Last week I was lucky enough to attend two very different but equally interesting conferences organised by Ark Group in Canary Wharf. I attended both days of ‘Solicitors Journal Live’, which featured keynotes from Lord Woolf, former Lord Chief Justice, and Jonathan Smithers, President of the Law Society, and then I attended the new ‘Regulatory compliance for small law firms’ conference. My primary reason for attending both conferences was to talk to delegates about CLT’s new Competence Gateway, an online platform we have developed to help solicitors and their firms as they transition to the new continuing competence regime. However, it was also a great opportunity to enjoy the many benefits conference attendance brings: in particular, education, information and networking.

Mark Solon, Chairman of Wilmington Legal, commented during his opening remarks at SJ Live that the changes to the continuing professional development (CPD) regime mean that ‘CPD conferences’ will no longer exist in quite the same way from 1 November 2016. A few delegates asked me how I felt this might impact conference attendance in the future, and this is an interesting question that relates closely to people’s motivation for attending a conference.

For some people, it’s to tick off CPD hours and, perhaps, enjoy an upgrade on their usual lunchtime sandwich. I suspect we may see a reduction in the number of these delegates attending in the future, once the hours-based regime is withdrawn at the end of October.

But the vast majority are there because they see the value in getting out of the office, talking to new people (or catching up with acquaintances and friends), learning new things and considering different perspectives. These benefits still stand under the new regime and arguably take on even greater importance. For example, discussion with other delegates can form part of the ‘reflection’ aspect of learning: helping you to digest and test what you’ve learned and consider how you will apply it to your own practice. It can also inform you about new developments that you may want to learn more about in the future, feeding into your reflection on your current and future learning needs.

Quite aside from all the valuable learning from well-crafted sessions and expert speakers, I find that the break from routine can be invigorating (even if it involves an early start!) and spark off ideas about new approaches to old issues – whether related to the conference theme or not. The time ‘away from the coalface’ seems to give my brain breathing space to keep quietly mulling things over – so I come back with a pad full of notes from the conference sessions, plus a variety of scrawled notes in the margins reminding me to put things on my to-do list.

Most solicitors will already think carefully about which external events they attend. After all, with an ever-increasing workload, it can be difficult to tear yourself away from your desk for a day, and that’s assuming you can make the case for a training budget allocation. Under the new regime, with no accredited providers or specified ‘amount’ of CPD to undertake, some firms may take the opportunity to reduce training budgets and shift the emphasis to learning activities that involve less financial investment.

As firms need to consider their approach to training under the new regime, so too do the training providers. We need to make it as easy as possible for potential delegates to understand the benefits of attending and make anticipated learning outcomes as clear as possible. Some providers are tagging their activities according to the four competencies outlined by the SRA, but of course learning aims and outcomes are highly individual, and what a newly-qualified solicitor gets from a course could be quite different to what a more experienced lawyer gains. CLT’s Competence Gateway (see prompts solicitors to reflect on their learning activities and allows them to compile an online development record of all the learning activities they have completed – whether it’s attending a conference or writing a blog post.

One of the great opportunities under the continuing competence regime is the flexibility, the range of activities that can count: if they help you to address an identified need, they can go on your training record. But I hope that firms will continue to value face-to-face learning and live engagement and interaction as part of the mix.