Great Expectations: Will Continuing Competency Regime Refocus On Incompetency?

The Solicitors Regulation Authority appears to be on track with working towards tightening up the continuing competency regime, as ordered by the super-regulator.

Solicitors, however, need to know that the SRA is intending to start proactively looking for evidence of incompetency and cracking down on it.

The current continuing competence scheme – the successor to continuing professional development (CPD) – requires solicitors to make a mandatory ‘statement of competence’ (supported by the Statement of Knowledge and the Threshold Standard) annually.

Some readers may find it difficult to believe that it’s seven years since CPD was consigned to history; while those who have since qualified are only familiar with the new regime – but all solicitors need to be aware that potentially oppressive changes are due to come into force by January 2024.

What’s changing?

The Legal Services Board had told the SRA (and other legal regulators) to tighten their monitoring of lawyers’ professional development, in light of concerns – identified in a detailed consultation in 2022 - that the current regime is not sufficiently effective to protect consumers.

By next January, the SRA will be expected to have implemented measures enabling it to keep a closer check on solicitor competence; identify where improvement is needed; and (among other things) take suitable remedial action when a solicitor is not meeting the required competence standards.

In its progress report early this year, the SRA detailed its action plan in response to the LSB’s policy statement on ongoing competence (issued last summer). In a recent blog, LSB chair noted that legal regulators have made “positive initial steps” towards meeting the outcomes set out in its policy statement. Progress will continue to be “closely” monitored and the LSB suggested further action could be taken if regulators lose momentum.

What are the SRA plans?

In its action plan, the SRA has set out its intentions including:

1. Piloting “a proactive, risk-based approach to identifying and following up with firms” that may not be meeting its competence standards.

2. Publishing an annual report (the first is expected imminently), including highlighting areas of practice where there is a risk that expectations are not always being met; and the likely impact.

3. Developing and broadening ways to identify incompetent solicitors using information reported to the SRA of incompetence from, e.g. others within the legal profession, consumers and tribunals.

4. Taking enforcement action where necessary in line with the LSB's expectations.


Posted on 30.06.23