Early adopters for new CPD regime welcome flexibility

Peter Riddleston, LawNet's head of learning, quality and development"The move away from hours-based CPD to the SRA's Continuing Competence approach will represent a seismic shift for many firms, but some have already made the leap and are reporting benefits across their business"

says Peter Riddleston, Head of Learning, Quality and Development with LawNet, the network for mid-size independent law firms.

The changes to CPD may be sitting on the back burner for many firms, but for early adopters, the first signs are that the new-style regime may result in better engaged employees, better retention levels and more effective recruitment which could ultimately lead to improved service delivery for clients.

These early adopters may have a head start, but the introduction of the new system of CPD in November 2016 will come round very quickly. When it does, all firms will need to be working to the new Continuing Competence regime for solicitors, rather than the existing system of completing 16 hours of CPD. But some have already made the move, as firms were able to opt in to the new system from April 2015. It means that the period between now and November 2016 is a time of transition, with some firms working under the hours-based approach and others moving to the Continuing Competence system.

Within our network, LawNet firms are adopting a range of approaches to implementation, but what is very clear is that learning and development has moved further up the agenda in terms of strategy and people management. The focus groups we have run with our members have illustrated this and we continue to look at how different learning methods can help to meet different aspects of the SRA's Statement of Solicitor Competence.

My view has consistently been that one of the key benefits of the new system is that it offers significant flexibility, because learning needs are identified through reflection and then activity is carried out to meet these. This activity might differ from traditional perceptions of what "training" actually is. For example, our discussions with members have highlighted the learning value provided by mentoring, coaching, supervision and legal research when set against clearly identified, well defined learning needs.

It has been very interesting to see our firms begin the process of adapting to the Continuing Competence system, whether as early adopters or not. The analysis that has been undertaken in some firms will undoubtedly have revealed gaps, but it has also highlighted areas where effective learning in the spirit of Continuing Competence is already being undertaken, and then shared with others. A simple example of this could be the preparation of a research note on a difficult issue, which is then reported back to colleagues dealing with similar matters. I've heard examples of this mentioned during my conversations with LawNet members and some are focussing their efforts on specific groups within their firms.

One of the other common themes that I've encountered is the need for those aspiring to management or partnership to be provided with specific learning; this is necessary to help them understand and prepare for the new roles and responsibilities that they will be undertaking in future. Satisfying this need may be achieved in a variety of ways, such as using a mentoring system to back up face-to-face learning on issues such as strategy, finance, people management and business development.

Our network focus groups have been looking at a wide variety of learning methods, some of which genuinely reflect the way that many of us obtain, share and use information. For example, whilst many purists may throw up their hands at the suggestion, it's the fact that social media certainly has a part to play. LinkedIn groups and Twitter chats on particular subjects were a point of recent discussion and were considered potentially useful in identifying learning needs and solutions. Whatever the activity, evaluation of the learning is also an essential step in the process.

Individual reflection can sometimes be difficult, particularly with the inevitable pressures on working time. Perhaps not surprisingly, performance management systems are emerging as crucial in helping lawyers reflect on their learning needs, so that learning activity can be planned and undertaken. Sitting down with a colleague in an appraisal or other one-to-one situation can represent a good time to consider the skills, knowledge and other requirements of your role, in the context of the Statement of Solicitor Competence. This reflection is an essential element of the new system and is an area where collaboration and seeking the opinions of others can add real value.

The strongest message I have taken from our focus group work, is that where firms approach learning in the right way, they reap very tangible benefits. The long term impact will play out in due course, but the immediate benefits certainly include increased engagement with employees, which leads to better retention levels and more effective recruitment, as well as improving service delivery for clients, and that can only be good for the profession as a whole.