Last call for CPD
Fixed professional development hours are out; ‘continuing competence’ is in. Vicky Ling explains the impact of changes to the Solicitors Regulation Authority training regulations
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has made some significant changes to training regulations. Some were implemented towards the end of 2014, others take effect from early 2015. They should all be in place by the end of 2016.
No more 16 hours’ CPD
One radical change is the move from a requirement to do 16 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) each year to a new approach, where solicitors have to demonstrate ‘continuing competence’.
Since 1 November 2014, the requirement to undertake accredited CPD training as part of the 16 hours’ CPD requirement has been removed. Further, the SRA stopped accepting applications for CPD authorisation or re-authorisation from external or in-house CPD providers. The concept of SRA-accredited CPD training will cease to exist.
The new approach requires solicitors to:
•reflect on the quality of their practice by reference to the SRA’s proposed competence statement for solicitors and address identified learning and development needs;
•make an annual declaration that they have considered their training needs and taken measures to maintain their competence.
The new approach will be implemented for all solicitors from 1 November 2016. However, solicitors can choose to move to this new approach from 1 April 2015. Until 31 October 2016, solicitors can choose either:
•to follow existing CPD requirements; or
•from 1 April 2015, to adopt the new approach to continuing competence.
Solicitors are not required to notify the SRA of the approach they decide to take to ensure ongoing competence but they should agree it with their employer.
Solicitors who choose to comply with current CPD requirements until 31 October 2016 must continue to undertake 16 hours of activity, as outlined in the guidance note for regulation 8 of the SRA’s current CPD regulations, during each CPD year, and confirm that they have met this requirement, as part of the annual practising certificate renewal exercise (PCRE).
From 1 April 2015, solicitors can move to the new approach to continuing competence. This will require them to determine the learning and development they need to ensure they deliver a competent legal service.
The SRA intends to issue a statement of solicitor competence in spring 2015. This will define the ongoing competence that it expects of solicitors and will help solicitors to identify their learning and development needs under four key headings: ethics, professionalism and judgment; technical legal practice; managing yourself and your work; working with other people. There is a draft of the statement of solicitor competence on the SRA website.
Solicitors moving to the new approach will be required to complete an annual declaration that they have done this. The SRA says that further details about the new declaration, including practical arrangements, will be published before 1 April 2015.
From 1 August 2014, changes were implemented to the rules governing trainee solicitors.
The training contract has been replaced by a period of recognised training. The total length of time spent training depends on the usual number of days worked each week (not including overtime or weekend work). A full-time training period, in which the trainee works five days per week, is two years.
The training principal must ensure that the training provided meets the requirements of recognised training, that trainees keep a record of training, and, that anyone involved in their training and supervision has adequate legal knowledge and experience in the area they are supervising and has the skills to provide effective supervision. They must also certify to the SRA that the trainee has completed the required training.
Areas of law
During training, the organisation must provide practical experience in at least three distinct areas of English and Welsh law and practice. The SRA does not specify the amount of time that should be spent in each area but does suggest that, to gain the appropriate experience, trainees need to spend the equivalent of at least three months in any subject area.
There is now a long list of areas of law which are considered to be distinct. This should make it easier for legal aid practices which do no non-contentious work to train solicitors without having to second them elsewhere for part of the time: for example, undertaking work in family, crime and housing would comply. However, if a practice cannot provide a trainee with experience in three separate areas of law, or work that will enable them to meet the requirements of the practice skills standards, it must still arrange a secondment to a practice that can offer the necessary range of skills and experience.
Time taken into account
The training organisation can, at its discretion, recognise relevant prior experience and take this time into account to reduce the period of training. This is known as relevant work-based experience. Such experience needs to have been gained in the preceding three years, have been in English and Welsh law and practice, and have been in one or more areas of law.
Relevant work-based experience on a like-for-like basis can be counted up to a maximum of six months (183 calendar days).
What about management course stage 1?
In September 2014, the SRA published a consultation proposing the removal of the regulatory requirement for solicitors to take management course stage 1. It says it will provide further information on the outcome of this consultation in early 2015. However, in the meantime, management course stage 1 remains compulsory.