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Solicitors’ compulsory 16 hours of CPD to end in 2016 24 May 2014

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) announced this week that from November 2016 it will no longer be necessary for solicitors to complete 16 hours of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) each year.  Instead the SRA will rely on existing provisions in its Handbook requiring a proper standard of legal practice and of training and supervision from solicitors and organisations.  This is subject to the approval of the Legal Services Board, but one assumes that the proposal would not have got this far without the LSB’s encouragement.

This decision follows a consultation held early in the year (see my blog article on 7 February 2014 “Consultation on ending CPD box-ticking requirement“).  The SRA left us in no doubt as to which of the three options offered in the consultation document it favoured, and it has not surprised us now.

The SRA’s press release on 21 May 2014 included this:

“The SRA opted for option 1 because it

  • focuses on the effectiveness of training;
  • gives individuals—and firms—more flexibility and choice in the training they feel is appropriate;
  • reduces the burden of regulation.

 

“However the SRA recognised that many respondents to the consultation were concerned that option 1 could result in some firms failing to offer appropriate CPD. To reflect this concern the SRA Board decided to delay the implementation of the proposals until November 2016 with a transition period beginning in February 2015 to ensure that appropriate advice and guidance could be provided to get the correct culture of training and focus on competence across all firms. In addition a declaration to be added into the individual and firm practising certificate renewal will require each individual and firm to confirm that they have considered their CPD needs.

“Solicitors and firms wishing to adopt the new approach early on will be able to do so from Spring 2015 when a Competence Statement (indicating what a competent solicitor should look like), and supporting guidance, are due to be published.”

The decision also means that training providers will no longer need to be authorised by the SRA. 

This will also be one step towards regulated entities and solicitors taking responsibility for their own learning, by developing their own judgements about the quality of training and the appropriateness of a particular course.”  (para 12 of the report to the SRA Board)

Personally, I think ceasing to authorise training providers is the only good thing to come out of this.  Currently I have to explain to potential clients that I am not authorised by the SRA (it costs quite a lot of money and inconvenience to get authorised, yet it would not improve the quality of my training offerings).

The SRA’s report on the consultation responses has not yet been formally published, but there is a copy of the draft version (for approval by the SRA’s Board on 21 May 2014) here.  There were only 64 responses to the consultation, although several were from representative organisations like the Law Society.

The major risks were summed up in the report to the SRA’s Board like this:

“13  Access to training: The key risk identified through the consultation exercise with a move to option 1 is the risk that some firms will reduce training budgets, restricting the training individual solicitors undertake. We have set out our response to this concern in the draft response to the consultation.

“In line with the views and advice of the Education and Training Committee, we accept the need for culture change and we will implement a comprehensive stakeholder strategy to reinforce a number of key messages including:

  • continuing competence remains a matter of key importance for the SRA, as regulator
  • training and development is still an important tool for regulated entities in ensuring that their staff are competent to carry out their work
  • training needs can be addressed in a wide variety of ways, not just through formal training courses
  • staff in regulated entities should be given the tools and the opportunity to reflect on their practice, consider their training and development needs and address them appropriately

 

“14  Over-compliance: There is also a risk that some firms or individuals will react in an opposing way and, in the absence of a specified hours requirement, will overcompensate by investing unnecessary time and money into training and development in an attempt to ensure compliance. Again, our stakeholder engagement and guidance will assist in this regard.”

I have to be honest and say that I don’t think the second point need concern any of us unduly. 

Is this a positive change?

It is clear that, for some lawyers, CPD is addressed cursorily and the requirement to obtain 16 hours of it is not taken seriously.  There are too many stories of litigation lawyers attending property training courses (and vice versa) for this to be an urban myth (actually that wouldn’t satisfy the CPD requirement, as any training has to be relevant to your role – but that point is consistently overlooked or merely ignored).

My personal feeling has been that 16 hours has always been a figure plucked from the air, but it feels broadly correct.  So not everyone achieves 16 hours, but the majority probably do, and many exceed it.  And the existence of a minimum figure means that at least most solicitors will acknowledge the need to keep themselves up to date.

Yet this reaction by the SRA seems more like a train company cancelling a train because it is overcrowded.  It wasn’t working in the way we wanted it to work, so we will stop it altogether.  This is in the same week that Estates Gazette reported that the RICS is to chase up the one-tenth of the surveyors’ profession that has not yet recorded (in the RICS’s own database) the 20 hours of CPD that surveyors are required to complete each year.

If you were a member of the public, looking at the equivalent requirements for solicitors and surveyors, which regulator’s actions would make you feel more confident?  I say that as a solicitor, not as the proprietor of a newly formed training organisation.   Individual training consultants will not be too concerned by this change.  There are plenty of firms that value training for its own sake (not because it is a regulatory requirement).   It is the big providers that have the most to lose.  It looks to me as if their business model has been swept away overnight.

I will conclude, then with one of the key reasons why this exercise was undertaken in the first place.  The SRA says in para 50 of its draft consultation response:

“It [CPD] tells us and the individual solicitor very little about the value of any CPD undertaken and creates a false certainty that undertaking 16 hours CPD will ensure a solicitor remains competent.”

One cannot deny that.  The problem is that many of us are not yet convinced that the new regime (ie option 1 in the consultation paper) will be any better.

For another viewpoint, there is an article about the changes on the Law Society Gazette’s website here.

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