Few in-house solicitors have adopted a new continuing professional development scheme less than five months before the regime, introduced by the Solicitors Regulation Authority more than a year ago, becomes mandatory.
The low uptake emerged at the Law Society’s annual in-house division conference today, where a senior figure from British Telecom told the event that it has not yet moved to the new regime.
The ‘continuing competence’ regime was introduced by the SRA in April 2015. Under the new system, there is no obligation for solicitors to attend accredited courses or to complete a set number of CPD hours. Solicitors will be required to meet their regulatory obligation to provide a proper standard of service by regularly reflecting on their practice, and implementing a programme of individual learning and development.
Practitioners need to transition to the new scheme before 1 November.
When asked by SRA director of education and training Julie Brannan how many were aware that the CPD regime was changing, nearly all 200 solicitors in attendance indicated that they knew about the changes. However, only two said they had moved to the new scheme.
Among those who have yet to move are London-headquartered telecommunications company BT, which employs 150 UK-qualified solicitors and a further 300 across the globe.
Jo Large, head of knowledge management in the legal, governance and compliance team at BT, told the conference 'that like a lot of large organisations we tend to be quite conservative with a small "c" when it comes to new things'.
However, Large said that a ‘rolling back’ of the more formal approach will be helpful. Recalling BT’s acquisition of mobile phone operator EE, Large said: ‘A lot of solicitors in the past couple of years have been tied up very closely with the mechanics of the EE merger to the extent that some of them did not have a chance to do their 16 hours.’
The new regime would also end a ‘mad, last-minute rush to do any course at all’ to meet the 16-hour requirement, she added.
However, one of the challenges that BT ’has grappled with’ is where the responsibility lies for following the new process.
Large said: ‘Clearly it does fall to the individual, but we had a lot of discussions around establishing BT’s role in the new process.
‘Previously it was clear cut, in that we had a pretty administrative role where people did their 16 hours, we would check what they had done, whereas now there’s probably no role for someone in that administrative capacity to review records. So, as an employer, we really had quite strong discussions about what our role should be.’
Another challenge BT has identified is avoiding placing ‘undue emphasis’ on one country.
Large said: ‘We’re particularly sensitive to the fact that we’re London-headquartered, we’re primarily a UK company by history. But actually we do have people all over the world. We’re always wary about changing systems and processes just for one set of people where, actually, it could have a knock-on effect for others.’
Revealing details of how the company will approach the new system, Large said the BT will recommend that its solicitors use the SRA’s ‘development plan’ template. However, BT will not formally make the new regime part of the company’s performance management system.
‘This is mainly because of timing,’ she explained. ‘Our performance management cycle runs from April to March, so that’s not a good fit with the practising certificate renewals. There’s no option to carry on after our performance year has closed to access records in the system. On a formal basis we feel like the two should be separate.’
Large said the company was ‘quite nervous’ about potentially losing some of the oversight it has under the existing system.
But she added that BT will make it ’absolutely clear that line managers have a role in making sure their people are spending time filling in their development record and really thinking about identifying their learning goals and needs, and then doing something about it’.
BT will also keep bulk renewal for efficiency purposes and to avoid the risk of a solicitor forgetting to renew their practising certificate.
The regulator may request to see a solicitor’s CPD training record at any time. Solicitors are required to keep their training record on file for at least six years.
Large said: ‘If the SRA did come in and investigate, then really the risk is on the individual and they must make sure they have six years’ worth of records in store.’