In May 2014 the SRA adopted its recommended plan for the reform of the CPD system that has governed the continuing education requirements for solicitors since 1985. The SRA wants to move away from an arbitrary 16 hour rule, which they feel has become a tick box exercise, with solicitors undertaking “any” CPD accredited training just to meet the CPD target.
Solicitors, under the new regime, which will become mandatory on 1 November 2016, for all regulated by the SRA, will have complete control over how much training they do and can gain new knowledge in any way that suits them.
Under the new plan, all that will be required is for a solicitor to:
- Tick the annual CPD declaration on the application to renew their Practising Certificate, confirming that they have a system in place to ensure continuing competence; and
- Satisfy the SRA, should they investigate his or her practice for some reason, that the solicitor has considered how to remain competent and can demonstrate ways in which this has been achieved.
Firms will have an option to opt into the new system in April 2015, once the SRA Competency statement is released this spring.
What is the reasoning behind the change?
The SRA says that the fundamental reasoning behind the radical change is to ensure that solicitors are competent, and give them freedom to decide how best to achieve this, which would ideally fit into outcomes focused regulation, the SRA Handbook and Code of Conduct 2011.
The Regulator further suggests that the changes will reduce costs for both the regulator and for the individual solicitor, but without losing the overall emphasis of acting in “the best interests of your client” and of ensuring “competent legal services”.
Proposed advantages of the new system
It is thought that legal professionals will feel liberated by virtue of the fact that every solicitor or firm will decide what training is necessary, the manner in which to evidence such training and when it is deemed necessary.
Training will be flexible and convenient, fit for purpose and relevant to specific areas of law, relevant to a particular matter/department/firm, which can include reading, in house training, regular chats with supervisors/department heads, listening to podcasts on the train, watching a webinar in bed, researching into a topic for the purposes of a new matter will count towards continuing education. So will sharing that knowledge with other lawyers in a firm.
Cost reduction for practitioners
For those keen to economise on the cost of training, firms could organise themselves to deliver in house training or get compliance consultants to train staff during lunch breaks etc., which will be cost effective.
Training Eye, a division of Legal Eye, offers firms of all sizes flexible online training solutions built on saving time and money without losing learning efficacy.
Tailored and structured training to be on par to individual’s role within the firm.
Another advantage is that the training can be tailored to what the particular solicitor does. It is for the firm or individual solicitor to decide what knowledge they need to be competent. However, this begs the question: “If an individual decides or the Firm decides what is relevant training to ensure competency, without resorting to external guidance etc. from third party experts in their respective fields, can it be easy to evidence that the latest updates or relevant continuing education is being filtered through the firm”?
Essentially, they will be looking for systems and processes. They will be looking for procedures that analyse and help determine what the competencies for the various roles within the firm are. They will be looking for ways for ensuring that those who are undertaking those roles are competent and that they have been provided with training that is relevant to their needs and the level at which they operate.
On another parallel, someone who is into management of the law firm may need some training on management skills, or business skills. So inevitably it is training fit for purpose and for a particular role within a law firm.
There will also need to be systems which monitor that competence on an ongoing basis and which identifies when and where further training, guidance, research and updating is required.
As a learning and development specialist, Training Eye also offer online and in-house skills audits to identify competency levels and training needs along with a complete online training system to ensure CPD compliance.
Proposed disadvantages of the new system
One of the primary areas of concern to balance out is how the new training and continuing education within law firms is understood and perceived by the general public.
Monitoring, assessment and record keeping
Under the new plan, there is no prescription in terms of the type of or manner in which ongoing learning is to be evidenced, in order to satisfy the SRA in respect of competence.
However, in the draft consultation of the competency statement, it suggests that it is “best practice” to keep reasonable records of any training or knowledge gathering activities undertaken, and an assessment of why they were necessary and what relevant skills were developed as a result.
All new systems need time to filter in, which often requires a culture change and those involved have to see how the new systems and procedures fits in with that which they do.
So what is “competence” and how should you know that you are in fact “competent”?
In Spring 2015, the SRA are due to publish a “Competency Statement” and there will also be a “competency toolkit” to give guidance to law firms as to how to ascertain what training is needed and how the work of individuals fits within the plan.
According to Julie Brennan, director of education and training at the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the Competency Statement will:
- will explain what all solicitors need to be able to do competently;
- provide guidance on how to reflect on your work and identify training needs;
- provide information about the range of ways in which training needs may be addressed;
- offer suggestions about how to record and reflect on training undertaken;
- provide examples of good practice.
The Draft Competence Statement, which consultation closed on 12 January 2015 is divided into four areas:
- Ethics, professionalism and judgment: Act honestly and with integrity, in accordance with legal and regulatory requirements and the SRA Handbook and Code of Conduct.
- Technical legal practice: Maintain the level of competence and legal knowledge needed to practise effectively, taking into account changes in the role and/or practice context and developments in the law.
- Managing yourself and your work: Maintain the level of competence and legal knowledge needed to practise effectively, taking into account changes in the role and/or practice context and developments in the law.
- Working with other people: Draw on a sufficient detailed knowledge and understanding of their field(s) of work and role in order to practise effectively.
Although you as a firm or individual solicitor can continue with the existing system until 1 November 2016, we strongly suggest you begin considering a relevant system taking into account your specific firm, the areas of law that you practice and existing skillset fit for purpose for defining competencies as well as looking at methods of identifying and delivering training requirements fit to match the SRA’s new CPD scheme.
Legal Eye and Training Eye can assist you in looking at your individual firm’s individual circumstances and working with you to deliver a bespoke solution – remember you can get a head start by opting into the new scheme from April 2015.
Legal Eye Limited