By Pat Seaward, Business Relationship Manager at Legal Futures Associate SIFA Professional
A quick show of hands for who went to the COLP COFA Conference last month in Birmingham – I was not able to attend either, but as I had registered, I was able to view the sessions of interest online a week later.
The gloves look like they are coming off!
Reports from the event, suggest a shift in behaviour and less tolerance from the SRA in various areas, with talk of fines, inspections and stricter oversight. So, for us as a support provider to financial advisory firms looking to work collaboratively with like-minded professionals in the legal market, we see this as an opportunity to offer assistance where we can. Therefore, there were a few sessions that caught my attention, but in focus today is Professional Competency.
This issue is one where we feel we can really add value to our members working with their legal companions. Taking the financial services viewpoint, where advisers must maintain and record their continued professional development (CPD) records with minimum number of hours each year, it is interesting that the SRA, having removed the requirement to set a minimum a few years back and seem reluctant to re-introduce it, they now appear to be sitting slightly less comfortably on this stance, with the LSB making it known that they are keen to see improvements.
Rules vs good practice
The Cambridge dictionary definition of rules is ‘an accepted principle or instruction that states the way things are or should be done, and tells you what you are allowed or are not allowed to do’ and for best practice is ‘a working method, or set of working methods, that is officially accepted as being the best to use in particular business or industry’. Richard Willians, Policy Manager at the SRA stated that ‘rules’ are not in place, but you should be able to evidence ‘good business practice’.
Richard delivered their observations on continuing competence, and that your regulator has clearly identified several areas of competence that require your attention. More specifically and discussed in slightly more detail by Richard were two areas where the SRA are focusing their attention, mainly because it appears to be of concern to you, and that is around ‘reflection and recording’.
It is fair to say that the SRA’s report in this area highlighted a need to focus on specific areas of law, namely Probate, Conveyancing and Immigration as these sectors produced the most identified problems in terms of demonstrating competence. Yet, as a general principal, surely having the right learning and development processes in place, is just ‘good business practice’ and it appears to be the message coming out from your regulator as they look to see evidence of this going forward.
Understanding exactly what is reflection, is a key issue and Richard went on to offer guidance in this area, stating “how you would think about the challenges and quality of your practice – asking questions of yourself – where can I do things differently? Where can I improve? This helps identify any learning and development needs”, he even went on to state that this thinking is “critical to maintaining competence”. So, in my view a very strong statement of how the SRA feel not only on the training development itself but more importantly how you will evidence the benefits to your practice.
Additionally, it appears the question of how often I should be doing this reflection? once a year? once a month? is also a key issue. Richard stated that the SRA don’t have any stipulations in place but felt it should be a “regular and ongoing exercise, as this helps you identify any emerging learning and development needs”. Having easy and regular access to complementary learning material to support you, will obviously aid this process.
Richard then proceeded to consider record keeping. In terms of reflection, learning & development, he suggested that, whilst “It is not a rule to keep records” but then went on to say, that having conducted some work in this area, “…Now, they should keep a record as it helps to demonstrate to the SRA that they are able to meet their obligations and evidence good business practice”. Therefore, whilst it may not be a hard and fast rule, if the regulator come checking, how exactly would you demonstrate your continued professional development and applied learning, without proper records? Any SIFA Professional events attended by our advisers or their invited solicitors, receive a record of development stating date, time, subject and most importantly the key learning outcomes, so all that is required is how this learning will relate to your practice.
I found this session most interesting as it demonstrated to me that whilst the SRA does not lay down strict rules, they obviously intend to be ‘looking’ at firms (The COLP!) to have systems, controls and processes in place for continued competence, in order that you can evidence ‘good business practice’. Indeed, as we already know from the SRA August 2023 statement within the dual codes, of course the individual has their own responsibility, BUT their need to be firm led supervision and support. – “Effective supervision is both a regulatory requirement for solicitors and firms and good practice in the delivery of competent services to clients”.
SIFA Professional as an organisation is proud to be an approved partner of the Law Society since 2008. Our members are uniquely placed to assist you, being as they are dedicated to supporting the relationship between legal and financial and are well versed in the SRA rules, that are pertinent to working with professional connections.
You can look to a SIFA Professional member to assist with learning and development in the financial services space, in order that you can have that peace of mind and confidence that you and your clients will be in a safe pair of hands.
To begin your search for the right financial planner, visit the SIFA Professional Directory, https://www.sifa-directory.info/ which hosts the details of financial advisory firms across England and Wales.