I do declare! Let’s make declaring “competence” to practise a source of pleasure & pride

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.

http://www.sra.org.uk/solicitors/cpd/tool-kit/resources/annual-declaration.page

 

 

Learning Culture & Compliance – Blog 1

I spoke to a group of Compliance Officers, Managing Partners and Finance Directors from the legal sector yesterday on the topic of “how a learning culture supports compliance”.  My talk was about the legal sector, but the issues raised are relevant to any business which needs to preserve a technical edge and also move with the times.  I have captured my thoughts in a series of short blogs.

Blog 1

Learning is not merely a matter of compliance, but it helps!

Making a business case for learning at work brings us up against some fundamental questions:  Why learn?  Is it merely to satisfy a regulatory requirement?  Is learning solely to support expertise or is it for something else?  Do wider business skills require development?

Establishing purpose

All of these questions lead back to one thing, business purpose.  Being clear about what the business is trying to achieve is a pre-requisite to developing strategic plans of any kind, including learning strategy.  Once you have clarity about purpose then it is possible to make an assessment of the knowledge & skills people will demonstrate when that purpose is realised.  Are they the same as the ones they have now?   It is unlikely that they will be purely based on technical expertise; expertise is “a given”.

Muddling through

In professional service firms it can be fairly easy to establish wide-ranging learning needs, because historically there has been a tendency to promote people to managerial and leadership roles on the basis of technical expertise or even time-served.  Often those promotions have been made without preparation or development support.  And that approach has, broadly speaking,  been adequate to-date, but the gaps and tensions it creates are becoming increasingly obvious.

Expecting people to muddle through their responsibilities as leaders and managers in a business is possible when there is plenty of work about and plenty of people to do the work.  However, when there is less work, or when that work needs to be done more efficiently by fewer people, the system, and the people within it, becomes strained.  Add to that dynamic a demand to deliver big intangibles such as “client-focussed service”, issues of “retention” or “succession planning” and the old approach is found wanting.

Using compliance to get “buy-in”

So we do not need to rely on compliance to make a compelling business case for investment in learning, but considering the barriers that exist, it gives the argument leverage.  The truth is that a lot of firms want the benefits of great knowledge and skills – in terms of delivering things like client service standards, efficiency and profitability and retaining staff – but when push comes to shove, the organisation really values and recognises fee-earning.  When making the case for investing time and money in learning, compliance provides a regulatory rationale for a change in approach.  It can be the foundation on which the steps towards effective learning strategy and business transformation can be made.

Reflection & cpd compliance

What is reflective practice?

Reflective practice is a way of capturing how much learning an individual feels they have achieved and working out what is left to do.

Why does reflective practice matter?

  1. The SRA have said they will be looking for evidence of reflective practice if they have cause to investigate an individual or a firm’s competence  AND
  2. It is an important part of the learning process AND
  3. It promotes individual responsibility for learning

So reflective practice matters to compliance with new cpd regs?

Yes, although it would be wrong to think that reflective practice alone will be enough to satisfy the new regs.

How do I get my colleagues on board with reflective practice?

If they are up for using this as an opportunity to make the most of cpd, you could engage them in building reflection into all that you do around performance and cpd.

If you need a big stick, you could remind them that the SRA rejected the idea of re-accreditation, so they might like to go along with this much less onerous approach.

If people are still in mourning for the cpd hour, you could state the obvious and point out that its is a goner (and by the way only 8% of firms responded to LETR consultation about cpd).  The argument is lost and this is the new reality.

Is reflective practice a Good Thing?

A lot of lawyers are used to didactic learning; learning by being told.  By its nature, many aspects of learning at work are experiential; about learning by doing.   Thinking about what you learn and why is half the battle towards actually using new learning in the course of a working day.  So, yes, reflective practice, done well, is a Good Thing.

Kolb’s learning cycle describes the learning process:

KolbA good reflective log will capture all the elements of this process and help the individual to consider how much they have actually taken on board and are able to use.  For some templates go to RESOURCES

If we do reflection well, is that enough for compliance?

Probably.  The SRA has provided examples which suggest that it would do, but the process has not been tested through inspection yet (and it only will be if other problems arise first).

If you do want to use this as an opportunity to review why and how you do cpd consider:

  • The business purpose of learning
  • How learning can be introduced, transferred to the work-place, re-enforced, developed, supported and recognised.
  • What evidence you will need to demonstrate the success of learning (and the fact it was worth the time and money).

Next steps

Introduce reflective practice for specific events first, well before the deadline for change under the new regs comes into force.

Use a structured approach.

Start as you mean to go on and make it the learner’s job to complete reflective or other learning logs from the outset.  Use peer reporting to encourage accountability (and discussion of learning?) and/or set-up routine meetings with line managers to discuss performance and learning.

All of this makes much more sense if you begin by looking at what your business needs and work out a learning strategy which delivers on those needs.

Stategy, cpd, outcomes.pptx

 

 

KEY MESSAGES ABOUT CPD FROM LETR FINAL REPORT: RE-ACCREDITATION REJECTED

The LETR final report has been published.  You can access it at http://ow.ly/moZtW  Para 6.95 on page 253 gives a good summary of some of the discussion on cpd.

Its a biggy!  371 pages.  Interestingly the document uses the abbreviation LSET, “Legal Services Education & Training”.  A flexible term for flexible times!

Here are some of the key messages about cpd and re-accreditation:

1.  The case for a re-accreditation as a pre-requisite for on-going practice in the legal professions has been rejected as “not proven” at the current time.  Although it makes the point that re-accreditation has led to higher quality care in the medical professions, it concedes that it would be too onerous for some, most obviously sole practitioners.  (See 4 below.)  An improved cpd scheme is preferred.

 

2.  Continuing professional development needs to be reformed.  The legal sector is behind other professions in terms of best practice.  There needs to be a move away from cpd as a purely a way of accruing knowledge; it needs to be about reflection and skills too in order to develop effective practice.  A “cyclical” approach of planning, implementation and reflection needs to be the norm (para 6.95).

 

3.  Core subjects “need” to be offered via cpd including equality & diversity training, ethics & governance and management skills.  Regulators need to set out a plan for “assuring competence & ethical conduct of legal practitioners in a rapidly changing legal market”.

 

4.  Accreditation of specialist areas of practice should be improved and should form part of a reformed approach to cpd.

 

5.  Cpd should be liberalised to recognise “intentional, meaningful learning”.  This should include learning in the work place, but this would need to be evidenced and should go alongside an accredited hours system.

 

6.  Entity-based regulation of cpd is favoured (activity-based regulation is not).  An outcomes focussed approach is advocated; firms should be in a position to demonstrate that learning is being used to achieve set goals, e.g. in equality and diversity.

 

7.  Regulators should provide online reporting services for cpd plans and learning logs.

 

To discuss the implications of the LETR for your business or any other professional development matter call Nicola on 07799 237479 or email Nicola@athenaprofessional.co.uk

 

Athena Professional; using professional development to help businesses realise the value of people