Ann Page, a Top 100 lawyer turned training expert and coach explains why having a clear understanding of where you are now, and where you want to be, is critical to successfully meet the requirements set out by the SRA Statement of Solicitor Competence
From November this year, all solicitors will need to consider their learning and development needs in relation to the SRA Statement of Solicitor Competence in order to comply with Principle 5 (proper standard of service).
The Statement of Solicitor Competence is generic, so you will need to take time to review the four competencies as they apply to you. This is because the Statement places an onus on each solicitor to establish and declare that there has been reflection on the quality of the service they provide. Further records need to be kept showing that their own learning and development needs have been addressed.
Depending on your specialism and where you are in your career, there are a large number of statements and behavioural characteristics that you must evidence.
It would be all too easy to become mired in onerous paperwork in a bid to demonstrate compliance, but having a clear understanding of where you are now and where you want to be, is critical to a successful outcome.
The good news about this change is that it removes the current requirement to undertake 16 hours of training annually and allows a number of ways to explore learning. Also, the Statement raises the importance of your own skill set outside your technical expertise, and so provides a more holistic approach to learning and development.
The four sections
Competencies are characteristic sets of behaviours, which enable people to shine in a particular role, and are chosen because they are the factors that can make a difference to the service provided.
The SRA has provided Competence Statements in four sections – A, B, C, and D – where solicitors are required to assess and develop ethics, professionalism and judgement; technical legal practice; managing themselves and their own work; and working with other people.
Within each of these areas are statements demonstrating competence and behavioural characteristics, for which all solicitors must provide evidence of compliance within the areas relevant to their particular specialism or level of expertise.
Section A, ethics, professionalism and judgement, covers honesty and integrity; competence and legal knowledge; working under supervision; knowledge and understanding; critical thinking and analysis. It has five sections and 22 behavioural characteristics.
Section B, technical legal practice, covers obtaining relevant facts; undertaking of legal research; developing and advising on relevant options; drafting documents; effective spoken and written advocacy; negotiation; planning, management and progress. It has seven sections and 32 behavioural characteristics.
Section B also has a Threshold Statement which contains six levels of competence:
1. Functioning knowledge
2. Standard of work
5. Perception of context
6. Innovation and originality
Solicitors need to assess themselves against the appropriate level. The threshold standard for those newly qualified is set at number 3 – Autonomy.
The SRA has also set out an underpinning Statement of Legal Knowledge that newly qualified solicitors will need to review against their current knowledge and understanding in 13 specific technical areas. These include money laundering, solicitors’ accounts, wills, trusts and estates, tax, property, torts, criminal and contract law, legal systems in England and Wales and civil litigation.
In each case, learning activities must be assessed to ensure knowledge is kept up to date.
Section C, managing themselves and their own work, covers communication, establishment and maintenance of professional relationships with clients and with other people. It has three sections and 26 behavioural characteristics.
Section D, working with other people covers initiation, planning and prioritising work activities, keeping, using and maintaining records and applying good business practice. It has three sections and 12 behavioural characteristics.
Clearly the generic content of the Competence means that it is open to interpretation. The demonstration of competence for a senior solicitor handling complex transactions without supervision would be very different from the competence demonstrated by a newly qualified solicitor, who does not.
What is important is that the relevant learning and development requirements have been identified, addressed and documented.
Steps to help you get ready for November
They will help you to determine what you and your firm need to do to comply with the new approach. It may be that your current learning and development systems are sufficiently robust but if not, then you can make an informed decision about the changes you will need to make.
2. Reflect and Document
Competence A2 requires you reflect on your capability and potential in your day-to-day legal practice and that this is documented. This also provides the opportunity to review the essential legal business skills solicitors now require to be successful. How you do so is up to you, so you can adopt a system and style that suits your legal practice.
3. Self Assessment
The SRA has set out five key things you need to consider when undertaking your self-assessment:
1. What you need to do
2. Why you need to do it
3. When you need to do it
4. How you will do it
5. Prioritising your learning and development needs
The self-assessment you carry out needs to be recorded and be available for review if necessary.
4. Development Plan
Having undertaken self-assessment you will need to complete a development plan. The SRA has provided a development plan that you can follow if you do not have anything suitable within your legal practice.
5. Timetable for Improvements
Your completed development plan must include specific timescales for addressing any issues within a three, six or twelve month period.
6. The Best Approach
There are now many ways to address learning needs, from formal to informal training (including mentoring, research, shared learning and file reviews), so you can choose the learning activities that best suits your requirements. Again, the SRA has a number of suggestions on its website.
7. Demonstrate Progress
As you work through your development plan, you will need to capture your progress. The SRA does not have a specific approach, but suggests you capture the following four elements:
1. What you did
2. How it was related to ensuring your competence
3. What you learnt
4. When the activity was completed
You may also include what could have been done better and how, or what you might do differently in the future.
8. Don’t Wait – Act Now!
As a solicitor it is your individual responsibility to follow this process, even if your organisation does not have an appropriate system in place. When completing your own application for your practising certificate, you are confirming by implication that you are compliant with Principle 5. For those signging bulk renewals, you are confirming that all the solicitors covered are compliant.
So I strongly recommend that even for this November’s application you have completed your self-assessment using the Statement and set up your learning and development plan for the next 12 months.
Ann Page is a Top 100 Lawyer (2003) who spent 28 years as a senior in-house lawyer delivering first-class legal services. She has over 17 years experience of competence based systems and was instrumental in putting together seven specific competencies for lawyers when she was Chair of the Law Society Commerce and Industry Group.
Ann has delivered leadership, management and interpersonal skills training to nearly 7000 lawyers over the last 13 years. She holds and HNLP certificate in coaching as well as being a certified NLP Master Practitioner and is a member of the Professional Speakers Association.
She set up Yorkshire Course for Lawyers in 2015 to bring top quality training and coaching to the doorsteps of busy local practitioners.
For more information on The Statement of Solicitor Competence, advice on how to introduce a competency based assessment process to your practice or information on training and coaching packages please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call Ann on 0113 268 7421.