It all seemed so simple under the old CPD regime. You just had to attend 16 hours of CPD courses, record the training you had attended (or ask HR how many CPD hours you had clocked up) and then submit a simple return to obtain next year's practising certificate. Not so now under the new SRA Continuing Competence regime - or is it?
Understanding The Fundamentals
A fundamental point is that the SRA has linked the new Continuing Competence regime to mandatory Principle 5 of the SRA Handbook:
Principle 5 states ‘every solicitor is expected to provide a proper standard of service to clients’.
By making this link, non-compliance with the Continuing Competence regime becomes a fundamental breach of SRA Principle 5 and a matter of each solicitor’s professional conduct.
The guidance notes to Principle 5 have been revised to make meeting the competences laid out in the SRA Statement of Solicitor Competence a core part of providing a proper standard of service to clients.
From a learning and development perspective the most significant change is that the SRA’s Continuing Competence regime is focused on the individual learning and development needs of solicitors and is no longer simply an issue of counting CPD hours.
Each solicitor’s learning and development needs are measured by reference to the SRA’s Statement of Solicitor Competence.
The Statement of Solicitor Competence defines competence as:
“the ability to perform the roles and tasks required by one’s job to the expected standard”
This approach recognises that requirements and expectations may vary according to an individual’s job role and the context in which they are working. It also recognises that an individual’s competence develops over time and will vary according to their experience and time in practice.
The Statement of Solicitor Competence covers four distinct areas:
- Ethics, professionalism and judgement
- Technical legal practice
- Working with other people
- Managing themselves and their own work
Every solicitor must reflect on their learning and development needs measured against the Statement of Solicitor Competence across each of these four areas.
Detail of the specific areas of competence covered by each of the four areas is set out in the Statement of Solicitor Competence http://www.sra.org.uk/solicitors/competence-statement.page
Every solicitor must make an Annual Declaration in the following terms in order to continue to practice:
'“I have reflected on my practice and addressed any identified learning and development needs”
What Each Solicitor Needs to Do
1) Reflect and Identify: Reflect on your professional practice, review your strengths and weaknesses and how these tie in with the SRA’s Statement of Solicitor Competence, your objectives and the skills needed to provide a proper standard of service to clients. By following this reflective process you are able to identify your specific learning and development needs.
2) Evaluate and Plan: Evaluate your learning and development needs, then plan how you will address them, including the steps that you will need to take. You may use a broad range of activities to address your needs, including: individual learning, e-learning, one-to-one coaching, formal training courses, reviewing a recent matter, undertaking research, know-how development etc. Set yourself learning and development objectives and outcomes. Document your learning and development objectives and the anticipated outcomes in your Development Plan.
3) Address and Record: Take the steps that you planned to address your learning and development needs. Set out what you have achieved (either partially or in full) and the learning and development which still remains to be addressed. Reflect on what you have learned and how you will apply it to your job role. Record these reflections in your Development Record.
4) Review and Declare: Review what you are doing to address your learning and development needs, evaluate whether further action is needed and make your Annual Declaration.
The Importance of Mapping to the Statement of Solicitor Competence
Mapping to the Statement of Solicitor Competence is vitally important, it impacts on all four steps in the Continuing Competence process.
Where Does Mapping Fit In?
In the first step - Reflect and Identify every solicitor needs to reflect on their professional practice, review their strengths and weaknesses and how these tie in with the SRA’s Statement of Solicitor Competence. Referencing the Statement of Solicitor Competence is vital at this stage. The reflective process needs to be undertaken with direct reference to the Statement of Solicitor Competence - it will not be effective or compliant without mapping in this way.
At the Evaluate and Plan point in the process, mapping to the Statement of Solicitor Competence is important to ensure that your planned learning and development activities will address the learning and development needs that you have identified. You will need to document the links to the Statement of Solicitor Competence in your Development Plan.
When you reach the Address and Record point in the process, the mapping you have done pays dividends because you can now record where the learning and development activities which you have undertaken align with the Statement of Solicitor Competence as a key part of your Development Record.
At the Review and Declare point in the process the mapping which you have done enables you to review your learning and development activities in relation to the Statement of Solicitor Competence and your practice, so that you can set out in your Development Record, what you have learned and how you are (or intending to) apply it to your practice.
Issues To Consider
Coverage: All four sections of the Statement of Solicitor Competence need to be reviewed by each solicitor so that they can reflect on their practice and identify their individual learning and development needs. The focus on each section will be vary at different stages in a solicitor’s career e.g. B Technical legal practice and D Managing themselves and their own work may be a focal point for recently qualified solicitors. Section A Ethics, professionalism and judgement is of vital importance at all levels of experience so too C Working with other people.
Peer Groups: The whole purpose of the new Continuing Competence regime is to focus learning and development on the needs of each individual solicitor. However, those responsible for Learning and Development within a law firm or an in-house legal team will readily identify programmes, courses, workshops, know-how sessions which would benefit all solicitors at a particular point in their career e.g. a structured Newly Qualified Solicitor Programme. It is important when planning and designing these activities that you map the learning activities and outcomes to the Statement of Solicitor Competence.
Mapping for Differing Career Paths: Not all solicitors wish to become partners. Those who wish to pursue a career in Knowledge Management or Risk and Compliance for example will need to consider their learning and development needs in their chosen role and map these to the Statement of Solicitor Competence. This may well produce a very different ‘profile’ to a solicitor who is undertaking client work in real estate, litigation, corporate or another practice area.
Mapping for Management: The executive leadership in a law firm and General Counsel leading an in-house legal team all need to reflect and identify their learning and development needs. The 'profile' of their learning and development needs and the activities which they set out in their Development Plan will be very different to those solicitors and partners whose primary focus is client work not managing the organisation.
Continuing Competence Software
One way to help you through this process is to use specifically designed legal software, with a focus on Continuing Competence. Continuing Competence software is a fully integrated system, enabling you to capture and combine your reflections, Development Plan and Development Record, making it easy to for you to review your progress. All entries in the Reflections, Objectives or Activities sections will be mapped to one or many of the Statement of Solicitor Competence.
In summary, it is for you to ensure that you are complying with the SRA’s Continuing Competence regime. Mapping your learning and development needs to the Statement of Solicitor Competence is a key compliance requirement. The mapping process is an integral element of the four steps: Reflect and Identify; Evaluate and Plan; Address and Record, and Review and Declare. By mapping effectively you can then make your Annual Declaration in full confidence that you are complying with the Continuing Competence regime. This can be straightforward provided that you take the right approach and use the appropriate software to do this.