Be prepared: LexisNexis’ Head of Learning, Stephen Honey, decodes the SRA’s changing approach to CPD.
From 1 April 2015, as a solicitor you have to decide on your approach to continuing professional development (CPD) with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) offering you the choice of either
- Continuing to follow the existing CPD scheme or
- Switching to their new “continuing competence” regime.
As any choice requires an employer’s agreement, we envisage that this decision will probably be taken at a firm, rather than an individual, level.
A sizeable proportion of the profession is likely to opt for the new approach, with a poll taken during an SRA webinar broadcast on 16 October showing that 30% of the audience were proposing to do so. As the scheme will apply to the entire profession from 1 November 2016, there’s much to be said for being an early adopter and embedding the new approach into your firm’s processes and culture sooner rather than later.
However, the downside – highlighted in the same poll which showed 60% of the audience as being undecided – is that, with the details of implementation yet to be fully revealed, it’s not at all clear what you will be opting into!
So what do we know about the SRA’s approach to continuing competence?
Solicitors must reflect on their practice and identify and address their development needs.
Underpinning the SRA’s entire approach to ongoing training and development is the concept of the “statement of competence”. The statement is essentially a description of what a good solicitor looks like – a benchmark against which you must assess their own performance and identify areas for improvement. You are then required to devise and implement a plan to address these deficiencies.
Here at least, we have a good idea of what the statement itself will look like, with the SRA publishing its draft version last October. The consultation period closed on 12 January this year, and we might anticipate any changes to the final version to be minor given the tight timescale for rollout. The statement groups the abilities and attributes that competent solicitors should display under four main headings:
A. Ethics, professionalism and judgement
B. Technical legal practice
C. Managing yourself and your own work
D. Working with other people
With the statement applying to all members of the profession – regardless of what stage of your career you have reached or the type of entity within which you operate – it is necessarily generic in its approach.
Much less clear at this stage is how you should demonstrate that you have met the standards set out in the statement and how you should document the steps that you have gone through in developing and implementing your individual training plan.
Looking overseas, the Law Society of Alberta has put a similar scheme in place, making it mandatory for practising lawyers to create an annual CPD plan which they must then register with the professional body using an online tool. However, whilst the system has achieved a high compliance rate amongst the 9000 lawyers in the Canadian province, there’s no indication that the SRA will want to mirror this approach for its 127,000 practising certificate holders given the additional resourcing required and the administrative burden it would impose.
Although there’s no firm date for when the SRA will clarify its requirements, it has promised to issue a toolkit on its website in the spring with the SRA’s Director of Education and Training Julie Brannan stating that this toolkit will set out best practice for training and provide materials that will help practitioners reflect on their practice and keep a training log.
Solicitors will no longer be required to undertake 16 hours of CPD
Whilst the end of the annual target seems to have been well received by those solicitors who struggled to accommodate learning within a culture emphasizing billable hours, the previous scheme did at least provide certainty. The SRA’s new approach is similar to that adopted by the ICAEW, whose members need to complete as much development activity as they feel they need to remain competent in their role without stipulating a set number of hours.
If you want to move to the continuing competence model from April, your firm simply needs to choose to do so – there’s no requirement to inform the SRA. However, whichever approach you select it’s important to remember that this doesn’t signal the end of the need to maintain and refresh your knowledge and skills on an ongoing basis – whether through courses, webinars or any of the broad range of learning activities that the SRA now endorses under its new deregulated approach.
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