Solicitors are expected, by the SRA, to undertake regular learning and development to keep their skills and knowledge up to date. They must also make an annual declaration to the SRA that they have done so. But though these are clear regulatory requirements, nearly three quarters of legal professionals surveyed said they were too busy with work to complete essential training.
Access Legal polled lawyers from across 137 UK law firms ranging from sole practitioners up to the biggest firms. Almost three quarters of respondents said they did not have enough time to undertake training and learning, and nearly half (48 per cent) struggled to complete their training.
The report also revealed that a quarter of lawyers have no time during the week set apart for learning. Just 13 per cent have one hour or more a week set apart for training. All this suggests that many ‘on the ground’ are having to complete their training in their own time or are not doing it at all.
Duty of care
Lawyers are typically highly stressed. We know that. The research consistently bears this out. Firms must not, therefore, make assumptions that fee-earners are coping well and managing both their workloads and training requirements, and other work-related pressures placed on them – particularly in the pandemic environment when the majority are remote working and the nature of supervision has changed through necessity.
Law firms have a duty of care toward employees to ensure they are physical and mentally supported and protected. This includes the expectation that firms keep an eye on an individual’s workload, the mental stress they are under and how they are managing wider expectations – including regulatory expectations, such as ongoing training under the continuing competency requirements.
The Access Legal report author, Sarah Mian – who has worked in legal training for nearly 13 years - said time constraints are clearly proving a real issue for law firms. She commented: “It’s well documented that those working in the legal sector have extremely heavy workloads… What our study really highlights is just how much a lack of time is impacting on essential learning and training.” Firms, she emphasised, “must invest in their people and explore ways to free them up to learn”.
Firms who wish to retain their talent need to take a reality check, notwithstanding these prolonged and difficult times, and have important discussions with their teams. Are individual solicitors unreasonably being expected to balance a heavy workload while trying also to discharge their regulatory obligations? If so, the issues need to be recognised and changes implemented.
The alternative is likely to result in deteriorating mental health, mistakes and potential negligence and other legal claims.
The full report can be downloaded from Access Legal.
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