The SRA’s plans for CPD – why it’s business as usual at Empathy for Legal

So there’s yet more culture change on the way for legal firms.  As of November 2016, subject to the approval of the Legal Services Board, solicitors will no longer be required by the SRA to complete 16 hours’ training per year and training providers will no longer be required to be authorised by the SRA.

The regulators seem to have finally realised what enlightened firms have known for years: that each firm is different, that each community of clients is different and that the most effective CPD comes from a firm’s recognition of its duty to clients and an awareness of what makes it profitable in the long-term.

The SRA’s three reasons for the changes are: that the quality of training should be seen as more important than the quantity, that firms should be given more flexibility to focus on what they need most from training and that there is a need to reduce the burden of regulation. Music to the ears of many a COLP – or a free-for-all?

I can sense the bemusement of training managers across the land as they grapple with the impact this will have on their position and that of their firm.  Anticipating this, the SRA Board decided to delay the implementation of the proposals until November 2016 with a transition period beginning in February 2015 “to ensure that appropriate advice and guidance could be provided to get the correct culture of training and focus on competence across all firms.”

The new approach will require each individual and firm to confirm that they have considered their CPD needs by way of a declaration to be added into the individual and firm practising certificate.  What worries me about this is that firms looking to make a saving by self-diagnosing a drastically reduced CPD programme, will be placing themselves at much greater risk of failing to meet their duty to clients. Yes, it’s easy to see the attraction – the old one-size-fits-all CPD could be seen by many as a box-ticking exercise, but it’s no longer fit for purpose, if indeed it ever was.

Those providers that saw the old model as a way to make a quick buck will be worried at the changes.  Not so at Empathy for Legal. We value our accreditation from the SRA, but we don’t hide behind it and we don’t do ‘generic’. We’ve only ever provided bespoke solutions, tailored to individual and Firm  requirements, such as the work we do with firms like DLA Piper, who’s Senior Learning & Development Advisor, Katie Crisp, said this of the work we do with them:

“It is so refreshing to have a provider who really cares about the impact of their training – and how it will make a difference to the Firm”. 

If you’re planning to adopt the new approach early, you’ll get a clearer idea of what the SRA will expect by this when in spring 2015 they publish their Competence Statement and supporting guidance indicating what a competent solicitor should look like.

Julie Brannan, the SRA’s Director of Education and Training, has recognised that the changes will mean a culture shift for individuals and firms, explaining that this is the reason for the phased approach to implementation:  “We realise that the change will mean a significant culture shift for individuals and firms.” she says “We will address this by a gradual approach to implementation, as well as by publishing supporting guidance for solicitors, including the new Solicitors’ Competence Statement, in spring 2015, and by requiring an annual declaration to confirm that firms have considered their CPD needs.”

In summary, the new plans raise two issues: the first is that they recognise that the agenda for personal development should be driven be the quality of the client experience and bridging the skills gap required to deliver to that; the second is that there is a need for firms to adopt a culture of continuous improvement rather than simply doing the minimum required to achieve the certificate.

If the plans are to have the desired effect for individual firms, it will only happen if leaders are bought into the required culture change and drive it consistently – something we thrive on at Empathy for Legal. At the leadership level, we help firms develop their growth and talent development strategies, but we’ve never taken our eye off the ball – that it’s ultimately all about the client.  If these regulations are about ‘Outcomes Focus’, we’re not just ready for the changes, it’s what we do now!

The author of this blog post is Simon Bernstein, Managing Director of Empathy for Legal.  Email Tel: 0845 474 8877