What would the SRA like to happen to your training and CPD?
In February 2014 the SRA issued a consultation paper on the future of training. This sought the responses of you and me to their suggested alternative approaches although they stipulated quite clearly the SRA’s preferred option. Some of you may have attended one of the roadshows. If not, you are in for a surprise.
Many of you may not think of the current approach of 16 mandatory hours of training per year as broken. You and your firm are used to it; you can budget the necessary time and resources to achieve it and although you may be a little woolly over what counts towards these hours you are reasonably happy you can manage them.
However, the approach is arbitrary – there is no right number of hours of training to achieve competence to do your job and have happy clients and staff is there? Some of us would need no end of training to do that and others would need none so having a mandatory number of hours for solicitors is not a magic bullet. It also, currently, does not reflect adequately the different staff working on clients matters; nor the ways we learn or train these days e.g. by the use of podcasts or videos or webinars; nor does it require you to undertake appropriate and relevant training, which is why I have regularly presented courses at the end of the CPD year with one or two in the audience for whom the content matter is of no interest they ‘just need their points’. How sad is that! There is little or no enforcement action taken as it relies on the honesty of applicants for a practising certificate to state whether or not they have undertaken the hours.
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SRA’s preferred approach
The SRA would like to move to a much freer system. It would leave each entity and individual to decide how to achieve the outcomes in the Code of Conduct within the context of their own practice and the needs of their clients. The Principles and the Code say we must provide a proper standard of service to clients and train and supervise staff appropriately. It believes that it is implicit in the requirement to deliver a competent service that entities will reflect on whether the quality of the practice is good enough, identify areas for development and ensure appropriate development activity is undertaken.
This option, (Option 1 in the consultation paper) whilst welcome in the longer term, is tough to move to from our current system. It would require firms to put in place a means of assessing competence (the competency framework is yet to be finalised for consultation by the SRA – it is promised in September 2014) of each individual to deliver a proper standard of service to clients; to identify the learning gaps and to agree how that individual would fill those gaps during a planned period. This will need collating in order to assess the firm’s budget and will need regular checking to decide whether the target has been met.
It would then be for your COLP to report to the SRA of any risks to the entity of not meeting the committed standard.
This approach would sweep away Part 3 of the Training Regulations, make it no longer necessary for LawSkills and other training providers to be accredited by the SRA and remove the need to make an annual declaration regarding CPD compliance in the practising certificate form.
However, it is not clear how it would be policed. If it was simply left to firms to decide what to do and when and how to do it is there not a danger that some firms would be tempted to say that they only employ competent staff and therefore there was no need for training of any kind? If the SRA are not checking then there would be little or no risk of regulatory breach being uncovered unless mistakes were made and complaints referred to the SRA by unhappy clients.
Whilst this Option is attractive, as a means of enabling an entity to focus on linking its training and development of its people to the business goals it has set and so achieve competitive advantage in the market place, it is not easy to implement nor to police. Given that quite different systems for planning and assessment of learning needs would need to be undertaken than those used presently in many firms, it could prove to be more onerous than the current system. There could be difficulties of conflicts arising between the individual and the entity where the individual believes they need certain training to be competent and the entity does not.
There is another way
Option 2 in the consultation paper suggests a more prescriptive way to develop reflective learning. This would require solicitors to reflect on their practice, identify their training needs and plan to implement their plan and evaluate their success or otherwise on an annual basis.
The aim would be to have a continuous circle of reflection, action and evaluation undertaken linked, where appropriate, to a firm’s appraisal system. For many of the larger firms this would be a simple extension of how they are organised at present. It would still be a large step for smaller firms and sole practitioners but the SRA would provide prescriptive tools about how to plan, record and reflect on development activity e.g. keep a learning log or journal.
There would be no mandatory hours and again no need to accredit training providers or include an annual declaration in the practising certificate form. As drafted there would be only monitoring of compliance through current supervisory activity which feels very light touch.
Again, it would be harder to assess your annual training budget and to plan the training needed but it would be an intermediate step towards Option 1.
I think Option 2 would be useful as a way forward to help everyone to see the advantage to be gained from training and developing people appropriately in line with the entity’s business goals. I appreciate that for many firms unless there are mandatory hours included in the mix sadly insufficient resources might be allocated and staff development would suffer. However, simply increasing the hours or even retaining our current very low level of hours compared to other professions, will not make us competent and will not make our firms competitive.
Option 3 is largely to retain mandatory hours whilst addressing some of the short comings with the current system e.g. by allowing a wider range of activities to count.
A new approach to continuing professional development is needed in my opinion. It should be a staged process to encourage us to take responsibility for our own learning eventually. It should have a requirement for appropriate and relevant learning to be acquired in a variety of ways not just from face-to-face training. It should also have teeth to remind us all of the importance of providing competent services to our clients and proper staff supervision.
An approach which starts by increasing our mandatory hours and making them easy to acquire from a variety of approaches would be a good first step with encouragement to move towards reflective learning within say two years by adopting Option 2. It should provide the guidelines and tools to enable all entities and individuals to achieve this reflective learning approach in that time. It might also be prescriptive over certain types of training e.g. supervisors, team leaders or managers should have relevant skills training as well as or instead of any technical training.
Any new system should be effectively policed to make it fair to everyone being regulated and to ensure the regulator means business. This could be still light in that it could adopt the system used in the Law Society of Scotland and by other professional bodies whereby the development plan is recorded in an on-line system and the individual completes their record as they go. If there is no completion of the record by relevant staging points automatic e-mails can be issued as reminders and by the relevant end of training year a failure to complete could result in records being called in or at worst fines being imposed.
The system should also reflect the size of different entities by enabling smaller entities who may not have the resources to achieve reflective learning to gain this know-how in a different timeframe to that of a larger firm who may already be adopting that approach.
There is much to be gained from a reflective learning approach especially when you link the competence of staff to your business goals and move forward accordingly. Some have already seen the competitive advantage of this approach but for many it might just need this kind of nudge, however unpleasant change is for most of us. You can download my free white paper on this approach from www.lawskills.co.uk.
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