Almost a fifth of firms have reported “failures in competent legal service delivery” in the last 12 months, a major study for the Solicitors Regulation Authority has found.
The report, based on telephone interviews with 750 firms of all sizes, revealed that that fewer than half (48%) have a training plan for the coming year and 46% have no specific training budget.
Researchers concluded that the position of partners needed “careful exploration” as failures in service delivery at this level were “most likely to come to the attention of the organisation through clients (by which time the damage has been done).”
The study, by IFF Research, comes as the SRA decided to scrap hours-based continuing professional development (CPD)  in favour of annual training declarations. It will be discussed at today’s meeting of the regulator’s education and training committee.
In a summary of its headline findings, IFF said 19% of firms had identified “failures in competent legal service delivery in the last 12 months”. Traditional firms made up of 13-41 solicitors reported the highest number – just over five.
Practices used a “range of remedies and solutions” to tackle competence issues, with 54% saying they put education and training in place to prevent a reoccurrence.
Larger firms were more likely to have a dedicated training budget. Almost all, 97%, of firms with 42 or more partners had a training budget, compared to 47% of those with one to five solicitors.
However, researchers said small firms could achieve similar levels of control over their training as larger ones through the use of “far less formal” structures.
Competence frameworks, likely to become increasingly important as hours-based CPD is phased out, were used by 44% of firms to detail the skills staff should be able to demonstrate at different points in their career.
The popularity of online training was confirmed, with 83% of firms using it. File reviews and team discussions of cases were also in place in the large majority of practices.
Almost two-thirds (62%) of firms said staff were required to reflect on the outcomes of the education, training and learning they had undertaken. Nearly half (49%) used mentoring.
Almost all firms kept records of the training carried out by staff and 81% said staff were required to keep their own records.
COLPs and COFAs had a “significant role” in training at most firms, with 93% of COLPs involved in planning training on compliance and 74% of COFAs. The majority of COLPs and COFAs were involved in approving training plans and planning training in general.
The different approach taken by large and small firms to the use of paralegals could be seen very clearly in the survey.
More than half of traditional firms with five or fewer solicitors reported that all of their work was carried by qualified staff, compared to only 3% of firms with more than 42 solicitors.
Of the 36% of firms employing paralegals, 4% allowed them to carry out legal service tasks unsupervised.
The survey sample included 255 firms with one to five solicitors and 55 ABSs of various sizes. Fifty firms had over 42 solicitors and 17 more than 171.
A spokeswoman for the SRA said final analysis from this study was continuing and would identify aspects of good practice.
She said findings would be used to develop a ‘toolkit’ to support firms and individuals during the transition towards the new approach to continuing competence agreed by the SRA board last month.
The full IFF report is to be published later in the year, with the toolkit scheduled for next spring.