Are you the best that you can be?

Posted by Dave Seager, consulting adviser to Legal Futures Associate SIFA Professional

Seager: SRA has ramped up focus on CPD

One would hope that any professional offering important advice to the public would aspire to be the best that they can be. When dealing with matters of the law, it is arguably even more pertinent, which is perhaps why last summer, the Legal Services Board (LSB), in a paper on professional competence challenged the frontline regulators to take measures to ensure this was the case.

Since 2016, when the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) dispensed with the requirement for a minimum number of structured hours of continuing professional development (CPD), the onus for doing it has primarily sat with individual lawyers.

The LSB seemed to question whether all individuals were taking the requirement seriously, assessing new knowledge needs, acting accordingly and logging the learning.

The SRA was swift to respond last August, reminding individual solicitors and other lawyers of their responsibilities. This pressure has been evident continuously on the regulator’s website, with a constant flow of less-than-subtle prods on its social media channels.

However, the SRA in November took things to another level, demonstrating just how in earnest it was, by issuing fresh guidance, not again to the individual but to firms.

For the first time, the SRA is reminding firms, essentially the compliance officers for legal practice (COLPs), that whilst the requirements for professional development are outlined in the individual code, there should be processes established by the practice to assist and supervise their teams.

Since the release of the guidance on 23 November, the reminders via social media have been ramped up considerably. Here is the SRA Twitter activity since:

23/11 – How do you keep your knowledge and skills up to date? – Links to SRA competence template.

12/12 – All solicitors MUST keep their professional knowledge and skills up to date – Links to five-step approach.

14/12 – How does a law firm helps its solicitors remain competent? – Again, the five-step approach.

21/12 – Take a look at the five step approach solicitors can take to continuing competence – This one came with a natty video.

I think we can agree that the regulator is worried about the effectiveness of the CPD regime and how seriously lawyers are taking their professional development. Whether or not you agree, it is evident that the SRA is very keen that the firm (COLP) should implement structures and processes to assist their teams maintain relevant knowledge and competence.

I am certain that accessing structured CPD, via seminars, or more likely webinars is straightforward. The Law Society offer an excellent programme, which, as recently as November, SIFA Professional have been fortunate to contribute to, and there are other educational providers such as the Law Skills Council – and, of course, Legal Futuresown webinar programme.

However, such training and knowledge top-ups, whilst vital and helpful, will tend to augment and keep legal expertise up to speed.

For the modern client, we know that problems that need solving and advice that is required seldom sit into neat legal boxes. Clients have complex needs that will frequently necessitate input from professional colleagues from other disciplines, most often financial planners or accountants.

Here lies our interest at SIFA Professional because we not only believe passionately that collaborative legal and financial advice is essential, but also that to best initiate that joined-up approach, the legal professional must have, where possible, sufficient knowledge of where financial advice will complement their own.

For example, private client teams would be more efficient and better placed to decide when to refer estate planning clients to financial planners if they had a working knowledge of which investment vehicles or wrappers might benefit from tax efficiencies for inheritance tax mitigation purposes.

Similarly, family law departments need to comprehend how specialist financial planners with the requisite pension advice skills, can support the advice given to divorcing clients, and more important how detrimental it can be to ignore pension funds. Indeed, the recent SIFA Professional collaboration with the Law Society, mentioned earlier, offered fabulous insight into how financial planning may assist in many of the areas mentioned above.

Therefore, our plea to COLPs considering how to support the lawyers within their practice, and indeed to individuals keen to maintain professional competence, is to not forget that your chosen financial planning partners can and will, be on hand to help.

It may be in the areas described above or perhaps training on identifying and dealing with vulnerability or how to diversify trustee investment. It could be topically on how financial planning for care in later life needs to be reassessed in light of the recent social care cap delay.

Whatever the law department specialism, it is highly likely that a regular top-up of knowledge of the ancillary financial aspects and new developments in these areas will benefit the lawyer, their advice and the client.

The pressure on ensuring relevant and current knowledge is obvious, sensible and all about making certain that the law firm and its individuals are acting in their clients’ best interests.

SIFA Professional and its financial planning members are on hand to provide support, and this includes free monthly webinars with clearly identified learning objectives and outcomes as (frequently) requested for the SRA.


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