Richard Williams

Williams: “solicitors will have to think much harder”

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has said that over 200 law firms of all sizes have opted into its new ‘continuing competence’ regime.

From 1 April firms have been able to leave behind the old hours-based continuing professional development (CPD) system, which will be phased out completely by 1 November 2016.

However, those wanting to move to the new system straight away are not required to inform the SRA, so no precise figures on the number of firms involved are available.

Richard Williams, policy associate at the SRA, told Legal Futures that 950 firms registered for a webinar on the new system held last week – and of those 25% said they would be adopting it.

“A broad spectrum of firms have told us they are doing it, from top 100 firms all the way down to sole practices. There may well be cost savings, but I don’t think that is the main driver.

“The benefits are freedom and flexibility for firms to tailor their learning and development, and for individuals to do what they need to ensure they provide a good service.

“They may not need to do 16 hours training and development a year – they may need less. If their work is quite transactional, and they are doing the same thing day in, day out, they may only need three or four hours.

“The law, and the technology, might not be changing in their area, and the old requirements could be seen as unnecessarily burdensome.”

Mr Williams said in-house legal departments, such as at ITV, had also chosen to adopt the new regime immediately. “Many people are of the view that the current approach doesn’t work or provide the required outcomes. This is not about ‘soft touch’ regulation or dumbing down. Solicitors will have to think much harder about what they have to do to deliver a proper service.”

Solicitors opting into the new system are required to assess their progress against the SRA’s new competence statement and will be required to sign a training declaration at the end of the CPD year.

Mr Williams said the regulator was finalising the text of the declaration and would publish it “as soon as possible”.

He added that the SRA would carry out a “high-level review” of the new system this time next year, to be followed by a full review a year after implementation, in November 2017.

Andrew Anthony, compliance and quality officer at north London firm Vanderpump & Sykes, said the firm had adopted the new system, but was making sure each solicitor did a minimum of four hours of “traditional CPD”.

Mr Anthony said that when research was included, the firm’s fee-earners spent an average of 30-40 hours a year on continuing competence.

He said many solicitors were already required to carry out minimum hours of training because of their accreditations – such as Resolution (family law), Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners or membership of the Conveyancing Quality Scheme.

Mr Anthony added that he did not think many solicitors who “jumped on CPD courses at the last minute” understood that research counted. “I don’t think they even know what we’re talking about.”

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