Understanding implementation of our approach to continuing competence

Executive summary

Why continuing competence matters

We expect all solicitors to deliver a proper level of service to clients. This is a basic expectation of the profession and helps maintain the UK as the world’s centre of excellence for legal services.

To do this, solicitors must meet our standards by keeping skills and knowledge and up to date. Our Competence Statement sets out the standards we expect them to maintain.

In 2016, we changed our requirements as to how solicitors meet these standards. We moved away from requiring solicitors to carry out a mandatory 16 hours of approved training to a more relevant and up to date process.

Instead of having to sit through training sessions, regardless of their value, we asked the profession to instead reflect on their practice, look at their training and development needs for the practising year and take appropriate steps to address any gaps. This meant that time was not wasted in irrelevant training, and that wider learning – such as research and on-the-job training- could be considered. We are clear that meeting our requirements does not need to be separate from a solicitor’s core work.

Making an annual declaration on what they have done to maintain their competency is a mandatory requirement for every solicitor. All must regularly reflect on the quality of their practice, identify and address their learning and development needs.

This report

This report looks at how law firms and solicitors have responded to the new regime. It also identifies areas that we need to consider further.

Our findings are based on:

  • a thematic review of the work of 20 firms
  • an online survey that attracted nearly 500 responses
  • our own data, including the annual declarations made to us about continuing competence in practising renewal applications.

What did we find?

Our continuing competence regime is still too new to allow any concrete conclusions to be drawn. However, feedback from the profession says:

  • Most firms and solicitors implemented the scheme without significant problems.
  • The vast majority of firms have maintained or increased their support for learning and development, with 52% of solicitors doing about the same amount of learning and development; 40% doing more; and only 9% doing less.
  • Solicitors tell us that our approach has helped them to better identify their needs, as learning and development appears to be more relevant and targeted.
  • Most firms reported a reduction in the cost of learning and development by focussing activity on specific roles and teams, and working with other firms to develop and deliver training.

Solicitors feel that the removal of the 16 hours requirement has not led to a decline in the quality of their work. Nearly 40% felt that the changes had improved the competence of solicitors. Other findings included:

  • The quality of record keeping is variable.
  • A small number of solicitors repeatedly return a negative declaration, ie that they have not reflected or addressed their learning needs.
  • Some solicitors have told us that they find it difficult to make time to reflect, identify and address their learning and development needs as part of their day to day work.

What are our next steps?

In summer 2019, we plan to contact solicitors working overseas, in-house, recently admitted, working part time or as a consultant to remind them that the new approach applies to them.

We will also write to 35 solicitors who have consistently returned a negative declaration to explain why they have not carried out any learning and development. Where there has been wilful non-compliance with the obligations of our approach, we may decide to take regulatory action.

In autumn 2019, we will update the support we already provide to solicitors by:

  • Publishing resources on what good recording looks.
  • Providing examples of good practice in managing the time involved in maintaining competence.
  • Adding the good practice case studies identified in our thematic review.
  • Developing further case studies and materials targeted at small firms.
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