Almost half of law firms have already moved to the new approach of ‘continuing competence’ that no longer includes collecting CPD points – nearly six months ahead of it becoming compulsory, according to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
The regulator said a recent survey found that of those who had adopted the new approach, 60% said they did this at no extra cost to their business and were able to align it with their firm’s existing systems. Three-quarters said it took three months or less.
All solicitors must move to the new approach on 1 November 2016. As well as no longer having to count CPD hours, the requirement to do particular types of training, whether accredited or not, will also go. Instead solicitors have to “reflect on their practice and the quality of their work, then undertake meaningful training to make sure they stay up to date and competent”, the SRA explained.
SRA chief executive Paul Philip said: “This approach is about protecting the public by making sure solicitors remain competent, ethical and up-to-date. We take this obligation seriously and will continue to require all solicitors to make an annual declaration about their continuing competence.
“We recognise that each individual solicitor and firm is different and will have different approaches to learning and development. We believe that removing the blanket 16 hours requirement will reduce the cost of regulation for some solicitors and their employers, while encouraging meaningful continuing professional development.”
The regulator quoted Stuart Snape, managing partner of Manchester personal injury firm Graham Coffey & Co, which is now operating under the new regime. He said: “This change of approach gave us the opportunity to stop seeing CPD as something ‘only for solicitors’ or a ‘box to be ticked’ and to better understand how it benefits our business.
“We know that it is in our firm’s interest to welcome a more personalised and flexible approach to continued training as it helps maximise our staffs’ potential. This means we will continue to deliver a high-quality, professional service to the public.
“Our answer to adopting the new approach was to introduce an online training software with courses specific to our needs. This allows us to improve skills in key areas and focus any additional training where further clarity is needed. As managing partner, I found that by helping to create the training materials needed for this, it has also helped focus my mind on the direction the firm is taking and how I can take my staff with me.”
The SRA has an online toolkit  to help both solicitors and law firms make the move.
Meanwhile, the Bar Standards Board has announced that a similar CPD regime for barristers who have practised for more than three years will go live in January 2017.
It published the results of a pilot of the new CPD scheme that ran for 14 months to March 2016 with 76 barristers. Of the 69 records that have been assessed to date, 61 were fully compliant while eight barristers were being asked for further information about the courses they had completed.
The report of the pilot said: “The pilot participants completed an average of 28 CPD hours. This is more than double current requirements. However, barrister participants recorded significantly higher levels of activities that would not currently be counted as CPD. Principally this includes reading and over four hours of writing and editing. It also includes claiming more preparation time than would currently be calculated.
“Calculating the hours completed from the perspective of the current CPD regime requirements, pilot participants completed an average of 10 CPD hours.” This was just under the current 12-hour rule, which the report said indicated that barristers would not “simply stop” doing CPD if the hours’ requirement was removed.
The report concluded that as a whole the barristers engaged with the process in the manner in which it was intended. “In particular barristers made use of the additional flexibility afforded to them by undertaking atypical CPD activities, but without reducing the number of hours undertaken.”
The main area for improvement, it said, was the need to better plan the learning objectives of a particular piece of CPD.
BSB director of supervision Oliver Hanmer said the new scheme would allow barristers “to complete training that is relevant to their careers, ensuring maximum value for time and money”.
He added: “We have noted the feedback from the consultation and the pilot that clearer and more detailed guidance is required. We are making the necessary preparations and will provide all barristers with this guidance in due course.”