Summer is traditionally a time when Solicitors have a little more time to attend to their admin. As a former training manger for a firm, I would routinely send out emails in August asking people to check whether they were on target to do the CPD hours for the year, and in September I would circulate all the courses we were running for anyone who was “short”. Sound familiar?
31st October 2016 saw the end of the 16 hours CPD regime.
Instead it has been replaced by Continuing Competence.
To understand the requirements of the new regime, read our Guidance on Continuing Competence - and watch our webinar, presented by Amy Bell, which is now available to view at any time.
What is Competence?
Principle 5 of the SRA Code of Conduct requires solicitors to provide a proper standard of service. We see at outcome 1.5 of the Code, that solicitors must deliver a service which is competent. The SRA have issued a competency statement and a threshold standard which is the minimum a solicitor must be able to meet in order to qualify.
But, competency is not just about a level which was appropriate when you were a newly qualified solicitor. The SRA use a broad definition, being, "the ability to perform the roles and tasks required by one's job to the expected standard" (Eraut & du Boulay, 2001). Your required level of competence will depend on the level of expertise required for your role.
It is likely in the early part of a solicitor's career, they will spend a large amount of time learning the skills needed to perform their role. However that is not to say that more experienced solicitors do not need to learn. Apart from keeping current with the law, as a solicitor progresses, they will need new skills (management, financial skills) which were not needed earlier on in their career.
What is Continuing Competence?
This is the process of regularly reviewing your competence, whether in relation to changes in the law, or skills needed to perform your role and undertaking learning when appropriate.
What is the impact of the change?
Solicitors need to adapt to a new way of approaching their training needs. It is acknowledged that the old system of specified hours led to some solicitors attending courses which were not relevant, investing 7 hours in a full day course, when perhaps only 1 hour was directly relevant.
The need to attend 25% accredited training has been removed so, it may be possible to meet your training needs without attending a course.
Essentially, the requirements are now outcome focused. The required outcome is that solicitors are competent, and how they achieve that is a matter for them.
What about my staff who are not solicitors?
The Code requires that the service which is provided by the firm is competent. This is not confined to qualified solicitors, but any staff delivering services to your clients. Using the same process to identify training needs for your other staff can be useful.
When does this start?
The new continuing competence regime began on 1st November 2016, so you should already be well on the way, but if not, below is an outline of the process.
Where do I start?
First of all, you need to be familiar with the competence statement, which is split into 3 parts; the statement of legal knowledge, the statement of solicitor competence, and the threshold standard. These are available on the SRA website.
The statement of legal knowledge is the legal knowledge you are required to know upon qualification, covering the main areas of law which you will study academically, as well as the code of conduct.
The statement of solicitor competence is split into 4 parts:
- A Ethics, professionalism and judgement
- B Technical legal practice
- C Working with other people
- D Managing themselves and their own work
The areas are then broken down further, into specific examples of skills and behaviours. In total there are 91 skills in which a solicitor must be competent. When you look at each skill, you can see that emphasis for skills development is much wider that just the technical legal skills, but also making sure that solicitors have the soft skills needed to deliver their role.
Because the statement of solicitor competence is generic, the threshold standard gives context to what is expected by solicitors. A person must be at level 3 in order to qualify. The other levels are not assessed, and are provided for context, but they do demonstrate the mastery of the skills which are required for more senior solicitors.
Continuing competence process
Starting at the top right, you need to reflect on what your learning needs are. That can be difficult, it is hard to say what you don't know. However, a process of reflecting on your personal ability against the 91 skills in the competency statement will show areas for improvement. When considering each of the skills, think about whether you can give an example of when you did the particular aspect well, if not that might be an area of development for you.
Once you have identified the areas for improvement you need to plan to carry out the learning. As already mentioned this does not have to be attending accredited courses, it could be reading articles, listening to webinars and podcasts, research, or mentoring. Think about how you enjoy learning new information, and look for ways to learn which match that. Some people like to read, some people like to be able to bounce ideas off each other in a social environment, some people like listening to short podcasts on the train in the morning. This regime really does provide that flexibility to learn in the way which best suits the individual.
You then need to carry out your plan, make the time to do the learning. Any significant issues, which would impact on your ability to provide a competent service should be addressed as soon as possible, with the rest of the needs addressed during the learning year.
Once you have carried out the learning, you should evaluate how useful it was, did it get you towards your learning goal, towards competency. Many training evaluation forms ask questions about the speaker, the room, the content, but in addition you should be asking yourself what did you learn. Again, this is usually on the form but in my experience the answer is usually what it is you remember, which is not necessarily the same thing. Ask yourself instead, what will you do differently.
What will the SRA need to know?
You, or your firm on your behalf, will need to give a declaration as to competence as part of the Practising Certificate Renewal process. In addition, you should keep a record of your learning plan (demonstrating your reflection) and your evaluation (demonstrating that you undertook effective learning). Templates for these documents can be found in the SRA Continuing Competency Toolkit, available on their website. Additional guidance is also available on the Law Society Website.
We will also be hosting a webinar on Wednesday 20th September at 12 noon to provide more guidance on this topic.
In this webinar we will:
* Examine the new regime, what do you have to do, when and how
* Is this the end of "More...junk CPD"
* How do you reflect - how do you know what you don't know
* Setting SMART learning goals
* How to make the most effective use of your training budget.
* How do assess the effectiveness of learning - what is the difference between learning and remembering