Regulators have been warned they should be wary of replicating other professions’ CPD arrangements to transplant into the legal sector.
The Law Society urged ‘minor changes’ to the system used for ensuring that solicitors continue to be knowledgeable and competent, amid calls for more regular inspections to prove they are up to the job.
There have been suggestions that methods could be borrowed or adapted from other professions’ approaches. In its response to a Legal Services Board consultation on the issue, the Legal Services Consumer Panel made the case for ‘more rigorous’ mechanisms to apply to lawyers, including periodic reaccreditation, peer review and a review of permission to practice.
The Society said the LSB should be cautious in exploring schemes that apply to other, very differently managed professions. Simon Davis, president, said: ‘The model of assuring ongoing competence should be specific to the profession it is assuring, and should come from knowledge of that profession, the business models and the types of work undertaken.
‘We also note that schemes such as the GMC’s revalidation have not necessarily been successful in improving practice, with many professionals finding them unnecessarily burdensome.’
Davis stressed that solicitors must not be saddled with more onerous processes and unnecessary costs in proving they are still fit to practise. The Society supports a system of checks and balances to give assurance to the professions and to consumers that quality is being maintained: one proposal is a yearly sampling of a small percentage of records to ensure efforts at continuing competence are being made.
The Legal Services Consumer Panel has said that clients are forced to take a ‘leap of faith’ and assume their lawyer has the same knowledge and skills as when they qualified.
Ideas put forward by panel chair Sarah Chambers include spot checks on lawyers, mystery shopping, and a requirement that legal professionals can show emotional competence and disability awareness. Re-accreditation could also be reliant on regulatory checks such as file review or periodic exams.
For the SRA, this could mean taking a new approach barely five years since the last overhaul in ensuring continuing competence. In 2015, the regulator scrapped the long-established – and often ineffectual – requirement for solicitors to carry out a minimum of 16 hours’ CPD a year. Instead, individuals must now make an annual declaration to show their progress during the year, with training records inspected only where a concern has been reported.
In its response to the LSB, the SRA pledged to undertake a strategic review of its approach, affirming its mission to protect the public but keeping matters proportionate. While the consumer watchdog wants more monitoring and inspections, the SRA stressed that unnecessarily high continuing competence requirements ‘risk having a negative impact on access to justice, diversity and competition’.