The return of solicitors collecting CPD points to meet a yearly quota may still be some way off, but the issue of assuring continuing competence is firmly back on the agenda.
The Legal Services Board confirmed last week it wants to take another look at ensuring professional competence. That could mean frontline regulators being told they need to do more to ensure solicitors and barristers are topping up their skills and knowledge.
It is less than four years since the Solicitors Regulation Authority scrapped its mandatory CPD hours policy. This was felt to be too prescriptive and was criticised by many as a box-ticking exercise. Since 2016, solicitors have had to make an annual commitment to ‘reflect on the quality of your practice and identify any learning and development needs’.
LSB chief executive Matthew Hill said the current set-up leaves few formal checks on the competence of lawyers once they have qualified. That, he said, is far removed from consumers’ assumption that legal professionals are required to demonstrate competence throughout their careers.
Hill said: ‘People need to know that the professionals they hire have the right and current skills and knowledge to provide services they can trust.’
The LSB points out that, unlike professionals in healthcare and education, lawyers do not undergo any formal assessment throughout their careers. Its research suggests that regulators tend to focus on assuring competence on entry to the profession, with less attention paid to post-qualification learning.
The LSB has launched a call for evidence on how regulators should maintain standards among the lawyers they oversee. It asks respondents to define competence and competence assurance, assess consumer expectations of competence, and consider quality standards in the legal sector compared with other sectors. The consultation closes on 15 May.
Only a handful of European countries do not impose specific rules on how CPD should be undertaken. Rules in other EU states require between eight and 20 hours’ compulsory training per year.