Friday 30th August 2019
There’s something about that September ‘back to school’ feeling that never quite goes away, even years after you’ve graduated from the education system. The summer fun is over and it’s time to knuckle down to business as usual. But it’s also a good opportunity to think about aspirations and achievements.
The move to the continuing competence regime was intended to encourage solicitors to reflect upon and address their learning and development needs all year round rather than in a mad dash for training hours at the end of the CPD year. At Central Law Training we are seeing a more even spread of training requirements throughout the year, but the autumn is still an especially busy time as practitioners seek to populate their training plans and records.
If you’ve been buried under files all year, it’s not too late to get your house in order! Here’s what you need to do…
The continuing competence regime focuses on reflective practice. This requires you to consider your own practice and needs, identify the skills and knowledge that are necessary for you in your role, and address any learning and development needs in whatever way is most suitable. Reflection can be a challenge for solicitors, and an effective appraisal system will be valuable in supporting individuals to identify areas for development.
To assist solicitors in this reflection, the SRA introduced a competence framework which describes the expectations of skills and knowledge of a solicitor across four main competence areas: ethics, professionalism and judgment; technical legal practice; working with other people; and managing yourself and your own work. The SRA competence statement is a general framework, so you will need to identify which aspects apply to your work and how, then reflect upon and assess your competence in these areas.
With a busy workload it can be difficult to take time away from fee earning to spend on training. One clear advantage of the new regime is that pretty much any learning format goes, even reading or consulting a more experienced colleague, so there are ways to fit development around the demands of client work. But there is undoubtedly still a place for formal, structured training.
For time-poor lawyers keen to develop their knowledge or skills, webinars can be a really useful tool. They are especially appropriate for quick updates, analysis of case law, or to help you to prepare for future changes, and they will be particularly valuable for anyone who needs information quickly or lives far from typical training destinations.
Some training topics do really benefit from face-to-face delivery, though, especially where there is a practical element, such as estate accounting and contract drafting, or soft skills. The feedback we receive suggests that face-to-face training provides a relaxed and encouraging environment where delegates can ask questions of an expert trainer and discuss with peers. Our trainers certainly enjoy engaging with delegates and ensuring they achieve their objectives in attending the course. Central Law Training offers courses on a wide range of topics taking place over the next few months in different locations.
We are seeing increasing interest in online learning as firms look for flexibility and a more innovative way to meet learning and development needs. Really engaging, interactive training that you can follow at your own pace is the next step, and we’re developing new courses in this area at the moment.
A training record should clearly reflect the circumstances of the individual lawyer and demonstrate an awareness of the importance of development across all four competence areas. As well as identifying the training undertaken, it should include the solicitor’s reflections before and after attending: what development need was the training intended to address, and was the need met as a result of the training? How will you change your practice as a result?
The training attended may look similar to previous years – a mixture of updates, technical skills courses and personal development – but it will be important to consider how this reflects the four competence areas to ensure a you stay current and competent in them all.
What the record looks like is up to the individual or firm, though the SRA provides an example on its website. Some firms will have their own template that fits with the firm’s appraisal or review system, while for others a simple Word document with a summary of their reflections and what training they have undertaken will suffice.
You are not required to submit this record to the SRA when you make your declaration as part of practising certificate renewal, but you must be able to produce it on request. This might come about if the SRA had reason to investigate a firm or individual, in which case a deficient or non-existent record might be considered an aggravating circumstance. Conversely, a comprehensive record which showed a solicitor making all reasonable efforts to stay up-to-speed on law, procedure and practice might be a mitigating circumstance.
The declaration you will make as part of your practising certificate renewal is that ‘I have reflected on my practice and addressed any identified learning and development needs.’ Interestingly, it’s not actually a declaration of competence, though firms should of course be addressing any perceived deficiency using their own policies and procedures.
If you’ve been undertaking training throughout the year, make sure you have recorded both the activity and your reflections, noting how it has met an identified development need.
If you’re, ahem, a little behind on the process, start by considering the areas in which you’d like to strengthen your professional skills, whether it’s client care or advanced drafting skills. You can use the SRA competence statement as a prompt. Then identify and book appropriate training to help you develop these skills. All CLT courses are tagged with the relevant competences and indicate which level of experience they are intended for, to help you find the right training. After the training, don’t forget to record your reflections and consider whether you now feel the development need has been met.
Whatever you still need to do… don’t delay, get reflecting today!
Want to know more about the four SRA competences and how you can find relevant training? Read our article here.
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