CPD: Time to think outside the box
As I am not qualified to do anything much, I have never had to worry about continuing professional development (CPD). Nonetheless, I would like to think that I do take some time to ensure I am up to date in the latest developments in whatever it is that I do. Which is obviously good for my clients.
All the same, I am very glad I don’t have to worry about meeting any formalised quota of hours spent in conferences, seminars or reading professional journals (I do, of course, do all these things anyway). I assume, however, that those professionals charged with looking after the most important and vital issues on our behalf take their CPD very seriously.
Even in my most rabid bouts of lawyer bashing I still, oddly, take it for granted that any lawyer I go to see is not only properly qualified but knows about the latest legal developments and processes. In most cases they probably do, however this is probably largely because of their own principles and nothing to do with the CPD scheme that is supposed to guarantee it.
Over my seven plus years working in the legal sector I have lost count of the number of events where I’ve been speaking that credited the lawyers attending with CPD points. It’s fair to say though it would correspond almost exactly with the number of times I have thought lawyers' CPD must be completely pointless if listening to me counted towards it.
Today Legal Futures reported that the Legal Services Consumer Panel has called for a revalidation scheme for lawyers, saying that CPD was ‘widely discredited’. The Panel said revalidation would bring the profession ‘into line with what people think is already required of lawyers’.
I'd say that was a bit of an understatement - I imagine most consumers would be horrified to find out their lawyer’s continuing fitness to practice could be determined by the number of hours spent reading the Law Gazette or attending seminars of dubious value.
If you are not a lawyer, or working in the legal profession, it will probably amaze you to know that all the person handling your complex legal problem has had to do to prove their continuing competence is fill in a form setting out the 16 hours CPD they’ve done in the last year. Sometimes not even that, as the regulators have not always been diligent in monitoring this requirement.
There are no specifics about what solicitors should do or how to assess the relevance of the CPD they undertake. So not really professional development at all.
In contrast, over the last year or so the legal regulators have moved from a ‘tick-box’ approach to monitoring law firms to ‘outcomes-focused’ regulation (OFR). Essentially this means lawyers are required, probably for the first time, to respond to an individual client’s needs.
It’s possible many lawyers are struggling with this idea because much of what they do is process-driven or based on precedent. What is surprising is that it is taking the regulators so long to adopt a similar refocusing to the CPD regime.
Then again, perhaps not. In backing the existing CPD scheme, the chairman of the Bar Standards Board, which looks after CPD for barristers, seemed to contradict the principle of OFR by saying
'if you wait for the outcome it’s too late. If a client goes to a lawyer for advice and it turns out that particular lawyer hasn’t done his or her CPD, the client won’t know; they’ll only find out when it’s much too late. So it seems to me that somehow you’ve got to check…before the event happens’.
Given the laxity of CPD in ensuring any lawyer's ability, I'll be impressed if anyone can work out the point being made here.
It all reminds me of my favourite example explaining the difference between Investors in People (IiP) and other quality standards. Imagine a funeral company with a standard that all coffins should be six feet long. Providing every coffin they produced met this standard, the company would meet the requirements of a ‘tick-box’ regime. But they wouldn’t get IiP because making all coffins the same size is clearly not meeting the needs of their customers.
It’s an oversimplification, but you get the point. Legal regulation has, rightly, moved away from this way of doing things leaving the CPD regime, which is at least as important, back in the last century. I have no idea what constitutes good CPD for lawyers, but I would like to think the profession’s regulators do.
Hopefully you didn’t notice my earlier admission that lawyers do have principles, but even accepting this is the case it’s really not enough to leave their ongoing competence to their own, inevitably flawed judgement.