From 1 November 2016, all solicitors and law firms will need to move across to the new continuing competence regime, which the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has brought in to replace the previous continuing professional development (CPD) scheme which has been operating since 1985.
Under continuing competence practitioners will no longer need to count up the number of hours that they spend on training and, with the SRA no longer accrediting CPD providers, there is no restriction on the type of training that can be undertaken. Instead, solicitors will need to reflect upon their practice and the quality of their work against a benchmark competence statement setting out the standard that is required. Having identified their learning needs, they must then undertake relevant training to ensure that they remain up to date with current practice and can offer a proper standard of service to their clients.
Whilst the option to voluntarily switch across to the new regime has been available since last April, according to a recent SRA survey, around half of firms have yet to do so. So, what do those who have yet to make the move need to know? To address these issues, we ran a free webinar on this topic on 10 May 2016, where Richard Williams, Policy Associate – Regulation and Education, SRA answered questions from Legal Education and Training Consultant, Melissa Hardee and Kehinde Boateng, Knowledge and Learning Advisor at Kennedys. Some of the key points made during the presentation are summarised below.
What is valid learning under the new approach?
Williams was keen to emphasize that “the new approach gives people freedom and flexibility to determine what their learning needs are and how they’re addressed”. So, as long as a learning activity is undertaken to address a need that is identified during the reflection process then the SRA will consider it valid, regardless of the means by which the learning is delivered.
What if I identify that I don’t need to undertake any learning and development?
In theory, after reflecting on their practice, if a solicitor doesn’t identify any learning and development needs they could decide that they don’t need to undertake any learning during that year. However, Williams stated that the SRA would consider this “highly unlikely” given that “the legal services market is changing at such a rapid pace” and that in addition to new technology and new knowledge to be acquired in developing areas of law, there will also be “systems and process changes” within firms that people need to keep up to date with.
What has to be recorded and how?
Williams confirmed that the SRA is not prescribing the way in which individuals and firms record both their initial reflection and the learning activities they subsequently undertake and that “complicated systems and processes of recording information” shouldn’t be necessary as a firm’s existing systems should generally be “absolutely fine”. The SRA has provided a range of template documents that can be used in its continuing competence toolkit.
Additionally, LexisNexis has developed a free online training and evaluation record form that can be used to log individual learning activities and document how these relate to the competency statement.
Williams confirmed that any records logging either the reflection exercise or individual learning activities should be retained for six years.
With the Statement of Legal Knowledge, must I consider all the practice areas specified, or can I consider only those that are relevant to my practice?
An important element of the competence statement is the statement of legal knowledge, which sets out the knowledge that solicitors are required to have at the point of qualification. The statement provides comprehensive coverage of the key areas of legal practice, but Williams confirmed that “there is no expectation on [the SRA’s] behalf that solicitors, for example, undertaking criminal advocacy need to have the knowledge and understanding of a tax lawyer”. Rather, they need to review the statement of legal knowledge and work out how much of it is appropriate to them in their practice.
How will the SRA monitor compliance?
Williams stated that, whilst the SRA will not be asking for a sample of the profession to submit their CPD records for inspection, they will be using information gathered from the annual declaration in conjunction with other data gathered in the course of carrying out its regulatory function. So, for example, if the SRA becomes aware that consumers are making a high volume of complaints about a firm to the Legal Ombudsman, this may act as a trigger for them in investigate what individual solicitors within the practice or the firm as a whole are doing to keep up-to-date.
What are the top three things that firms need to communicate to their staff about the new approach?
For firms that have yet to prepare for the changes they will face from November, Williams felt that the three key points to bear in mind are:
- There is a strong business driver to follow the new scheme – “the legal services market is really competitive now and having good, competent, up-to-date staff who give good service is really important”.
- There is a regulatory responsibility on individual solicitors to follow the new scheme.
- Implementing the new scheme “doesn’t have to be complicated, costly or time-consuming”. According to the SRA’s survey, of those firms who have already opted in to continuing competence, 75% found that it took them less than 3 months to implement, whilst 60% said that they did this at no extra cost to their business and were able to align it with existing systems.
To inform the development of our learning offering, LexisNexis is conducting research into the likely impact of the new scheme and the approach that solicitors plan to take to maintaining their competence. We would very much value your input into this exercise and would be grateful if you could take 10 minutes to complete this short survey.