The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is pushing ahead with plans to abolish all of the prescriptive requirements around continuing professional development (CPD) and leave it to solicitors and their firms to decide how best to ensure their continuing competence.
The board of the SRA will be asked to approve the radical shift to ‘continuing competence’ tomorrow.
In papers published ahead of the meeting, the SRA said it recognised fears that some law firms might simply give up on training, and favoured a “more gradual approach to implementation”, which would start in November 2016 at the earliest.
However, the regulator would cease to accredit courses from November this year, and firms and individuals who wanted to lead the way should be able to by February 2015, when a new competence statement and guidance would be published.
The SRA said that after a full discussion last month, its education and training committee agreed that abolition was “best aligned with our overall regulatory approach, provides flexibility and focuses on competence rather than compliance with an arbitrary requirement”.
Instead of the current rules, the SRA would rely on existing provisions requiring regulated entities and individuals to deliver competent legal services, and train and supervise their staff. It would be for the entities and individuals to decide how these outcomes are achieved.
The other options were replacing the CPD scheme with a new requirement to implement a development plan, without mandatory hours, or retaining the current requirement to do a minimum number of hours. Consultation respondents favoured the latter.
“With the growing role of non-lawyers within regulated entities, our focus must shift towards the entity to ensure competent services are provided to consumers and the public,” the papers before the board said.
However, they said the education and training committee recognised fears that the change “might result in some firms reducing or ceasing training” and that the current hours requirement “does at least give individual solicitors some leverage to get their employers to allocate resource and funding” to CPD.
“The committee felt that a move to [abolition] would require a cultural change within the profession which would not happen overnight.
“It was of the view that many of the concerns raised through the consultation exercise could be addressed through strong supporting guidance and the production of the competence statement.”
As a result, the committee backed the introduction of the new regime from November 2016 at the earliest, while those lawyers wishing to push ahead with the new regime should be able to from February next year, when the competence statement and guidance would be published, subject to the development of an “appropriate approval mechanism”.
The committee said this more gradual approach would allow “some level of support for those firms and individuals who wish to continue to use the 16 hours requirement” to adapt their training.
“We would cease to accredit CPD courses with effect from November 2014 and this will remove a cost of regulation,” the regulator said.
“This will also be one step towards regulated entities and solicitors taking responsibility for their own learning, by developing their own judgements about the quality of training and the appropriateness of a particular course”.
In its response, the Legal Services Consumer Panel suggested that rather than having a purely ‘outcomes focused’ scheme, it would be better to have one that required solicitors to provide evidence they had planned, recorded and reflected on development activity.
Paul Philip, chief executive of the SRA, told the Manchester Law Society conference last week that there had been opposition to the abolition of CPD, but mainly from course providers.
Des Hudson, chief executive of the Law Society, told the same event that the change would be “logically consistent” but there was a need for solicitors to “demonstrate certainty” that training had actually been carried out.