Barristers are generally happy with their new continuing professional development (CPD) regime but are struggling to understand the concept of ‘reflection’, independent research has found.
The report also reveals a move away from external courses and seminars, whether in person or online, towards individual reading and research.
Under the new CPD scheme introduced in January 2017, which replaced the old requirement to achieve 12 CPD hours a year, barristers must plan their learning objectives at the start of the year and reflect on what they have learnt at the end.
An online survey of 566 barristers by IRN Research found that only 46% said they understood reflection well, with 15% saying they had a “poor understanding” of it.
This compares with the two-thirds who said they understood their recording obligations well, followed by planning (54%) and reporting (53%).
One barrister commented: “As far as I know, there is no meaningful definition of what reflection is, or what it is trying to achieve. Am I doing it right? I have no idea.”
Another said: “I am struggling and scraping around to think of something to say regarding reflection. It takes me ages to write just a few sentences and I am making up what my aims and achievements have been.”
Another barrister added: “You have either met or not met your targets. I don’t get how reflecting on whether you have succeeded helps.”
When barristers were asked to compare the new CPD scheme with the old one, researchers found that attending external courses and seminars was still the most popular activity, but the proportion that attended them fell from 89% to 77%.
There was a similar decline in taking part in online courses and seminars, down from 50% to 38%, while the proportion of barristers carrying out reading or research on a specific topic rose from 58% to 75%.
Researchers commented: “This is the only activity that has become noticeably more popular in the new scheme, although listening to podcasts, reading blogs and other social media has increased slightly.”
Barristers, particularly those working in the “very specialist areas”, welcomed the wider range of activities that counted as CPD. Others embraced the chance to attend courses on stress management and wellbeing, diversity and equality, ethics and practice management.
There was some confusion over the CPD plans barristers are required to create, setting out their learning objectives and proposed activities for the year.
Researchers said barristers who attended a focus group disagreed over how specific the plans needed to be and whether they could change over the year.
One barrister said he agreed with a point made by others that the system allowed you to “retro-fit your plan so it becomes a charade”.
However, researchers concluded that “although a small minority of barristers would prefer to return to the old system, a majority like the flexibility of the new scheme and the range of CPD choices and content that can now be included as CPD”.
Oliver Hanmer, director of regulatory operations at the BSB, said he was keen to help barristers understand the value of reflection.
“It is a fundamental element of CPD in other sectors and provides an excellent opportunity to take stock, assess how you are performing and identify areas for further development.”
Checks carried out by the BSB this time last year of over 700 barristers’ CPD records found that a “significant number” were still unaware  that a new CPD scheme had been in force for nearly two years or were unclear on how it worked.
An internal paper for the BSB’s board said a common theme was that many of the CPD records made by barristers showed “little or no evidence” that a barrister had done any form of reflection.