Continuing Competence - What Solicitors Need to Know

What is continuing competence?

Continuing competence replaces the mandatory CPD scheme for solicitors with a new system of continuing competence that is concerned, not just with CPD requirements, but with ensuring that the entities regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), and the solicitors employed by them, deliver competent legal services to the public.

Continuing competence represents a seismic shift in the training landscape for solicitors. The key difference is that, rather than simply attending a series of legal update courses each year so as to tick a box, solicitors will need to consider their learning needs and plan their learning activity. The previous prescriptive requirement of 16 hours worth of CPD certificates alone will no longer be enough to prove compliance.

Hand in hand with this new approach, the SRA has abolished the distinction between “accredited” and “unaccredited” training and no longer authorise individual training providers. The net result is that solicitors will now benefit from a broader choice of activities that can satisfy their learning requirements. Whilst the SRA admits that accreditation was never a kitemark of quality, individual solicitors will now be responsible for ensuring that the training a provider in the new deregulated environment is credible.

What prompted the move to focus on solicitors continuing competence?

The SRA was concerned that the previous 30 year old system of mandatory CPD training resulted in solicitors and firms adopting a “tick box” approach to training, without regard to whether the hours are useful or appropriate to their current practice. This is a point reinforced by Simon Seaton, CEO of legal risk management company Lexsure, who said of the old regime:

‘One third of the lawyers who attended our summer webinars on ‘managing conveyancing risk’ in 2014 did not even do conveyancing but were probably attracted by the fact that they were free. The SRA’s move towards competency based training will encourage solicitors to self-improve and up-skill, spending time on training which is relevant to them’

Continuing Competence and the Competence Statement - How does it apply?

In March 2015, the SRA Board rubber-stamped the publication of a competence statement for solicitors.

A Competence Statement contains three sections (a statement of solicitor competence, the threshold standard and a statement of legal knowledge), the competence statement defines the standards expected of solicitors at the point of qualification and the steps they need to take to maintain these standards. The competence statement is an integral part of the SRA’s new approach to continuing competence. For a solicitor, meeting the competences set out in the competence statement is central to the obligation to provide a proper standard of service pursuant to Principle 5 of the SRA Principles.

The new approach will be compulsory for all new and existing solicitors from November 2016.

Possible downside of continuing competence?

Public perception may deem the move to continuing competence be light touch and an erosion of professional standards especially when compared to other professions such as accountants, dentists and doctors. Those professions still require a minimum period of continuing education annually.

The SRA denies any lowering of standards as it will continue to hold entities and individual solicitors to account for ensuring the competence of the services they provide. The SRA said that they would undertake risk based audit and targeted or thematic supervision of firms.

Practical steps towards achieving compliance with continuing competence obligations

  1. Familiarise yourselves with the SRA’s new Competence Statement.
  2. Review current arrangements for training and development and decide what, if any, changes need to be made
  3. Adapt the existing procedures for retaining CPD records so that the new record captures all forms of training undertaken under the new continuing competence requirements.
  4. Be sure to check that the performance appraisal for your solicitors covers reviewing individual training requirements and performance against the standards set out in the Competence Statement.
  5. For your solicitors conducting conveyancing work ensure that the solicitors subscribe to the LENDERmonitor Continuing Competence Service