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From 1 November 2016, every solicitor with a practising certificate must comply with the continuing competence scheme. This includes retired solicitors, Registered European Lawyers (RELs) (but not Registered Foreign Lawyers - RFLs), irrespective of whether or not the solicitor practices English law, provided they have a practising certificate. Until then, solicitors (or the legal practice) can choose to comply with the continuing competence scheme or the soon to be abolished CPD scheme.
The new scheme refers to the Competence Statement for Solicitors (available on the SRA website), which was released in April 2015, and which is a generic statement applicable to all solicitors, both upon qualification and on an ongoing basis.
The new system is an output based system, whereby compliance is linked to the process and effect of learning rather than the input of a certain number of hours of learning activities. Anything that is done to address learning needs qualifies towards continuing competence: there is no need to attend courses by approved providers or to achieve a certain number of hours of learning. Activities such as reading journals/articles, current awareness updates or sessions and even discussions with colleagues may count as ways in which knowledge and skills are kept up to date.
Solicitors are required to reflect on their practice in order to identify any learning needs; plan how to address these; complete the activities; evaluate how the learning activity has met the learning need and how the new knowledge can be incorporated into their practice and finally, record.
As currently, applications for renewal of practising certificates will require an annual declaration to be made to the effect that the solicitor has reflected on its practice and addressed any identified learning and development needs. Where a learning need is identified as a significant risk to being able to deliver a proper standard of service, it should obviously be addressed as soon as possible and certainly prior to the application for renewal of practising certificates, to enable the annual declaration to be made. Currently the annual declaration relates to the CPD year prior to the one which is ending, but the new system will relate to the 2015/2016 year, which is coming to an end.
Records must also be kept (6 years is the good practice recommendation for these) as evidence of competence risk and these may be requested by the SRA if it engages with the firm or practice on a regulatory matter.
Practices should be careful not to perceive certain changes, such as non-structured activities being recognised learning, as an opportunity to make savings on their training budgets, as this could be perceived by the SRA as a competence risk. Despite the new scheme's focus on personal identification of training needs, practices should clearly also continue to make firm-wide provision for staff training at appropriate intervals on regulatory issues and on high risk areas such as anti-money laundering, to avoid potential sanction for regulatory breach, reputational damage and in some cases even criminal sanction if they fail to do so.
Client Relationship Manager
T: 0845 056 3949
M: 0743 727 4046
The Law Society has issued a practice note about the risks to solicitors posed by this new legislation, which came into force on 30 September.
The SRA has urged all practices to check HM Treasury’s consolidated list of asset freeze targets, which lists designated persons subject to financial sanction under EU or UK legislation.
The practising certificate renewal period opened on Monday 2 October.
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