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A Competence Statement for Solicitors - Our thoughts PART I

Nov 24 2014

BLOG PART I 

Unless you’ve been hiding your head in the sand for the past 6 months, you can’t have failed to notice the sweeping reform to Solicitors CPD Training that’s heading our way next year. A shift from ‘process’ training (i.e. 16 hours CPD) to ‘skills and knowledge’ training that ensures the ‘Continuing Competence’ of a solicitor.

Following the first phase of its consultation process on the changes, the SRA has now taken its first steps towards defining what a ‘Competent Solicitor’ should look like (published 20th October 2014 click here). And, unsurprisingly, they’d like to know what you think of it so far.

Now we know what a busy profession you are; so finding the time to wade through the 29 page document is not going to be top of your priority list. Therefore, we thought we’d do it for you and give you the report highlights (blog Part I), as well as our own take on things (blog part II).

Starting point

The SRA want to start by defining the standards expected of a solicitor on qualification. By doing so, the education and training requirements can then be geared towards supporting the acquisition and retention of these standards.

What makes a competent solicitor?

This is broken down into 4 key core activities:

  1. Ethical behaviour
  2. Technical skills – legal knowledge, drafting, negotiating and researching
  3. Management of work – planning, prioritising and record keeping
  4. Working/communicating with other people

How these qualities are demonstrated will vary according to practice area and experience. What is clear however, is that there will be a ‘threshold’ level of competence that those wishing to qualify must demonstrate. The SRA are currently considering by what mechanism they can be assured that new solicitors meet this threshold.

They are therefore, mooting the possibility of written exams, supervised skills assessment, structured clinical assessments or work based assessments. Whichever approach they decide to take, demonstrates that the SRA means business when it comes to ensuring that solicitors are competent.

And rightly so.

As the SRA point out in their report, the standard expected of a solicitor is not just a matter for the legal profession, but society as a whole. This is reflected by their proposal to incorporate the ‘Competence Statement’ into the Handbook by an amendment to the notes to Principle 5, therefore making it clear that complying with the Competence Statement is one requirement of providing a proper standard of service.

‘Competence Statement’

It will be the ‘Competence Statement’ that will inform:

  1. Education and training providers (like us) about what courses they need to develop. We think it will prompt training providers and law firms to develop bespoke training plans that reflect the needs of the business and individuals.
  2. Trainee solicitors what they need to demonstrate in order to qualify; and
  3. Practising solicitors what they need to do to maintain their competence.

At the same time the SRA will require, “solicitors to consider their training needs on an annual basis to take appropriate measures to maintain their competence.” In many ways, this is making it harder for solicitors (sorry!). Rather than dutifully collecting CPD hours (irrespective of relevance to practice area or personal training needs), ALL training activity must be appropriate to an individual’s requirement, planned and properly recorded.

Training managers, individuals and Managing Partners therefore need to give some thought as to how they are going to satisfy the SRA that they are ‘Competent Solicitors’.

Part II of our blog will give our response to the SRA’s latest consultation paper and give a few tips for planning training for tomorrow.