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SRA’s CPD changes creating big challenges for UK law firms

Many plan to invest in new L&D resources and technology, survey finds

21 April 2015

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

The Solicitors Regulation Authority's controversial changes to continuing professional development (CPD) are creating big challenges for law firms in the UK.

Getting lawyers to self-direct their learning and development (L&D) is the number one challenge facing firms today, according to a snapshot Managing Partner survey.

For most, this is at the top of their HR strategic agenda, overtaking talent retention and succession planning.

Related challenges facing firms include providing lawyers with targeted L&D opportunities and getting fee earners to reflect on their practice.

Nearly a third said that greater need for outcomes-based and customised L&D will have a big impact on their firm in the next 12 months.

Preparing for the CPD changes

Under the regulatory changes to CPD, solicitors will need to self-declare that they "have considered their training needs and taken measures to maintain their competence", according to the SRA.

They will need to take ownership of their professional development in all its forms - including reflection - and spend as much time as they feel is appropriate to ensure their competence.

Despite the challenges, many law firms are embracing the opportunity to opt-in early to the new CPD regime, which becomes fully effective on 1 November 2016.

An SRA webinar on the new approach attracted nearly 1,000 registered viewers on 1 April 2015, among which more than 200 said they would be adopting it early.

Similarly, Managing Partner's survey found that two thirds are either considering or planning to be early adopters; a fifth confirmed they would be opting in early and 45 per cent said they are considering it.

In preparation for the upcoming changes and to ensure their systems and approaches are up to date, many respondents said their firms will be investing in L&D resources and HR technology in the coming year.

More than half (56 per cent) plan to invest in new L&D resources, while a further 21 per cent are considering it.

In addition, more than two thirds are either considering (37 per cent) or planning to (31 per cent) invest in new HR technology in the next 12 months.

While the new approach to CPD is creating a wave of issues for firms to address, many are unconvinced that it will help to move legal practice forward.

The majority (58 per cent) said they expect the new CPD regime to have a moderate impact on the way that solicitors practise law in future, while five per cent said it will have a high impact.

Commenting on the new regulatory approach, Martin Coleman, chair of the SRA's education and training committee, told Managing Partner: "Our new approach to training and education focuses on the standard of service offered by solicitors rather than a bureaucratic process-driven approach that bears little relationship to the outcome actually achieved.

"Many of us will have heard anecdotes about individuals desperate to 'clock-up' their mandatory hours attending courses of no real value to their professional role, or registering for courses and spending the session on their smart phone.

"It is impossible for us to prescribe centrally what type of continuing competence is appropriate for different solicitors at different stages of their career. The needs of a newly-qualified solicitor working in a City insolvency practice will be very different to those of a 20-year qualified local authority child protection specialist.

"So instead of prescribing a minimum-time requirement and accrediting certain training, we have published a high-level description of the key competences solicitors must demonstrate regardless of their area of practice. Solicitors are then obliged to consider their learning and development needs in the light of these competences."

Similar to responses to our August 2014 survey on the CPD changes, concerns were raised by respondents about the impact of the new regime on the quality of L&D that solicitors will receive in practice.

Fears prevail that law firms will view the self-declared competence approach to CPD as a cost-cutting opportunity.

"Tailored development rather than box ticking should help the profession. For firms committed to L&D, it should have little impact. However, there may be a temptation for some firms to cut back on formal training," warned an L&D consultant at a global law firm.

Agreed a partner at a regional UK law firm: "It could cause a significant drop in standards."

Of the 15 per cent of respondents who said their firm did not plan to invest in new L&D resources in the coming year, nearly two thirds said this is because the current level of resources are considered adequate. A quarter said new L&D resources are not considered a priority, while 13 per cent said it was due to budget cuts.

"Lawyers need continuing legal education that is intellectually interesting, relevant and of high quality," said Mark Solon, solicitor and managing director of Wilmington Legal, which publishes Managing Partner.

"The days of long hours in hotels to clock up hours or watching dull webinars are over. The new environment allows for CPD to move to the digital age with all the options now available. We are launching some really exciting new ways of learning to assist the early adopters of continuing competence."

Commented Coleman: "Firms and individuals will continue to have a clear regulatory obligation to maintain their professional knowledge and standards. If a solicitor believes that they have no learning and development needs, we will expect them to be able to show us how they arrived at that conclusion."

Responding to the challenges and market trends

Managing Partner's snapshot talent management survey was conducted between 9 March and 15 April 2015.

Eighty-five per cent of respondents said they are based in the UK and six per cent are based in the USA. A third are at international firms and a fifth are at national firms; the remainder are almost evenly split between regional and local firms.

Nearly three quarters of the 52 respondents said they are actively involved in developing their firm's HR strategy, and 60 per cent said they are a member of their firm's senior management committee.

The areas covered by the research include: the biggest talent management challenges facing law firms today; trends that will have the biggest impact in the coming year; investments in technology and L&D resources; remuneration and reward strategies; and how law firms will need to change the way they manage legal talent in future.

Subscribe today to read the survey results, which will be published in the May 2015 issue of Managing Partner.



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