The end of CPD Conscripts – how will you train for tomorrow?

By Beth Pipe

In training circles we often talk about there being three types of attendees on courses. Delegates (those who want to be there), Prisoners (those who have been sent) and Holidaymakers (those who have no real interest in the course but at least it’s a day out of the office).  When working with law firms there is a fourth kind – the CPD Conscripts who are only attending because they need the CPD points. CPD Conscripts are easy to spot as they sit at the back of the room and only break their steely glare to send and receive emails on their ever present Blackberry. Good job we only generally see them in October.

The SRA are looking to put an end to CPD Conscripts by substantially changing their approach to learning as part of their “Training for Tomorrow” programme. They’re doing all of the right things, they’ve launched a consultation document and they are actively looking for input before they make any changes, the problem I fear they may face is a lack of engagement, which is a shame as this is the perfect opportunity to do something positive about Learning and Development (L&D) within law firms.

In summary, they are laying out three options – and they’re looking for your feedback.

  • Option one (their preferred option) is to pretty much de-regulate the whole of CPD and intervene only when they have evidence that a firm is not providing legal services of an appropriate standard. They will provide guidance but it will be down to firms and individuals as to how they approach their continued development.
  • Option two – they’re still not going to count the CPD hours but they will be prescriptive about how CPD should be planned and evaluated.
  • Option three would retain the current CPD hours requirement but allow it to be tailored to those at different points in their career.

Though option one is by far the most progressive and “grown up” of the options, it will require a fundamental shift in the approach to L&D for many law firms. I deliver courses across a variety of public and private sector organisations and nowhere am I asked to squeeze a quart into a pint pot as often as I am in the legal sector. Courses which may take 1-2 days elsewhere need to be compacted into two hour sessions, often over a lunch break, resulting in a training room so full of food we may as well deliver the session in the canteen and be done with it.

Why is that? In short, billable hours targets mean lawyers are effectively penalised for attending training as any time in the classroom needs to be made up elsewhere and, because of that, the training that generally takes precedence is black letter or risk compliance.

The SRA guidance will need to emphasise the importance of management skills alongside legal skills – knowing how to develop a team, deal with underperformance and get the best out of everyone isn’t a “nice to have”, it’s an essential commercial skill in an increasingly competitive workplace. Despite the view many managers have of themselves, it is rarely a God given gift and it can’t be trained in two hours.

I’m also pleased to see that they no longer plan to accredit providers for the purposes of CPD so that any Tom, Dick or Harry (or Beth) will now be able to deliver your training. When I worked in-house commissioning training my hands were tied as to who I could use, resulting in innumerable “death by PowerPoint” sessions delivered by providers who themselves had “ticked the box” to achieve accreditation.

I sincerely hope the “Training for Tomorrow” programme signals the start of a shift towards a more progressive approach to L&D.  My main concern is that it will let those who want to avoid L&D “off the hook” and they’re the ones who usually need it most.  CPD Conscripts may be just ticking the box but it does mean they actually attend courses and that, at least, is a start.

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