The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is looking at whether 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.
In a consultation paper issued yesterday that aims to move away from the much-criticised ‘tick box’ approach of CPD, the SRA put forward a radical reform that would no longer involve a minimum number of hours, the need for solicitors to make an annual return to the regulator, or the SRA accrediting CPD providers.
Instead, 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 consultation paper said: “Implicit in the requirement to deliver competent legal services is an obligation to reflect on whether the quality of practice is good enough, identify areas for development and ensure appropriate development activity is undertaken.”
The SRA would issue non-mandatory guidance “with suggestions for implementing this reflective cycle”.
It would be monitored through risk assessment, consumer engagement and supervisory activity – and would essentially form part of the responsibility of the compliance officer for legal practice (COLP).
Recognising, however, that some solicitors would prefer a more traditional, mandatory CPD requirement, the consultation paper put forward two other options:
- Keep much of the flexibility of the preferred model, but set out in regulations in some detail how solicitors should reflect on their practice, identify their training needs, and plan, implement and evaluate their training on an annual basis in a documented way; or
- Retain a minimum hours scheme but require it to relate to the individual’s current or anticipated area of practice, and allowing a wider range of activities to count, recognising the value of on-the-job training.
Martin Coleman, chair of the SRA’s education and training committee, emphasised that giving solicitors and their firms more discretion “in no way diminishes the importance of CPD as a means of ensuring effective practice”.
He said: “We consider it extremely unlikely that individuals and entities will be capable of delivering competent service and meeting their regulatory obligations over time without regularly and constructively reflecting upon their professional development needs and taking appropriate action to meet those needs.
“Thus, the extent and effectiveness of CPD will be an important factor that we shall take into account when undertaking our supervisory and enforcement activities.”
Julie Brannan, director of education and training, added: “Our role is to provide confidence to consumers of legal services that those we regulate are competent to deliver the standards they expect. By focusing more rigorously on competence we believe we can provide this assurance whilst increasing the flexibility for entities and individuals to determine training and development according to their own needs.”
The consultation follows publication of the SRA’s ‘Training for tomorrow’ policy statement last October, which in turn followed publication of the Legal Education and Training Review. It runs until 2 April. See here for the consultation.