How can we change our approach to CPD

How can we change our approach to CPD

By Tim Pearce, SRA Policy Executive, 6 March 2014

We want your views on how we can change our approach to CPD to better assure consumers that they receive competent legal services.

I do it because I have to and for no other reason."
It is a pointless box ticking exercise, you just do whatever you need to when the end of the CPD year approaches, regardless of its relevance - you just do what is available at the time."

The comments above reflect a not too uncommon scenario in how some solicitors comply with our current CPD regulation: book onto any convenient, accredited course; attend a conference, lecture or seminar (some extremely good, others death by PowerPoint); and, tick the box to indicate compliance with the CPD requirement when renewing their practising certificate (or contact the SRA to request an extension for completing their hours requirement. We grant on average 1,500 extensions each year).

Is this the best approach for the SRA to ensure that consumers receive competent legal services? We think not. So what do we propose to replace the current CPD scheme with to ensure competent legal services?

In our view, more prescription is not an option. The profession, and the legal services provided, are so diverse that no "one size fits all" set of prescriptive requirements could address this diversity.

In our consultation paper we set out three options on how CPD could be used in a new continuing competence framework. We believe that option 1 offers the best prospect for assuring the public, consumers and the courts, that individuals and entities regulated by ourselves deliver competent legal services.

Why do we think this? Well, we think that shifting the approach of how we view CPD—from a scheme that focuses on compliance with an arbitrary hours requirement to one that focuses on competence—is much more likely to deliver the outcome requirements set out in the Code of Conduct; namely that services provided to clients are competent and that firms have appropriate training systems in place to allow this to happen. We believe that individuals and firms are best placed to know how they can achieve this.

We want to be non-prescriptive as to the number of hours of CPD undertaken and non-prescriptive about the type of activities that solicitors should undertake to ensure they achieve this. We will also provide guidance for individuals on how they could "plan and reflect" on their development needs.

We know that the vast majority of practitioners are committed to ensuring their own continuing professional competence and would carry on with their own professional development regardless of what we do.

We also know from visits to law firms—both small and large—that there is a lot of excellent training and development practice going on. It far exceeds our minimum requirements and we know that these practices will continue whatever we decide to replace the current CPD scheme with.

Entities know their clients, markets and business models better than we do. Many firms understand the competitive advantage competent staff bring them. As an outcome focused regulator we believe that entities should have appropriate training and development systems in place, alongside their own monitoring systems, to assure they provide competent legal services. Where they haven't and this impacts on the quality of services provided, then under our preferred approach we will pick this up in our routine and thematic visits and take proportionate regulatory action to mitigate against any risks to the consumer.

We want your views to help us shape a new approach to CPD. Have we read the current situation about right, or is our thinking far removed from your own experience and reality? Are the current CPD regulations actually broken? Would you welcome this flexibility? What do you think should be in the guidance we are suggesting?

We welcome views from the profession, clients, consumer groups and other regulators on our proposals and hope to see you at one of our forthcoming road shows.