The new world of continuing competence
With the end of the CPD regime in sight, the time is fast approaching to ensure you know how to meet the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s new continuing competence requirements.
As people return from holidays, colleges start new terms and the SRA CPD year draws to a close, many practitioners will be thinking about the changes to continuing competence, which becomes mandatory from 1 November 2016.
Principle 5 of the SRA Handbook requires you to provide a proper standard of service to your client. To achieve this, you need to meet the competences set out in the competence statement, and undertake regular learning and development so your skills and knowledge are relevant and up to date.
No more set hours
Any approach to learning and development is valid as long as you can demonstrate it contributes to competence. You can tailor how you acquire knowledge and skills to suit your own learning style. You have freedom and flexibility compared with the old requirement for 16 hours’ training. Activities can include formal and in-house training courses, online modules, workshops, file reviews, group discussions, journals and articles, coaching and mentoring. There are no longer set hours to clock up. The onus is on you to demonstrate that you have undertaken appropriate learning and development activity so you can do your job competently.
Demonstrating competency is an approach adopted by many professions and regulators, and involves consideration of what knowledge, skills and abilities you need to be competent to do your job effectively. The SRA has explained that it is taking a broad definition of competence as being ‘the ability to perform the roles and tasks required by one’s job to the expected standard’, as it recognises that expectations change depending on job roles and context, and also that competence develops over time. It acknowledges that individuals may work competently at many different levels, either at different stages of their career or, indeed, from one day to the next, depending on the nature of their work.
The competence statement
The competence statement requires that you ‘[m]aintain the level of competence and legal knowledge needed to practise effectively, taking into account changes in [your] role and/or practice context and developments in the law’ (section A2), by:
•taking responsibility for your personal learning and development;
•reflecting on and learning from practice and from other people;
•accurately evaluating your strengths and limitations in relation to the demands of your work;
•maintaining an adequate and up-to-date understanding of relevant law, policy and practice; and
•adapting your practice to address developments in the delivery of legal services.
Detailed guidance can be obtained from the SRA’s continuing competence toolkit, which provides information on what you need to do. Its underpinning process suggests you:
•reflect on your practice to identify your learning and development needs;
•plan how you will address these;
•think about how you can address these; and
•record and evaluate your learning and development activity.
The SRA offers useful templates for a development plan and a development record, which are Lexcel- and Specialist Quality Mark-compliant. A number of practices have already started integrating the SRA’s new regime into their own processes for setting objectives, appraisals and performance reviews.
Opportunities to reflect can arise in a number of situations, eg at the conclusion of a case, preparing for an appraisal, or when a mistake occurs or a complaint is received. You will need to record how you plan to address the identified learning and development needs and review the plan regularly. Having a clear idea of what you need to do, as well as why, when and how you will do it, will be based on the priority of your need for knowledge and development and informed by your organisation’s business plan.
Evaluating your chosen activity will help you identify any key points you can implement in practice or where further learning and development is required. This may result in you revisiting your original plan and adjusting it. You may find it useful to record:
•what you did;
•how it was related to ensuring your competence;
•what you learnt; and
•when the activity was completed.
You will be required to submit an annual declaration to the SRA, whose suggested wording is: ‘I have reflected on my practice and addressed any identified learning and development needs.’ There is more information on the SRA website, in the ‘Key resources’ section of the continuing competence toolkit. ■