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EXCLUSIVE: Lawyers to spend less time on L&D under new CPD regime

Training will also be 'less effective' than in points-based scheme, survey finds

15 August 2014

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

The amount of time UK lawyers spend on learning and development (L&D) is expected to decrease under the new outcomes-based approach to continuing professional development (CPD), a Managing Partner survey has found.

Nearly half (49 per cent) of respondents said that the Solicitors Regulation Authority's (SRA's) new 'continuing competence' regime will result in lawyers spending less rather than more time on L&D. Only 13 per cent expect there to be an increase to the total amount of time spent on training, while a further 38 per cent said they expect there to be 'no change'.

The survey, which was conducted in conjunction with sister title Solicitors Journal, also found that the majority (78 per cent) do not believe that the switch to the new CPD regime will result in any significant improvement to L&D for solicitors.

More than two-fifths (41 per cent) of respondents expect lawyers to be trained 'less effectively' under the new scheme. A further 37 per cent said they expect the move to an outcomes-based approach to result in 'no change' to the effectiveness of legal training. Only 23 per cent said they expect training to improve under the new regime.

Concerns were raised by respondents as to whether the changes to CPD are an effective use of solicitors' mandatory practising fees, which fund the SRA.

"I spend thousands of hours each year on 'L&D', so there won't be a change. This is just yet another waste of time and money idea used to justify people's existences," commented a respondent at a small law firm.

However, others were more supportive of the new CPD system. "Competence is central to brand value. I am happy to lose a layer of administrative regulation. We will be giving people just as much training - I just won't have to fill in forms to prove it," said a partner at a small to mid-sized firm.

Risk of law firms cutting costs on L&D

A key concern raised across the legal sector was that law firms and corporate legal departments will take advantage of the change in CPD regime to cut training costs rather than to improve the effectiveness of their approach to L&D.

"There is a danger that in some organisations, solicitors, for example, in-house lawyers, may have difficulty securing funding for learning and development courses if they are not compulsory requirements of the regulatory body," commented one in-house lawyer.

Concurred a partner at a small to mid-sized law firm: "This will just be used as an excuse to save money and avoid paying for courses."

Commented a respondent at a large law firm: "I suspect that many lawyers will simply be trained less. The current mix of accredited and non-accredited training already gives scope for a lot of flexibility in achieving the required hours. Take away the hours requirement and there will almost certainly be less training and development overall. The move to competence criteria surely only works if there is someone externally verifying that. And I don't envisage the SRA will have the resources to do so..."

Added a professional support lawyer at a large law firm: "It depends on the size of the firm. Larger firms with formal training programmes will continue to have them in place, but they will no longer apply for accreditation. In smaller firms, solicitors will continue to get their 16 hours but how they get it (e.g. accredited vs unaccredited) will change."

Some respondents did, however, view the switch to an outcomes-based approach to CPD in a more favourable light.

"Allowing more flexibility will probably mean solicitors [spend] more time on learning [what] they think is relevant to them rather than having to attend events that carry points," commented a partner at a small law firm.

Concurred an in-house lawyer: "I think the change will reduce the panic to get to 16 hours regardless of relevance and allow a much more structured programme of training to take place."

Commented Lucy Morrison, managing director of Central Law Training (a sister company to Managing Partner and Solicitors Journal): "The new competency-based regime will formalise what for many solicitors is already good practice. It will require a considered reflection of a solicitor's training needs and proper recording of their learning and development. We will help guide the profession in the transition to the new regulatory environment and will use innovative modes to deliver training."

More flexible and targeted L&D activities

When asked to consider the advantages of the new approach to continuing competence, the majority (55 per cent) agreed that it allows more flexibility as to how and when solicitors can undertake L&D.

Close behind for 49 per cent of respondents is that it encourages solicitors to undertake L&D that is more focused and relevant to their practice.

"It will definitely lead to better planning of training," said the head of legal at a large company. "Instead of rushing to fit in pre-November general update courses for the sake of it, individuals will look for courses that will enhance their skills and knowledge."

A quarter (23 per cent) said that it allows solicitors to spend less on training, while a further 30 per cent agreed with the statement 'I do not see advantages to the new regime'.

Commented a respondent at a small to mid-sized law firm: "The existing scheme has flexibility and anyone with an ounce of sense would be choosing training relevant to them already. The new proposals seem to me to provide more loopholes for substandard training."

Added the head of legal at a government body: "The existing system is not perfect but it is easy to manage and there is no reason to believe that the new approach will make any significant difference. It will, by the end of the day, be the same solicitors who used significant efforts to maintain and develop their skills and the same solicitors who neglect that duty."

Myriad L&D methods to be used

Among the types of L&D that respondents expect to use under the new continuing competence regime, online reading materials rank highest, at 74 per cent.

Close behind is face-to-face training (72 per cent), followed by recorded videos/webinars (63 per cent), print reading materials (61 per cent) and live videos/webinars (61 per cent). Audio resources/podcasts rank lowest, at 34 per cent.

One legal counsel predicts an increase in webinars and other electronic learning methods: "Solicitors can choose shorter and more targeted interventions rather than having to attend longer sessions containing irrelevant material so as to keep the hours up."

The majority of respondents (60 per cent) said they expect to use a combination of internal and external L&D providers. A further 32 per cent expect to rely solely on external providers, while the minority (8 per cent) said they would just use internal providers.

Response from the regulator

Responding to the survey findings, Julie Brannan, director of education and training at the SRA, said: "The Managing Partner survey suggests that some solicitors are understandably still uncertain about the impact and implications for them of the move to the new approach to continuing competence.

"In October, the SRA will be publishing guidance on transitional arrangements for those who wish to opt-in from Spring 2015 when we will be publishing a comprehensive toolkit of support, which will include guidance on implementation, the new Competence Statement for solicitors, and examples of good practice.

"The survey data also suggests to us that education and training is already well embedded in many parts of the profession. This is consistent with our own research, which we will publish shortly, which shows good training practice in place across a wide range of entities.

"Our research suggests that current practice may already be closer to the new approach to continuing competence: informal training, such as file reviews and work shadowing, are already commonly used even though they do not contribute to the current 16 hours CPD requirement. This is in line with the survey finding that approximately 58% of respondents do not think their current systems for learning and development will need significant adjustment to implement the new regulatory approach."

Continued Brannan: "While the survey expresses concerns about the reduction in time and cost spent on training, the new approach to continuing competence does enable training to be more focused and made more relevant to individuals' practices.

"Solicitors remain subject to the requirement in Principle 5 to provide a proper standard of service. Solicitors will continue to be required to make a declaration that they have undertaken appropriate training in order to comply with Principle 5."

Survey respondents

The joint survey was conducted between 15 July and 7 August 2014. Among the 245 respondents, 30 per cent said their firm's annual revenues are less than £5m. In the middle range are 14 per cent with revenues within the £5m to £21m bracket and 11 per cent at firms with revenues of £41m to £150m. A further 7 per cent are in firms with £22m to £40m in revenues; 5 per cent are in firms with more than £150m in annual revenues. Just under half (44 per cent) of respondents said they are involved in developing their firm's L&D strategy.





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