Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is the requirement to maintain and develop skills and competencies necessary to carry out professional and specific duties competently throughout a solicitor or barrister’s working life. CPD is an essential part of every qualified professional’s career, ensuring that they keep up-to-date with the latest legislative developments, and improve capabilities in order to build a successful and satisfying career. This article provides a brief overview of CPD for solicitors and barristers, and explains the importance for individuals and employers alike. It also looks at how training for solicitors and approaches to CPD within the legal profession are changing.
What qualifies as good CPD for Solicitors and Barristers?
As a qualified and regulated solicitor or barrister, you will be subject to a approved CPD scheme determined by the appropriate legal professional body, which any solicitor or barrister must comply with to remain qualified as part of membership. Solicitor CPD training helps to reflect, review and document professional learning as well as develop and update legal knowledge and skills.
To be most effective, CPD training should:
- Have clear aims and outcomes relevant to the solicitor or barristers professional development
- Provide interaction and/or the opportunity for feedback
- Be able to be evidenced
- Not be part of a solicitor or barristers daily work
CPD does not need to be time-consuming but should be efficient and effective. Modern outcomes-focused CPD schemes are not concerned with how much time is spent on training courses or how many boxes are ticked on a form. Instead solicitor CPD training should be aimed at capturing useful experiences and measuring the practical benefits of what has been learnt.
CPD Professional Bodies in the legal industry
All solicitors and registered European lawyers (RELs) in legal practice or employment in England and Wales must comply with the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) CPD or continuing competence requirements. The SRA is the regulatory body for solicitors in the UK. It is responsible for regulating the professional conduct of more than 125,000 solicitors and other authorised individuals at more than 11,000 firms, as well as those working in-house at private and public sector organisations. While formally an arm of the Law Society, the SRA is a statutory creation and operationally independent of the Law Society.
The Bar Standards Board regulates barristers in the UK for the public interest. It is responsible for setting the standards of conduct for barristers and authorising barristers to practise, monitoring the service provided by barristers to assure quality and setting the education and training requirements for becoming a barrister as well as setting continuing training requirements. The Bar Standards Board functions were originally carried out by the Bar Council, the barristers’ representative body, until 2006 when the BSB became an independent regulator.
The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) is the professional association for Chartered Legal Executives, legal practitioner, paralegals and apprentices. It regulates its members in the public interest and provides legal education, training and the development of skills for its members, as well as those who wish to become more proficient and knowledgeable in law.
Traditional CPD Requirements vs Continuing Competence
Traditional CPD schemes generally require individuals to complete a minimum number of CPD hours’ activity or to reach a points target annually. Exactly how many CPD hours or points required can vary depending on the stage of your career that you are at. Unfortunately, this rather strict approach can often leave solicitors or barristers in a desperate last minute scramble to make up their hours or points towards the end of their CPD cycle, regardless of how relevant or useful the activity is. You can also generally only select your CPD activities from a specified list, broken down into acceptable, accredited or even verifiable activity-types.
In many cases, the solicitor or barrister CPD training is only available from organisations who themselves require prior accreditation for this purpose. Unsurprisingly, this can mean paying high costs for the training. The requirements relating to CPD differ depending on each professional body or regulator. Many of the main regulators of legal professionals in the UK now have CPD schemes that have largely moved from the traditional CPD hours / points based system to an outcome-focused CPD model. Many professional CPD schemes recognise that one size no longer fits all and that CPD can, and should, work around each individual.
Continuing Competence has replaced the more traditional Continuing Professional Development (CPD) model at the SRA on 1 November 2016. The new system does not require a set number of hours, or that you undertake specific accredited courses or solicitor CPD training. It is for you to decide which activities to undertake to best address your learning needs.
Continuing competence focuses on:
- identifying and reviewing your learning needs
- undertaking learning to meet your needs
- reflecting on your learning
What Are the CPD Requirements for Solicitors and Barristers?
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) uses continuing competence to make sure solicitors can do their jobs to the standard expected of them. Any activity that helps meet learning needs counts towards continuing competence, and there is no target for the number of hours spent learning. The SRA reported that eight of the 20 law firms involved in its in-depth review had retained an hours-based approach, with targets ranging from 15 hours per year to 104 hours.
CPD for Solicitors
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) itself does not require that you undertake a specified number of hours of CPD a year. Instead you and your firm must take steps to ensure your on-going competence. This will include reflecting on your practice to identify your learning and development needs and undertaking regular learning and development so your skills and knowledge remain up to date.
In order to comply you will need to undertake regular learning and development so your skills and knowledge remain up to date. This should form part of a process of reflecting on your learning needs, planning your CPD activities, carrying them out and recording what you have done in order to make an annual declaration to the SRA. The SRA does not specify how you should achieve this but does require that you keep a record of steps you are taking to ensure your ongoing competence which you may need to provide for the SRA on demand.
CPD for Barristers
The Bar Standards Board has conducted a thorough review of the CPD scheme for established barristers. A new CPD system was introduced on 1 January 2017, established practitioners must now create a CPD plan which includes objectives, CPD activities, and reflection of the process overall. There is no longer a requirement to undertake a minimum number of CPD hours every year. No barrister is required to undertake specific accredited CPD courses.
Under the previous CPD scheme, established barristers were required to undertake a minimum of 12 CPD hours every calendar year. At least four of these hours had to be accredited. Under the new scheme, neither established practitioners nor new practitioners are required to undertake accredited CPD activities. CPD providers no longer must obtain accreditation from the BSB to provide CPD courses. As your regulator, the Bar will check whether you are complying with your CPD requirements by checking a sample of barristers’ CPD records.
How to record your CPD effectively
The SRA said its in-depth review of 20 firms that they found a “mixed picture” in the way solicitors recorded their CPD training. The regulator specified that the most common challenge identified by solicitors was managing time pressures. Only half of the firms spoke to said they made a regular allowance of time for solicitors to maintain competence, preferring to arrange training on an ad hoc basis.
“Some records were comprehensive and set out how the learning and development need was identified, how it had been addressed and whether this process had identified any further needs. However, others were simply a record of training undertaken and did not show how learning and development was identified or addressed…”
One way of capturing this information is through creating a Professional Development Plan (PDP). A development plan contains information that enables you to demonstrate that you have taken appropriate steps to maintain your competence and provide a proper standard of service. For each of your identified learning and development needs 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.
Managing your CPD – Key tips to consider
Focus your CPD training on those activities that are likely to have the biggest impact. Remember to consider a range of learning activities.
It is really important to write what resources you have used to achieve your objective. If you attended a solicitors CPD training course you should record the date, number of hours spent on the course, and the training provider to ensure that your record is as complete as possible.
This stage of the CPD cycle should always be completed with relevant detail. It gives you a chance to reflect on your learning and may enable you to identify additional future development needs. If your learning was not successful it is important to identify and record why this happened. It may be as simple as looking back at your CPD objectives and considering if it was originally specific and achievable.
This article begins to outline the Continuing Professional Development of a Solicitor or Barrister based in the UK, the governing professional bodies for these legal professions, as well as the various CPD requirements across the industry. We hope this article was helpful, for more information please visit the CPD Industry Hubs for more CPD articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development.