Training and the SRA
There has been a flurry of activity this month in relation to the plans which the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) have for the initial and continuing training of solicitors in the future.
The SRA revealed back in May 2014 (see CPD changes – opportunity or charter for cutbacks?) that they intended to move away from a prescriptive approach to training and to rely instead on existing provisions in the Handbook requiring a proper standard of legal practice and of training and supervision.
They indicated then that they would be producing further details – and these have now started to appear.
On the 15 October, the SRA released a position statement on the implementation of its new approach explaining the impact of reforms to the current Continuing Professional Development requirements (CPD) and clarifying requirements for those who choose to follow the current CPD scheme for the 2014/2015 year. The statement included:
- what the SRA expect from solicitors who choose to move to the new approach from 1 April 2015;
- advice on completing the 2015, 2016 and 2017 Practising Certificate Renewal Exercise;
- the timetable for implementation.
Then, on 20 October they launched a three-month consultation setting out the standards for practice as a solicitor. That consultation asks for views on a new ‘Competence Statement’ for solicitors, which defines the standard for admission and continued competence. The Statement is accompanied by a Threshold Standard and underpinning Statement of Legal Knowledge. All, the SRA state, have been developed in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders including practitioners, legal educators and consumers.
The Position Statement
The position statement, entitled ‘Moving towards a new approach to continuing competence: Information for the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) year 2014/15’ provides information on the SRA’s plans to implement reforms to the CPD requirements for solicitors and looks at how and when those changes will take effect.
It begins by emphasising that Principle 5 in the SRA’s Code of Conduct 2011 – i.e. the need to “provide a proper standard of service to your clients” – including exercising competence, skill and diligence, and taking into account the individual needs and circumstances of each client.
It goes on to highlight that this requirement is show by:
- reflecting on the quality of their practice by reference to our proposed Competence Statement for solicitors and addressing identified learning and development needs
- making an annual declaration that they have considered their training needs and taken measures to maintain their competence
- removing the current requirement that solicitors must undertake 16 hours of CPD annually.
It is intended that the new approach will be implemented for all solicitors from 1 November 2016 but that those who want to do so can move to the new regime from 1 April 2015. That can be firms or individual solicitors – although the SRA is advising individuals to discuss this with their employer before making the change.
Those solicitors who decide that they are going to keep with old regime until 31 October 2016 must continue to undertake 16 hours of training activity, as outlined in the guidance note for Regulation 8 of the current CPD regulations during each CPD year, and confirm that they have met this requirement as part of the annual practising certificate renewal exercise.
Those who decide to go with the new regime from the 1 April 2015 – and everyone else from 1 November 2016 – must work out what learning and development they require so as to make sure they can comply with Principle 5 – that is to say that they can provide a proper standard of service to their clients.
This must not be regarded by solicitors as an excuse not to undertake training. The SRA will be issuing a statement of solicitor competence in Spring 2015 which will define the ongoing competence that they expect of all solicitors. Hopefully this will help solicitors to identify their learning and development needs.
The SRA will also use the Competence Statement to help them identify where there may be risks to the delivery of competent legal services which they need to act upon it. Solicitors will need to be able to show:
- that they have considered their learning and development needs, and
- taken appropriate steps to address them
which they will do by completing an annual declaration.
Thus, not only will solicitors need to keep a record of that training which they have undertaken, they will also need to show why they regard that training as appropriate to them and their development needs.
Firms may wish to consider undertaking a firm wide training needs analysis to ascertain individual needs and may wish to keep central logs of the training undertaken by individuals.
The Competence Statement Consultation
The other item launched this month is the consultation looking at the proposed competence statement. This is a more in depth document than the position statement and contains a number of new proposals.
The starting point for the SRA has been to define the standards they expect of solicitors – both on qualification and subsequently during their practising careers. All education and training that solicitors acquire at the various times in their careers is based around these standards.
The SRA have taken the view that there are a number of core activities to which solicitors should give consideration and which all competent solicitors should possess. These include issues such as:
- ethical behaviour,
- technical skills (drafting, negotiating, researching),
- management of work (planning, prioritising, record keeping), and
- working and communicating with other people.
In the introduction to the consultation, Martin Coleman, the chair of the SRA Education and Training Committee said that:
“While the specific areas of legal knowledge necessary to ensure that a practising solicitor meets his or her obligations to the court and public will depend on the solicitor’s area of practice, there is a core of such knowledge that underpins all practice and which we would expect all newly-qualified solicitors to have on admission and practising solicitors to maintain an awareness of throughout their career insofar as it touches their practice. That knowledge encompasses business law, property, torts, criminal law and process, contract, equity, constitutional and EU law, English legal system and civil litigation. These core requirements have not changed very much over the years and we believe that they continue to provide the basic underpinning of legal practice. However, we invite views on whether they remain appropriate.
“Identifying the appropriate standards, through the proposed Competence Statement with its underpinning Statement of Legal Knowledge and Threshold Standard, is an essential first step in enabling us to assess standards more rigorously and with greater consistency. The next step will be to consider, and consult on, how the competences are to be assessed for qualification as a solicitor and in what level of detail we need to specify the process by which the competences are acquired.”
The proposed competence statement is divided into four sections:
- ethics, professionalism and judgement;
- technical legal practice;
- managing yourself and your work;
- working with other people.
The SRA have also looked at putting in place mechanisms to ensure that the appropriate standards have been met. This requires that the competence standards are all capable of being assessed objectively and consistently.
The SRA plan to incorporate the Competence Statement into the Handbook by means of an amendment to the notes to Principle 5 – thus making it clear that complying with the Competence Statement is one requirement of providing a proper standard of service in accordance with Principle 5 and recognising the importance that the SRA attach to the Competence Statement, and to solicitors taking appropriate steps to maintain their competence.
In addition to being a standard, the SRA envisage that solicitors will use it as a tool for assessing their role and the training and learning that they need to maintain their competency – filling gaps for example as they arise.
Each of the four sections within the competence statement is broken down into a number of sections each of which has a number of example competencies within them. Those sections are:
- Ethics, professionalism and judgement
A1. Act honestly and with integrity, in accordance with legal and regulatory requirements and the SRA Handbook and Code of Conduct
A2. Maintain the level of competence and legal knowledge needed to practise effectively, taking into account changes in their role and/or practice context and developments in the law
A3. Work within the limits of their competence and the supervision which they need
A4. Draw on a sufficient detailed knowledge and understanding of their field(s) of work and role in order to practise effectively
A5. Apply understanding, critical thinking and analysis to solve problems
- Technical legal practice
B1. Obtain relevant facts
B2. Undertake legal research
B3. Develop and advise on relevant options, strategies and solutions
B4. Draft documents which are legally effective and accurately reflect the client’s instructions
B5. Undertake effective spoken and written advocacy
B6. Negotiate solutions to client’s issues
B7. Plan, manage and progress legal cases and transactions
- Managing themselves and their own work
C1. Initiate, plan, prioritise and manage work activities and projects to ensure that they are completed efficiently, on time and to an appropriate standard, both in relation to their own work and work that they lead or supervise
C2. Keep, use and maintain accurate, complete and clear records
C3. Apply good business practice
- Working with other people
D1. Communicate clearly and effectively, orally and in writing
D2. Establish and maintain effective and professional relations with clients
D3. Establish and maintain effective and professional relations with other people
The consultation can be found on the SRA web site at http://www.sra.org.uk/sra/consultations/competence-statement.page and the closing date for responses is 12 January 2015.