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Tapping into CPD Online

18 September 06

How CPD Online enables solicitors to fulfil part of their CPD requirements online

by Update team

New rules governing CPD training have opened the door for the launch of one of the first web-based training programmes specifically for the Scottish legal profession.

CPD Online, launched by the Society on 1 June, was created in the wake of the change, which now allows solicitors to complete up to five hours of CPD via distance learning with a permitted provider. Sponsored by Yorkshire-based The Ridley Partnership, it offers a mix of legal updates, management and soft skills training.

The scheme follows an extensive consultation process and a successful pilot project. At the outset

Update issued 9,000 questionnaires to the profession, the results of which showed a clear demand for web-based training rather than a CD-Rom or Open University style of study.

During the pilot, 30 volunteers from a broad cross section of the profession completed modules on countering money laundering, stress management and financial management. Feedback was highly positive, with over 84% of participants saying they would recommend it to colleagues.

Fill the odd half hour

Paul Kearns, then an associate with Tods Murray in Edinburgh and now General Counsel – Procurement with Mittal Steel BV in Rotterdam, who specialises in PFI, construction and energy, said he had been eager to take part in the pilot.

“One of the attractive features of CPD Online is that modules can be completed in sections and need not be tackled entirely in one sitting”, he commented. “It was possible for me to grab a half hour here and there, at the airport or on a train journey.  E-learning would be useful for anyone who spends a lot of time out of the office or who, like me, goes through the annual last-minute scramble for ‘management’ hours.”

Kearns added: “I found the material well presented and easy to use.  I have no doubt that CPD Online will appeal to all levels of practitioner within the average firm.”

Notwithstanding its advantages, however, he would not like to satisfy all his training requirements through a computer. “I don’t think there can be a complete substitute for face-to-face discussions with fellow lawyers at conferences or for learning from leading specialists in well-structured seminars. The five-hour limit for e-learning set by the Society seems about right.”

Desire for more

Of those taking part in the pilot, almost 90% agreed that accessing the website was easy and 63% found it easy to follow. Most, 68%, felt the level of the content was pitched correctly and that it was beneficial to them, with almost 95% interested in incorporating further e-learning modules into their CPD plan.

The system was also tested by Capability Scotland, whose volunteers carried out specific online tasks to ensure the new programme meets the standards required by the Disability Discrimination Act.

Dermot Stewart, a partner with Steel Eldridge & Stewart in Cupar and one of the first to buy into the concept, is another enthusiast.

“It’s very user friendly, suitable for all staff who may be involved and crucially the modules can be undertaken in batches of one or more, which allows visits to the site when time permits without having to allocate a time slot to do it all in one session.”

Iona Ritchie, head of Update, the Society’s training and conference department, said: “Since the regulations were changed around 18 months ago, there has been limited opportunity for solicitors to earn their CPD credits in this way. We are among the first permitted providers to develop such a scheme and, judging from the hugely positive response to the idea, I’m sure it will go from strength to strength. We had already produced a CPD DVD to be viewed by solicitors at work or home, and the launch of our e-learning programme complements this.”

Ritchie intends Update to remain the leaders in professional legal training in Scotland. “While we are part of the Society, we are entirely self-funding so must ensure that our training programmes are the best available. People are increasingly using web-based training across a number of professions and industries and it’s important that the legal profession doesn’t fall behind as fresh talent comes in. Graduates and trainees are used to virtual classrooms and using the internet as a study aid, and we must ensure we provide suitable post-qualifying training for every new generation of solicitors.”

Continuing development

Market research carried out prior to the trial had suggested a 5% uptake of the new service in its first year, and Ritchie has no doubt she will meet her target judging from the number of modules already sold. In addition, a number of the bigger legal firms have agreed to trial the modules for a four-week period, which has generated a lot of interest.

The initial trial allowed Update to test the content, accessing and navigating the website and who benefited most from the coursework. The results and comments from that will be used to ensure that the modules will meet the demands of the profession as the rollout continues.

Ritchie added: “It is not enough now to have an excellent technical command of the law. Management skills are now obligatory, as are client care and the ability to diffuse conflict. These adapt well to online training methods and can also be used across the firm, not just by its partners and solicitors. Paralegals and certain support staff could use the same training modules, making it a very cost effective and time efficient way for firms to meet their training needs.

“Of course there will always be a need for live events, as people use them as opportunities to network and discuss points of law as well as simply meeting up with friends and colleagues across the profession, but the major benefit of this, along with our plans to develop further training DVDs, is the sheer flexibility it gives people to work to their own schedules.” This, in conjunction with the current demand for work/life balance, has convinced Ritchie of the potential success for CPD Online.

Potential for collaboration

Chris Eccles, practice manager with sponsors The Ridley Partnership, said: “There is a real synergy between this new product and the services we offer. It’s highly cost effective, minimising loss to fee-earning time while allowing study to be done in manageable chunks. It’s also very slick and easy to use, so even those with minimal IT expertise will be able to navigate the site and new modules can be added easily.

“The Society has taken a proactive, innovative approach in launching this new service and is bringing law in line with many other professions in providing a variety of options for members to complete CPD training.”

The Law Society of Scotland’s technical partners for the venture are Legal Data Solutions Ltd (LDS). LDS was founded to serve the online training and information needs of Scots lawyers, although it now assists a wider clientele.

Chief executive Roy Flett commented: “Online CPD is off to a flying start, with orders coming in well above expectations. The generic nature of the modules is also generating orders from financial institutions and firms south of the border.

“Organisations see the importance of online training, with benefits all round in terms of cost, convenience and flexibility. The Law Society of Scotland has shown real vision here, taking a lead which others are set to follow. The future for online CPD is an exciting one, with potential for collaboration with other law societies leading to greater choice and value for all.”

A chance to view

Delegates at the Society’s annual IT conference nothing.but.the.net, being held in Glasgow on 3 October, will be able to see for themselves how CPD Online works in practice at demonstrations to be held during the event. Iona Ritchie invites solicitors to come along and try it. “You have nothing to lose and hours of time spent out of the office to gain.”