, and/or equality, diversity and inclusion and be accredited in advance by the Law Society of Ontario.  To seek accreditation, you will need to complete an Application for Accreditation of Alternate Eligible Educational Activities (PDF).  See the Law Society’s CPD Accreditation for Licensees webpage for more information.

Alternatively, you may consider using one or more of the Law Society’s Professionalism Case Studies in your session to obtain the professionalism credit.  The Professionalism Case Studies are based on actual situations in which a lawyer or paralegal was faced with a decision involving one or more ethical or professional responsibility issues.  The Law Society’s Professionalism Case Studies have been accredited for Professionalism Hours.  An application for accreditation is not required.  Each Professionalism Case Study discussed in a study group is eligible for up to one hour of professionalism credit.  The total amount of Professionalism Hours claimed will depend on the duration of the group session, and the number of case studies discussed.  See the Law Society’s Professionalism Case Studies for Study Groups webpage for more information.

Study group facilitators that use the Law Society’s Professionalism Case Studies during a group session are eligible to claim three times the actual study group time, up to a maximum of three Professionalism Hours per case study to reflect preparation time.  Study Group facilitators should not claim more time than actually spent for preparation.