Why getting involved in special interest groups is a great way to keep up to date
Over the last 25 years interest in developing a specialist skill over and above being a solicitor has well and truly established itself. There are many accreditation schemes supervised by the Law Society but also there are groups which have evolved from the ground up to be substantial bodies aimed at working for the specialist practitioner such as the Society for Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) and Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE).
In the field of private client work we mix Wills, Probate, Trusts, Tax and Vulnerable clients with the tax side being mostly private tax as opposed to corporate tax. This means that gradually, as other specialists work with older clients, tax practitioners, accountants, financial planners and advisers, bankers and insurers have also become interested in these special groupings which bring together people wanting to do their best in the particular range of skills. The Law Society, too, recognised that perhaps it was not sufficient just to rely on the solicitor’s qualification but also necessary to provide a focus on relevant skills. It created the Private Client Section and has developed the Wills & Inheritance Quality Scheme.
In the world of tax there is the Chartered Institute of Taxation which proudly has its royal charter. It attracts many accountants and some solicitors wishing to specialise in all areas of tax and even within the world of tax there are those whose interest is in one tax rather than another – there are not too many tax practitioners who would argue they understand the detail of say VAT and IHT! The CIOT sets high examination standards and like other groups provides members with a journal and CPD scheme.
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It has been my privilege when I started in practice to have been on the local branch committee of the CIOT Wessex Branch and more recently on the working party which developed the Private Client Section; to have been an early member of STEP and to have helped provide the content for the SFE qualification. I was on the Private Client Section executive committee until it became a separately elected body and I currently sit on STEP’s UK Practice Committee.
I am not alone – a feature of the development of specialist groups is the interest from the grassroots in finding a ‘home’ to spend time with like-minded practitioners who wish to hone their skills, lobby for improvements in the law affecting their work and to find a way through some of the more difficult issues affecting their clients. It is easy to see why they have thrived – they meet a need.
Hard working volunteers and their firms give large amounts of time to running local branches of these networks. I have been delighted to see co-operation between groups to develop interesting conferences and focused workshops where different professionals get together to view overlapping interests e.g. a joint conference between a STEP branch and a CIOT branch.
I am often asked to take part in local branch network programmes. Sometimes, this takes the form of a half – day session which may be a vehicle for discussing current themes such as an update in Wills, Probate, Trusts and Tax. On other occasions, the conference may be a whole day where several speakers are asked to speak on specific topics either independent ones or again contributions to a general theme such as the working farmer or the owner managed business or the vulnerable client.
One factor is key – providing value for money for the members. Value for money is about providing good ideas, quality materials and opportunities to network and question each other and the speakers in an accessible venue.
Many groups find a suitable venue and stick with it giving them the chance to achieve economies of scale because of the frequency of use. Others, may budget for one big conference every other year which they will endeavour to make a sufficient profit which will help to finance other more modest regular meetings. Most groups will e-mail the material in advance to members to cut down on the cost of printing although some still go to the trouble and cost of having the material photocopied and bound. Often, the economics of running a programme of events means sponsors are required.
Just as many ideas for running an event exist as there are groups I suppose but at the heart of it is a hard-working set of volunteers trying their best to gauge the needs of their members.
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