This week solicitors and their employers will be signing off on their Declaration of Competence* for the year. How will that feel, I wonder? Will it be an administrative task or pleasure to reflect on a year of continuous learning? If we take technical expertise as given, what would be on a solicitor’s wish list of “competence”? At the end of the year, looking back, what is it that solicitors would like to be able to say they enjoyed learning to do differently at work?
That word “enjoyed” is important. I’m interested in people engaging with learning and enjoying the possibilities that brings. There are so many brilliant lawyers capable of so much in terms of client service and commitment to the Rule of Law. What excites me is bringing capability and possibility together; that’s when learning rocks!
There are some smart individuals and some big firms doing really interesting things, particularly around the use of technology in delivering legal services. Lots of people want to be involved in this story and are unsure of where to start. Unfortunately, what can happen is a debilitating sense of uncertainty which makes the gap between capability and what feels possible widen, rather than shrink.
In that situation we end up with sameness; same people, same practice. If that is what everyone is comfortable with and feels is a long-term option, then that’s fine. The difficult question is; will clients think its fine? If they are navigating changing and uncertain times, if they are working on their own capability and creating commercial possibilities, might they expect their legal advisers not only to do the same, but to help them meet their challenges? Could lawyers be leading the way? I can’t see why not, if their business purpose is to serve client need. And that’s where the wish list of competencies can play powerful role.
Competencies are a regulatory requirement. More importantly they are a way of describing what “good” looks like in terms of a range of different capabilities. Crucially, you can only define “good” in relation to your purpose. Not everyone has to be competent at everything. There is discretion.
Perhaps it is more useful to think of it as a declaration that each individual is equipped to play their part and make their contribution to the future of the business. So what do you wish for?
*What is the “Declaration of Competence”?
The Declaration provides affirmation jointly by the solicitor and their employer to state that each solicitor has learned continuously throughout the year in order that they may provide a “proper standard of service”. The declaration is:
“I have reflected on my practice and addressed any identified learning and development needs.”
In turn, the SRA will issue them a Practising Certificate. Only if there is an allegation of incompetence will the regulator seek to turn over the stone marked “learning” and see what evidence of lies there.