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Consultation on ending CPD box-ticking requirement 7 February 2014

Please ensure that you respond to the consultation paper on proposed changes to current CPD requirements that was issued this week by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).  You have until 2 April 2014 to respond.  A link to the consultation paper is set out at the end of this article. 

The SRA has this week issued a consultation paper looking at how it can use continuing professional development (CPD) to assist it to ensure the continuing competence of the entities it regulates and the individuals within them (yes – that means you, dear readers).

The paper sets out a number of objections to the current system, which was introduced in 1985.  The key weaknesses include it being “over-prescriptive and inflexible” and, most damningly “concentrates on compliance with the arbitrary requirement to undertake 16 hours CPD rather than focusing on how CPD might assure competence”.  Few solicitors would disagree with that last comment.

The SRA’s favoured approach is “to remove the prescriptive requirement for solicitors to undertake CPD through specific regulations” (hooray).  It would instead be the responsibility of both entities and individuals to identity areas for development and ensure “appropriate development activity” is undertaken.  Non-mandatory guidance would be provided by the SRA.  “The guidance would not be prescriptive about the number of hours CPD to be undertaken, or about the type of CPD activity that solicitors should undertake.  It would focus on the outcomes to be achieved through development activity and on ways to implement the reflective cycle”.  This would “provide flexibility for entities and individuals to determine training and development according to their own needs.”

So in this brave new world, who would be responsible for ensuring that such training and development takes place ?  The consultation paper says “Responsibility for delivery of competent legal services and the education and training necessary to support this outcome would be shared between the individual delivering the service and the entity in which they work.”

There are obviously downsides to such a “fuzzy” approach, and lawyers in particular do feel most comfortable when they are following rules.  In fact, I suspect that most lawyers prefer ticking boxes, if the alternative is not being certain what they need to do to comply.  The SRA also observes wryly “Those responsible for compliance or education and training in entities might in some cases find it harder to ensure that individuals undertake appropriate CPD if there is no specific regulatory obligation in this regard.”  I am pretty sure that is correct.  It is so much easier to say “Have you done your 16 hours CPD yet?”, which Wikipedia tells me is technically called a “polar question” – one in which the answer can only be “yes” or “no”.  So much easier than “Have you undertaken sufficient CPD to ensure you can continue to deliver competent legal services?”

Two other options are mentioned.  Option 2 would require solicitors to reflect on their practice, identify their training needs and plan, implement and evaluate their training on an annual basis.  This would differ from the first option in that it would specify, in regulations, a level of detail as to how CPD must be planned.

Option 3 would retain something much more like the current system.  It would retain a minimum hours requirement, but would allow a wider range of activities to count towards CPD, and “[recognise] the value of on-the-job training”.  The downside (as now) is that “there is a significant risk that [this] could encourage solicitors to focus on minimum compliance with the CPD requirement rather than on their competence and the relevant outcomes in the Code of Conduct.  For some solicitors the minimum hours would be too few while, for others, it might be too many.”

No-one (except for providers of CPD) much likes the current system, mainly for the reason set out in the last sentence in the previous paragraph.  But I suspect that both entities and solicitors would prefer the certainty that a simple requirement for 16 hours CPD provides to something much more nebulous and more difficult to implement.

If you have read this far (or even jumped from the beginning to this final paragraph), I hope you agree with me that this is a very important consultation, and that you will take the trouble to read the paper (it’s only 15 pages long) and respond to the SRA by the end date of 2 April 2014.  In fact, why not break the habit of a lifetime and try to respond a week before the deadline – just to prove to yourself that you can.

You can download the consultation from this link:

Training For Tomorrow: A new approach to continuing competence 

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