Prove yourself: how to show continuing competence

As the first major step to emerge from the LETR comes in, firms may have to review their recruitment process to help demonstrate the calibre of employees, says Susanna Heley

CPD requirements are changing. The SRA is abolishing the requirement to complete 16 hours of CPD training each year in favour of requiring firms to take responsibility for continuing competence.

The SRA training regulations 2014, which came into force on 1 July 2014, make significant changes to the training contract regime in advance of the change to CPD requirements.

Chronologically, the first major change is that prospective solicitors will not have to become student members of the Law Society to enrol on the legal practice course. This will save prospective solicitors £80 but it does mean that students with a blot on their record may not know if they are likely to pass the SRA’s suitability test until seeking admission as a solicitor.

Suitable characters

We are told that there will still be a requirement to disclose character and suitability issues and that prospective solicitors can apply to the SRA for a check before they commence the LPC.

While these changes may effectively reduce red tape for the individual prospective solicitor in dealing with the SRA, firms will still need to satisfy themselves that incoming trainees are eligible to join the profession at the end of their course.

As the SRA will no longer issue completion certificates for the academic stage of qualification, the burden of monitoring both educational requirements along with character and suitability issues will fall squarely on firms.

The SRA standard form of contract will no longer be mandatory and the requirement that training principals have held at least four consecutive practising certificates is to be abolished. Changes will also be made to the mandatory elements of the training contract with the reference to contentious and non-contentious business falling away.

Firms that take on trainees will need to consider the amended regulations carefully and ensure that their processes are compliant moving forward. The SRA is, effectively, shifting the burden of ‘vetting’ prospective solicitors wholly on to firms during the early stages of qualification.

Therefore, firms may need to review their recruitment processes to ensure relevant records demonstrate that those taken on are ultimately eligible for admission to the profession, both academically and in relation to character and suitability. They should also look at the content of training contracts to ensure continuing compliance.

Finally, the whole purpose of the Legal Education and Training Review was to increase access to the professions. Firms need to be aware of the other routes to qualification that may become available and what they entail.

Employers will also be put on the spot much more in relation to continuing training after admission.

New responsibilities

With the abolition of the minimum hours requirement due to come in later this year, the focus will be on whether firms have appropriate training plans in place to ensure continuing competence. The SRA will issue guidance about firms’ responsibilities; changes to procedures will be minimal for many.

Developing ‘competency frameworks’ and training plans could, for most, conveniently be subsumed into annual appraisal processes, but firms may need to provide some training and support for staff in the context of identifying necessary training and record-keeping.

If firms rely more on unstructured training such as reflective learning or peer discussions, a consensus will be needed about how to record such training. They may wish to continue to encourage fee earners to keep individual time records in relation to continuing professional development or include technical competency in the appraisal process.

The rationale allows firms to develop more flexible approaches to continuing competence that is tailored to the needs of individual staff. In practice, firms must be proactive in setting and monitoring training programmes and keep adequate records.

Two major risks are that the SRA may disagree retrospectively that a firm’s training programme has been adequate and that there may not be consistency between firms, which may increase the relative differences between solicitors of similar post-qualification experience who have trained at different firms.

Susanna Heley
RadcliffesLeBrasseur

This article was first published by Solicitors Journal and is reproduced by kind permission. You can read the original article by clicking here.


Disclaimer

This briefing is for guidance purposes only. RadcliffesLeBrasseur accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any action taken or not taken in relation to this note and recommends that appropriate legal advice be taken having regard to a client's own particular circumstances.