Benefits of the new regime of continuing competence

Chris Sweetman

Chris Sweetman reflects on the benefits of the new regime of continuing competence.

Chris is a legal sector L&D specialist. He can be followed on twitter at @_lawlab.

Introduction

I knew the current CPD regime had been around for a while, but I was surprised to hear, at the SRA’s recent Implementation Surgery, that it started way back in 1985!

After 30 years, most people would accept that change is overdue. But what benefits does the new system offer private practice firms and in-house legal departments? I set out below a summary - as I, and my clients, see them.

Reflect on practice

The need to reflect will encourage solicitors to take a more pro-active, and year-round, approach to reviewing their development needs; rather than one which revolves around getting a set number of hours before the end of the CPD year.

Not only will this help ensure that solicitors are getting the right learning at the right time; it can also generate ideas for how the organisation can improve its service to clients.

Taken together with the results of client feedback programmes and file reviews, these ideas can help the practice build up a comprehensive, and more rounded, picture of the areas in which it needs to focus its training, and other, resources.

Identify learning and development needs

Some of the large firm HR and Training Managers, whom I’ve spoken to, see the new regime as helping them tailor their learning & development activities to the needs of the business and to individual solicitors, rather than to the needs of the regulator.

Many have appraisal and other performance management systems in place, so they already know the learning needs. Crucially, the new approach gives them more freedom and flexibility in how to address them, so it’s no surprise that most of them are welcoming the changes.

And whilst smaller firms may find more daunting the prospect of identifying their solicitors’ learning needs, the Competence Statement can help them understand what standards of service are expected. So, whilst they might need support in other areas, they’ll still have a starting point for this exercise.

Plan activities to address needs

Whilst not an express requirement, the new system envisages that solicitors will plan their learning and development activities in advance. Those firms who already do this see a range of benefits including: more relevant and timely training for the solicitors; better value for money through, for example, advance bookings and bulk purchasing; and a more even spread of activity throughout the year - placing less pressure on cash-flow, and causing less disruption to the business, at the end of the CPD year.

Likewise, the move away from an hours-based approach gives firms more freedom to explore learning and development activities outside the classroom. These include mentoring and coaching which, whilst carrying a higher unit cost than face to face training, can deliver much more powerful results, giving firms more "bang for their buck".

The freedom in delivery also has the potential to drive more internally-generated learning, especially using informal means such as sharing research notes and providing briefings on recent cases and transactions. The practices which crack this will benefit from highly relevant learning delivered cost-effectively and sustainably.

Record and evaluate activities

The need to keep a record of training is nothing new. And many firms already ask their staff to report on the quality of external training as it makes good business sense.

But now that evaluation is a formal requirement, firms may more carefully consider the likely benefits of an activity before giving it the go ahead. This could mean that external providers, in particular, will be expected to more clearly demonstrate the link between their programme content and its expected impact in the workplace. This can only be a good thing, as it will help drive up quality, and make providers more accountable for the outcomes of their programmes.

Similarly, firms who use the change as a catalyst for implementing more sophisticated forms of post-learning evaluation will benefit from better information. So they’ll be able to make more informed decisions about where to devote their resources in future, allowing the business to get more value for money from their L&D spend.

Summary

So whilst change is always hard, it’s not always a bad thing. Sure, there will be challenges in implementing the new regime, but there are enough benefits to justify welcoming it. And the transitional arrangements give firms the opportunity to find out what works best for them before it becomes mandatory.