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Continuing competence for in-house lawyers

Whilst the new regime which the Solicitors Regulation Authority in England has introduced, to replace the quest for 16 hours CPD, may cause some consternation on the part of in-house lawyers, it should rightfully be seen as an opportunity to embark on personal development which is more meaningful. One of the pernicious effects of the previous regime was the crazy quest for CPD hours as the practising year came to an end, with lawyers attending courses which were not remotely relevant to their activities and not consciously selected as horizon broadening or networking opportunities!

The new regime reinforces the need for individuals to take responsibility for their competence and professional development. It should encourage the adoption of development plans within legal teams which deliver benefits to individuals as well as the collective team. It provides much greater scope for varied sources of development – they no longer need to be SRA accredited. More effort than simply signing up for an accredited course will need to applied, but the outcomes should be improved.

The starting point for any in-house lawyer is to familiarise themselves with the SRA’s statement


and look at the  toolkit on how to approach the continuing competence requirement at http://sra.org.uk/solicitors/cpd/tool-kit/continuing-competence-toolkit.page

At the heart of continuing competence is your development plan. What this looks like will depend on your organisation’s approach to performance appraisal and learning and development. The SRA provides a non-prescriptive template. Clearly you should not embark on your development plan without first evaluating your needs for development to meet continuing competence as well as the performance expected by the organisation for which you work. While the way a competence is described by the SRA may not be identical to what your organisation expects, making sure that the more onerous standard is met will serve both ‘masters’.

Under the previous CPD regime an in-house team could only attribute SRA CPD to learning and development initiatives undertaken internally if it obtained SRA accreditation. Under the new regime, agenda items at team meetings which develop individuals as well as sessions run with business colleagues could qualify as ways in which development plans are implemented. This could have the side effect of making team meeting more productive!

These are just some of the options you might consider:

  • Training delivered by an external trainer
  • Training delivered by a legal colleague
  • Delivering training to legal colleagues and non-legal colleagues
  • Participation at a forum/ networking
  • Conversation with a coach / mentor
  • Observation / shadowing
  • Reading relevant material – periodicals / websites

What is important is the development is captured and recorded. It will not be enough simply to attend team meetings!  Again the SRA requirement that you maintain a development record should be integrated with your development plan and your organisation’s processes.

Some in-house lawyers are concerned about training budgets being vulnerable when it is no longer possible to point to a mandatory 16 hours. However it is not as if the need for training has been made optional, just more focus on what is needed and more choice on how to undertake it. We should be able to make a convincing case that by meeting the continuing competence requirement we will be in an even better position to deliver high performance to our organisations.