Posted by Peter Riddleston, learning & quality director at Legal Futures Associate LawNet
The final CPD year under the hours-based system drew to a close last week, with the new continuing competence regime now in place. This is likely to have been the last year when CPD providers could rely on a flurry of last-minute course registrations, as lawyers looked to ensure they completed the required 16 hours.
It’s time for change, and there’s never been a better time for firms to review how their lawyers learn, so that effective personal development becomes an essential part of every firm’s recruitment and retention strategy.
There seems little doubt that face-to-face training sessions will remain an important part of any learning and development plan, but one of the benefits of the continuing competence regime is its lack of prescription as to what constitutes learning activity. It’s essential that firms and individual lawyers understand this and can recognise the different types of learning that could contribute to an individual’s learning and development plan, as much of the best learning can happen outside the training room, in our day-to-day interactions in the office.
Some will undoubtedly see the new system as too vague, with compliance being difficult to prove in the absence of a detailed paper trail. So, this raises the question of what the SRA actually requires. Put simply, continuing competence requires:
- Reflection on areas where learning is required;
- Finding activity to meet the learning needs identified through reflection;
- Carrying out this activity; and
- Evaluating the success of the activity and plans for any further learning required.
Many firms are using their existing appraisal systems to add structure to this framework, providing a context and clear process for discussions around competence and learning. This is vital to ensure compliance, but from a practical point of view how can individual lawyers really benefit from the flexibility afforded by continuing competence?
Thinking about how you conduct your day-to-day practice is key:
- How much time do you spend chatting to colleagues about different points of law or practice? Most of us recognise ‘bouncing an idea off a colleague’ to get their view, and these types of discussions are an area where some really useful learning can happen;
- Do you ever read articles or cases as part of researching an issue? We’re not talking about a major research project but a five-minute review could quite properly add to your knowledge;
- Most lawyers will be familiar with the idea of reviewing a document from another firm or lawyer and noting a particularly well-drafted clause or explanation. Analysing this and adapting it to your own work is another way of progressing in your learning;
- How often do you receive supervision or have your work reviewed by one of your colleagues? Feedback in this context can provide a valuable source of personal development.
These activities all provide legitimate ways of sharing knowledge and experience to provide learning and development. The difficulty is that they are less formal and may occur on an ad hoc basis in a way that attending a webinar or training course never will. A different mindset is required so that lawyers think about the way they approach their work and their day-to-day interactions with others to identify where their learning happens.
These informal learning situations might also be difficult to identify and document in the context of the formal appraisal process. The way to address this may be through spending appraisal time in identifying broad learning outcomes to be achieved, linked back to the statement of solicitor competence, but avoiding an approach which is too prescriptive in terms of how these must be achieved.
This will leave the way open for the individual to record learning activity as it is identified and completed. Different solutions may be agreed as appropriate, allowing the individual to understand the alternatives and then record the activity when the learning has taken place.
Ultimately, flexibility is vital. Individuals must be given the chance to adjust their learning needs between appraisals to reflect the day-to-day nature of learning activity.
The added bonus is that more traditional learning interventions – such as face-to-face courses or online learning – can be better targeted to specific learning needs, rather than being so general that any learning becomes difficult to implement when back in the office. This lack of applicability is one of the main reasons why firms struggle to identify a genuine return on investment from external training courses.
Firms that get the right approach to their learning and development could reap great benefits. A culture of knowledge sharing, collaborative working and a focus on individual development, rather than tick-box compliance could help firms improve their risk management as well as recruitment and retention.
Communication of best practice and guidance can help in sharing knowledge that could assist in avoiding a complaint or claim, and firms that understand the potential of establishing an open, learning-focused culture will ultimately deliver a better service for clients and improved development for its people.