Matthew Still outlines the forthcoming changes to CPD and considers the consequences of neglecting lifelong training.
'Why do we fall Bruce?' asks Wayne senior in the film Batman Begins, before explaining, 'so we can learn how to pick ourselves up'. It's a heart-warming line in the right context, and one I've used with my own children when the usual mini-crises crop up, but what has this to do with lawyers?
The answer depends on your view of legal training, which is particularly pertinent to solicitors in light of the gradual removal of formal CPD requirements. As of April this year firms have had the choice to adopt the new approach to training requirements or to wait until 1 November 2016 for obligatory implementation of the new training regime.
Discomfort over CPD changes
It's probably not an overstatement to suggest that the end to formal CPD is sending some nervous ripples across the solicitors' profession. After all, the requirement for an individual solicitor to achieve a minimum of 16 hours of recorded training is a well-established norm, and any change in any arena can bring discomfort.
But there is something more fundamental than discomfort around change going on, and that is a fear of what a laissez-faire (or self-governed) approach to training will do to standards across the profession. Will it result in some 'dumbing down' through neglect of appropriate training? The strength of the 'solicitor brand' is linked to public perceptions around skill, ethics and expertise, and a drop in standards in one might tarnish the reputation of all.
Not that all is necessarily well with the traditional 16 hours approach to training; to err is to be human and mistakes still crop up, and all too familiar is the October rush to complete the required training quota, irrespective of the true relevance of the training to the individual or their business.
The space to shape your needs
What then is wrong with doing away with prescriptive training requirements and allowing solicitors to identify their learning needs and to shape their own training accordingly? For most, probably nothing, and many are welcoming a more relevant approach to training, allowing greater focus on what is truly necessary to ensure a continued effective service to clients and a more proactive and reflective approach to learning which meets each solicitor's needs.
Concerns, legitimate or otherwise, that not all will fulfil their training duties can also arise despite the best of intentions. In a competitive legal services market the cost of training, both in capital expenditure and time spent, could lead to some deferring training and adding it to the manyana list of things to do later.
Indeed with this in mind the SRA points out that 'Principle 5 of the SRA Handbook requires you to provide a proper standard of service to your client … To do this, you will need to undertake regular learning and development so your skills and knowledge remain up to date'. What the regulatory consequence of inadequate training might be is not yet clear but the SRA has also provided a useful training toolkit and competence statement to help solicitors move to the new approach. SRA key messages also include: 'this is not a soft option to learning and development', and 'if … you believe you are competent to provide a proper standard of service, then in principle you do not need to do any learning and development. However, you will need to demonstrate to us, if required, how you arrived at this conclusion'.
The crux of the matter
Regulatory consequence is not the only driver towards training of course. Notwithstanding professional indemnity costs and the separate costs of dealing with service complaints, one of the hallmarks of a true profession is adherence to standards. The solicitors' profession has a proud record when it comes to standards and therefore not only should each member continue to pay proper attention to training but also have a role in ensuring their professional colleagues all are expected to do the same.
Avoid losing clients
The Law Society can show leadership in this area reminding its members that neglecting training in the short term can have longer term consequences and extolling the positive impacts on client service and their own careers of embracing a culture of lifelong learning. The most pressing consequence would be the tendency of clients to look elsewhere when faced with poor quality advice and service. Better then to avoid this eventuality, and this is where Wayne senior's sentiment doesn't quite work. 'Don't worry, I've learned from my mistake' is unlikely to cut it. Avoiding falling down through effective training sounds much safer for all concerned.
In 2016 the Law Society will be launching a new Learning and Development Centre (LDC), which will include a facility for members to formulate a learning and development plan and record training that they have undertaken. This will assist members in meeting their obligations under the new continuing competency regime.