From today (1 November 2016) the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s continuing competence regime is fully in force. The biggest change to continuing professional development in a generation is now complete!

The 16-hour tick-box approach is no more, and all solicitors must now make an annual declaration, when they renew their practising certificate, that they have reflected upon and addressed their learning and development (L&D) needs.

The SRA has made it clear that recording is a key requirement under the new regime: “It is important to record your activity and evaluation in order to demonstrate that you are addressing your learning and development needs.” This evidence could be requested by the SRA in the context of investigation or enforcement.

In a recent Solicitors Journal survey, 42% of respondents saw an increased administrative burden as one of the disadvantages of the new regime. Some respondents commented that any increase in time spent on L&D would be a result of “more time spent recording what has been done”.

Minimising the admin burden of the continuing competence regime

So how can solicitors minimise the burden while still fulfilling the SRA’s requirements?

The SRA’s competence toolkit is a good place to start. It includes two Word document templates for a development plan and development record, which show that the records really don’t have to be anything complicated. Indeed, for a sole practitioner, a simple Word document may be the most sensible option – free to use, easily stored and accessible, and easy to update.

Some firms will already have had a learning management system (LMS) in place, and under the new regime these are likely to be especially helpful in terms of monitoring to ensure solicitors are recording plans and outcomes. They can also be tailored to a firm’s own competence framework, appraisal format, etc. Of course, if they have the benefit of familiarity and ease of use, so much the better. However, such systems can be expensive and may be over-engineering for a smaller firm.

Central Law Training has developed the Competence Gateway, which is a simple web-based platform for recording learning and development activities, and free to use for CLT members. It’s specifically designed to aid compliance with the new regime, using the four SRA competences as a development framework. Any activity can be added to the training record, and users are prompted to reflect on how much they have learned in each competence and how the activity has helped them to develop their practice. The training record can be exported from the system as a helpful summary for discussion in an appraisal or review meeting. An administrator view allows team managers to keep an eye on users’ progress with a helpful summary of activities planned and completed. To find out more, watch the video guide below.

Five tips for managing L&D under continuing competence

Under the old regime, it was entirely possible (although not at all advisable) to cram all your CPD into the last week of the CPD year. Under the new regime of reflective practice, this really doesn’t work: the key is in the word ‘continuing’! Here are some simple ideas to make it as straightforward as possible.

  1. Reflect and record regularly. Set a calendar appointment once a month to remind you to spend some time reflecting on what you’ve learned, your learning needs and how you might address them.
  2. Keep your record handy. If you record your reflections on the way home from a course rather than several months later, you’ll (unsurprisingly) find the notes more useful for future reference!
  3. Refer back to the SRA’s four competences if your firm doesn’t have its own framework. This will help you to consider your wider development, beyond just the technical legal practice.
  4. Review your plan and record with your manager or supervisor. This can help to give some structure to the appraisal or review process and ensure that future plans are aligned and have the firm’s support.
  5. Keep records for six years. Law Society guidance suggests it is good practice to keep your L&D records for six years.