But the freedoms afforded to lawyers will not last for much longer once the Legal Services Board’s demands for tighter monitoring come to fruition.
Unrestricted either by a minimum requirement for CPD hours or to stick to accredited training only, lawyers enjoy the flexibility of choosing how they keep up-to-date in their legal knowledge and skills to comply with the solicitors’ Code of Conduct. There is, of course, the need to confirm they have done so by way of an annual declaration to the SRA – but it is apparent that the current regime is not good enough for the super regulator.
While the SRA expects solicitors to keep training records; and monitors solicitors’ annual declarations (with a view to engaging with solicitors or firms where concerns are identified), there is no minimum or maximum period for which solicitors must retain their records.
Unsurprisingly, there are concerns that the regulator is not keeping a close enough eye on solicitor competence and at the extent of firms’ involvement with individual lawyers’ training. Further reform is in the pipeline – perhaps as far as the introduction of a new CPD regime to address the LSB’s concerns.
The LSB has, quite extensively, consulted on the current approach to ongoing competency, leading it to conclude that “the current ongoing competence measures are out of step with consumers’ expectations of ongoing checks for legal professionals”.
As a result, the SRA – along with the other legal regulators – has been told to develop an ‘evidence-based’ approach for checking ongoing competence by January 2024. This includes (as per its statement of policy on ongoing competence) implementing “measures to routinely collect relevant information about the competence of their authorised persons”.
The regulators will also be required to regularly determine competency levels and identify areas where competence may need improving. They will also be expected to take remedial action where appropriate.
The SRA has yet to formally responded to the policy statement. However, following the LSB’s draft statement last Spring, the SRA issued a lengthy response saying it recognised “the force of the LSB's consumer research” and would develop its approach over the coming months”. It’s clear at this point that the SRA is preparing to throw more resources to enable it to meet the LSB’s expectations of better monitoring, data collection and engagement.
Individual solicitors and firms are reminded of the importance of engaging with the current expectations for continuing competence with integrity, maintaining their training records effectively.
Firms are also seeing increasing SRA audits of firms’ compliance with the Code of Conduct for Firms, and staff responsible for training and development would be wise to more closely monitor individual lawyers to minimise the risk of competency issues arising in future.
A tighter regime is unarguably within sight and solicitors can expect to be subject to greater monitoring of their training and development when changes are eventually introduced. Meanwhile, we await a further update from the SRA as to ‘next steps’ and what the profession can expect in the coming year.
To learn more about our SRA Mandatory Skills 4-Hour Package, click here.