The existing CPD regime may be ‘tick-box’; but what is likely to replace it is even more so.
You may have spotted an apparent contradiction in the SRA’s proposal to drop the mandatory 16 hours of CPD.
The regulator has described the existing system as largely ‘tick-box’, with no real focus on the quality or appropriateness of the professional development undertaken.
Perhaps. Yet what is proposed to replace it - an ‘annual declaration’ that firms and solicitors have assessed their CPD needs and taken appropriate measures - is vulnerable to precisely the same criticism.
As former Law Society president Paul Marsh has noted, there is a danger that some firms (at the smaller end of the spectrum, I suggest) will simply drop CPD altogether.
Indeed. If they will face no sanction, they can just ‘tick the box’. So why bother with a boilerplate statement at all? On your marks for a ‘race to the bottom’.
Harsh? The form and wording of the declaration is still under consideration. But the SRA will be aware that such a laissez-faire approach has its drawbacks, as other professions have acknowledged.
In 2011 for example, the Institution of Civil Engineers decided that the CPD of qualified members, which is not subject to a mandatory minimum, would be monitored for the first time ‘to develop confidence in the institution’s CPD system’. The ICE decided to audit 10% of submitted CPD returns each year to ensure its members were not just ‘ticking the box’.
The Royal Institute of British Architects, meanwhile, has never had any problem with prescription. Not only must chartered members undertake at least 35 hours of CPD, 20 of those must come from the 10 topics in RIBA’s CPD Core Curriculum.
One comparable professional body whose CPD policy does seem to align closely with the SRA’s vision is the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. The elite beancounters even count reading newspapers as a potentially fruitful source of CPD education – though presumably they don’t mean the sudoku page.
ICAEW members just need to make an online declaration each year confirming they have reviewed their training and development needs and acted accordingly.
However, it’s not quite as simple as that. A spokeswoman tells me about 500 (less than 1%) of returns are audited for compliance each year; if a member has not complied, they will be assigned a technical officer to work with them and get them back on track. So now we know who audits the auditors.
Will the SRA consider a similar policy? If not, how will it monitor the fact that solicitor firms are properly safeguarding continuing competence? Should it bother?
Paul Rogerson is Gazette editor-in-chief