The Legal Services Board (LSB) has given its blessing to the end of the “arbitrary” hours-based continuous professional development (CPD) scheme for solicitors.
The LSB’s approval of rule changes proposed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) means that, from 1 April 2015, solicitors can opt in to the new regime where they take responsibility for their training and competence.
Richard Moriarty, chief executive of the LSB, said in a letter to the SRA: “The LSB welcomes the move from a prescriptive regulatory arrangement for CPD, currently based on arbitrary hours, to a more outcomes-focused framework that places responsibility on firms and solicitors to manage their continuing competence.
“We recognise that this policy has been the subject of lengthy review, development and consultation by the SRA.
“Whilst supporting the SRA’s overall aim, we are also mindful that the intended benefits will only be fully realised if the new arrangements are effectively implemented.”
Mr Moriarty said the move was, as the SRA acknowledged, a “big cultural shift” and it was essential that the SRA knew how well the changes were working in practice.
He welcomed the fact that the SRA’s post-implementation review would look at “costs impacts” on solicitors and firms.
In its decision notice, published on its website this week, the LSB said it was reasonable for the SRA to have a “period of adjustment” between the beginning of the opt-in period, on 1 April 2015, and the end of the existing CPD rules on 1 November 2016.
The LSB said the SRA’s competence statement would act as guidance for solicitors when it was published in its final form on 1 April this year.
“The SRA has stated that it does not expect many solicitors to take up the opt-in opportunity until the start of the CPD year from 1 November 2015, when the competence statement will have been available for several months.”
The LSB said the front-line regulator had also acknowledged that some firms may “devote fewer resources to training/development” if there were no mandatory defined CPD hours, “and that this risk may be greater among smaller firms”.
In its application to the LSB, made just before Christmas, the SRA warned that failure to undertake CPD would be an “aggravating factor” when enforcement decisions were made against those guilty of incompetence.