Solicitors and continuing professional development

CPD Solicitors The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) have recently published a consultation seeking stakeholder views on reforming the continuing professional development (CPD) obligations on solicitors.

You can have a butchers at the consultation entitled “Training For Tomorrow: A new approach to continuing competence” here.

Given the ever changing landscape in which solicitors practise, the SRA feel that the rules on CPD are in need of a refresh.

As the SRA put it:

There can be no doubt therefore that continuing professional development […] is a necessary and important requirement for individuals and entities if they are to deliver competent legal services and meet their regulatory obligations.

The SRA highlight that CPD is currently viewed as a necessary evil to which lawyers pay lip service (let’s face it – they’d much rather be fee earning or playing golf / shopping for shoes – delete as appropriate). They’re probably right about that.

To try and make CPD more meaningful and relevant to individual solicitors, the SRA pondered, albeit briefly, whether making the rules more prescriptive would do the trick.

But no: less is more in the new trendy world of outcomes-focussed regulation.  The SRA decided to reject greater prescription for 3 reasons:

1. The wildly diverse needs of CPD between practitioners and areas of practice;

2. The fact that practitioners at different stages of their careers need different amounts of CPD; and

3. For reasons of buck-shifting. The SRA wants the firm entity for which the solicitor works to be responsible for managing CPD.

Maintaining the SRA’s apparent love of the number 3, they set out, yep, 3 options for possible reform:

Option 1 - a shift from procedural compliance to competence.
There would be no mandatory minimum number of hours that must be spent on CPD, or the type of CPD that must be undertaken. It is up to individuals and firms to decide what CPD needs to be undertaken to meet their regulatory obligations set out in the Code of Conduct. The emphasis is on self-reflection and all that jazz. This is the SRA’s favoured option.

Option 2 - regulations requiring solicitors to plan and reflect on their development.
Like option 1, there would be no mandatory minimum number of hours that must be devoted to CPD. Instead, solicitors would be required to reflect on their practice, identify their training needs and plan, implement and evaluate their training on an annual basis. The SRA would take a prescriptive approach in how CPD is planned, recorded and reflected on, specifying the format of a log that must be kept.

Option 3 - retain a minimum hours scheme with some modifications. 
This would involve retaining a mandatory CPD scheme for solicitors which prescribes a minimum number of hours of CPD that must be completed each year. The CPD would have to relate to the individual's current or anticipated area of practice, while allowing a wider range of activities to count as valid CPD.

The consultation window closes on 2 April 2014.

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