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.




Managing Absence

Everybody is absent from time to time, is ill or has personal emergencies.  Expected absences are part of normal day to day and most organisations can cope with these, even if at times they are inconvenient.

But what do you do when the absence starts to become a problem?

There is always something that can be done, however, some key questions need to be answered before you do anything.

These questions include:

  • What is the reason for the absence?
  • How long have they been off?
  • How much longer are they likely to be off?
  • How frequent have the absences been?
  • What does your policy say about this type of absence?
  • What are the legal requirements?
  • What have you done in the past?

Key considerations

Have a conversation As their employer you need to understand the situation in so far   as it affects their ability to do their role.  It can sometimes be difficult to do this without a face to face meeting, but this should always be the goal.

It is important to show you are a caring employer, but also that you take these issues seriously   and have an expectation that your employees will keep you up to date with   their current situation and will not take advantage of your caring nature

Policies, contract   and handbook These provide a reference point for your policies on absence, dependants, sickness, holidays and other types of absence, giving a framework within which you can operate
Frequency and   duration Make sure you have all your facts and figures to hand.  Follow your organisations’s procedures around frequency and duration of absence, particularly relevant to sickness and dependants leave.
Ensure your existing   policies and procedures are followed Your contract and handbook are likely to include the procedure to be followed when absent or off sick, specifically whether or not they need to self certify, and at what point a fit note is required.

These together with   the frequency and duration information will provide a starting point for the conversation when absence becomes a problem.

Appropriate independent   advice Sickness can be difficult to tackle without a good working   knowledge of both the medical condition and the working environment.

Getting input from an occupational health professional can be very helpful to assess the medical implications for the environment in which the employee is working.

Pay This depends upon current legislation and your policy and   practice.  There are some absences for which you are required to pay, eg SSP, maternity, otherwise unless your   policy provides an entitlement to paid time off you need to apply  management discretion.

Some firms allow time off but unpaid, others are more flexible and will pay the employee but expect hours to be made up.

Return to work   interview These are proven to have a marked impact on absence of all   kinds.  A conversation with a line manager, of which a note is kept, on return to work provides evidence:

  • You have noticed the absence
  • You care whether your staff turn up for work
  • Upon which you can make decisions on action to take.

If you would like to discuss the points raised in this post, or would like more information contact us on 07977 932551 or email jane@athenaprofessional.co.uk