Risk and Compliance Service

Continuing professional development - what now?

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There has been a mixed reception to the changes to the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA’s) continuing professional development (CPD) scheme. Many firms are pleased with the prospect of more flexibility and scope to develop tailored programmes of training; others are concerned that the repeal of the 16 hours requirement means less certainty and more confusion in terms of what is required by the SRA.

What are the changes?

Instead of having to complete a standard number of hours training each year, each solicitor will need to consider what training they will need to undertake in order to meet the requirements of a competence statement published by the SRA. The SRA will be releasing a toolkit to provide more information about the new requirements and to assist practitioners to understand what is required of them.

In short, you will need to consider in greater detail what your training needs are each year and to plan what you will need to do in order to fulfil the SRA’s definition of a ‘competent solicitor’.

How will these affect my firm?

You will need to decide whether you want to continue with the existing CPD requirements (that is, carry out 16 hours of CPD training) or whether you want to adopt the new approach set by the SRA.

Whilst the new approach will offer you more flexibility and the opportunity to plan a programme of training tailored specifically to your needs and those of your firm, it will require you to take a more thoughtful approach to the issue. You will need to evaluate your areas of potential weakness, and to identify those courses or activities which will either plug those gaps or will advance your knowledge in your specialist area.

Experienced practitioners may well be able to justify spending less time on what would be considered ‘formal’ CPD; more recently qualified solicitors may find that 16 hours of training per year will not be sufficient to demonstrate that they meet the requirements of the Competence Statement. Each individual will need to make their own assessment and, in common with the SRA’s approach to outcomes focused regulation, be able to justify the conclusions they have reached.

The SRA will publish its Competence Statement in April 2015 and it will include three sections: the Competence Statement itself, the Statement of Knowledge and the Threshold Standard. The SRA will consult later this year on the assessment framework for the Competence Statement.

The Competence Statement will be linked closely with Principle 5 in the SRA Handbook: ‘you must provide a proper standard of service to your clients’ and the SRA will shortly be submitting a proposal to the Legal Services Board (LSB) to amend the notes under Principle 5 to make this clear.

We want to move to the new scheme now, what do we need to do?

You can choose to follow the new approach to CPD from April 2015. You will need to look closely at the Competence Statement when it is released by the SRA (due in April 2015) and work out what approach the firm and its solicitors will need to take to be able to meet the criteria.

Firms which have the Lexcel accreditation should have already implemented a plan for the training and development of personnel, and a training and development policy to document the firm’s approach, and so should review existing documentation in light of the new requirements. It would be advisable to link these into the firm’s approach to performance management and to consider and agree on a development plan which links back to the Competence Statement.

What if we want to continue with the 16 hours requirement instead?

You can continue to do this until November 2016 when you must change over to the new approach. You should continue to keep CPD records and you can use the Law Society’s CPD centre, or your existing method of recording the details, to do this. If you are continuing with the 16 hours, you no longer need to carry out accredited training for 25 per cent of the requirement - all CPD training will count.

Finally, whether you favour the new approach or not, there is time to plan how you will implement it within your firm. There is support available to assist you in developing the framework you may need in your practice to meet the new requirements and to adapt to the changes.

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