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Train to gain

17 May 10

The Society is improving the CPD framework as part of its ongoing development work on education and training, to allow a more personalised approach

by Liz Campbell

Up to four years as an undergraduate, six months of vocational study and two years of supervised practical training. You emerge from the chrysalis of those years into the butterfly that is a newly qualified solicitor. You have soaked up law like a sponge, observed and learned from those with experience, embraced all that training could offer and now you are skilled, knowledgeable and competent. But skilled, knowledgeable and competent for all time? Not quite; in fact not even close.

New challenges loom. The law changes, the nature of legal practice changes, you move firms, you practise a different area of law. What supports you through these changes? What prop do you have that bolsters your confidence and competence and offers assurance to your profession, your colleagues and your clients that your knowledge and skills are current and that you can apply them effectively?

Continuing Professional Development – three loaded words. CPD has been with us for nearly 20 years, since the Society introduced a requirement for all solicitors to complete a minimum amount annually. But the concept of development – whether professional or personal – predates compulsion. Legal practitioners have a long history of engaging voluntarily in what used to be referred to as “post-qualifying legal education”.

The Institute of Continuing Professional Development (www.icpd.org) states that “in our knowledge-intensive world some have argued that the only real source of sustainable competitive advantage is the ability to recognise and adapt to these changes faster than the competition”. Whether true or not, this statement offers food for thought. Put at its most basic, CPD is essential to maintaining standards, competence, and knowledge. The Society’s Standards for Scottish Solicitors state that “solicitors must have the relevant legal knowledge and skill to provide a competent and professional service”.

At the same time CPD is so much more than this. Approached in the right way, it can be an important tool in career and business development, ensuring you achieve your goals and continue to develop professionally post-qualification, taking control of your own career advancement and demonstrating commitment to your profession. An increasingly knowledgeable public means that expectations of solicitors are higher, and effective use of CPD can assist in ensuring that your business continues to attract clients and to serve them well. It is an aid to keeping up-to-date with developments in your area of law and in the regulatory environment, and learning about the best training and management practices.

Plan it yourself

It is with these benefits in mind that the Society has reviewed its CPD requirements as part of the ongoing policy development in solicitors’ “cradle to grave” education and training. One of the overarching principles of the Society’s education policy is that solicitors should be encouraged to take individual responsibility for their own training and development. This approach ensures that you take control of your own development needs, remain motivated and take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves. Further, law firms and organisations employing solicitors should be encouraged to take responsibility for the future training and development of the profession.

The new framework, which will come into force on 1 November 2011, retains the existing requirement of a minimum of 20 hours each year. And 20 hours has always been a minimum, not a target to be aimed for. If learning supports professional development then a target of hours is inappropriate. Any “target” should relate to training needs, not hours: in other words, to determining where an update on changes to a particular area of law will be necessary, where business skills need to be honed or a new area of law or skill set needs to be mastered. Achieving more than the minimum should be a matter of pride when the CPD undertaken is relevant and results in developing skills and knowledge.

With ever increasing demands on busy practitioners it can often be all too easy, even for those with a strong commitment to CPD, to leave training to the last minute, leading to decisions to attend CPD events at the end of the practice year. This approach does not sit well with the concept of CPD as a personal, professional and business development tool, which necessitates a planned approach to training.

Personal training

To support solicitors in their CPD activities, from 2011 the Society will introduce basic templates, which will be capable of being completed online, to assist with identifying training needs, recording CPD undertaken and evaluating the outcome of the training.

At the start of the practice year a solicitor will review their current area of practice and determine the training that is likely to be needed to ensure their continued competence and to meet the expectations of their employers, colleagues and clients. At this stage of planning, consideration may also be given to future career options and goals. Appropriate CPD events will then be identified, determining what knowledge, skills and values they need to maintain or develop, to meet the expectations identified in the first stage.

This CPD “plan” is likely to be a dynamic document, changing as the year progresses in the light of CPD undertaken and changing personal and practice needs. After the CPD has been undertaken, the final stage in the process involves recording and evaluating, or what is known in educational terms as “reflection”. This involves a review of the CPD learning and assists in establishing the link between the effort put into the activity and the benefits derived from it. The benefit may be as straightforward as acquiring essential knowledge about a change in the law in an area you have practised in for many years, or for a newly qualified solicitor it could be improving networking skills to assist in business development, or for a solicitor newly appointed to a management role it could involve learning to manage people effectively.

Different people learn in different ways, having different “learning styles”. Some may prefer a traditional seminar with a respected expert; for others it may be group work or role play that they get the most from; while some may learn most effectively online, with learning materials that test knowledge as you progress through the course. Professional development is about engaging in learning in its broadest sense, and learning occurs in the workplace, not only in the classroom, whether actual or virtual. For some, executive style one-to-one coaching can be particularly effective, and in coaching or mentoring others the coach or mentor may be learning as much as the person they are advising. Many members of the profession have an existing commitment to ongoing training and development and it is the Society’s intention to add value to the activities that are already taking place.

Broader choice

Acknowledging these considerations, from 2011 a wider range of activities will be acceptable as CPD. These will include activities such as structured and formalised one-to-one training, coaching, and online training, rather than the present narrow definition of group study.

To benefit from CPD and for it to be meaningful, it cannot be about compliance with a rule. For it to work for you and your business you have to have reasons for wanting to do it. Some of these reasons have been outlined here. You may have your own to add. Whatever the reasons, the concept is not rocket science (but we would not discourage you if rocket science is relevant to your practice, although given the butterfly analogy above, perhaps entomology is more appropriate), just good business sense.

The Society will provide detailed guidance to the profession in February 2011. Meantime, we welcome feedback and constructive comment by email to robmarrs@lawscot.org.uk .

  • Liz Campbell is Director (Education and Training), Law Society of Scotland

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