Part 1 – The Statement of Competence
The old CPD requirements are going. Instead, as from November 2016 (and from this November if you prefer) you must certify that you have the ability to perform the tasks required by your job to the expected standard. In particular, you must demonstrate continuing competence in four broad areas:
- Ethics, professionalism and judgement
- Technical legal practice
- Working with other people, including clients
- Managing yourself and your own work
These each have detailed sub-statements explaining what they mean. A separate ‘threshold level’, discussed in Part 2 of this blog, describes the level of competence expected.
Ethics, professionalism and judgement
It’s no accident that the Statement starts with ethics, professionalism and judgement. These reflect the SRA Principles, in particular Principles 2 (act with integrity), and 6 (behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in you and in the provision of legal services). After all, integrity is fundamental to practice as a Solicitor. Principle 5 (provide a proper level of service to clients) features several times. An incompetent or reckless Solicitor cannot deliver a proper level of service. The sub-statements emphasise the pervasive theme of personal responsibility.
For example, you must consider how the rules affect individual Solicitors with appropriate evaluation, planning, and implementation; you must be able to formulate a legal strategy that is responsive to client need; you must recognise mistakes and a need for additional expertise; and you must be able to assess information, reaching reasoned evidence-based decisions. Further, Solicitors must be able to spot issues that are outside their expertise, taking appropriate action. All of these require considerable skill to get right.
Technical legal practice
The requirements for technical legal practice are supply-led. In other words, you must consider what the client wants, not what you can provide. You must inform your advice by proper legal analysis, identifying the consequences of different options in the light of the client’s priorities and their constraints.
Planning, identifying and resourcing need, and deploying effective strategies to implement the agreed solution are essential skills. Sound drafting skills – not just slavishly following precedent – are mandatory. Client matters will require careful case planning to ensure that objectives and limitations are confirmed, focusing the need to agree objectives at the outset – for the dangers of not doing so see Tom Hoskins –v- EMW Law  EWHC 479. The sub-statements also stress negotiating skills and the ability to broker a compromise.
Working with other people
The requirements for working with other people may come as a surprise. The Statement requires communication to be targeted, clear, and above all, effective. The word ‘effective’ appears in all three sub-sections of Part C. You must consider how best to engage with clients, colleagues, and other professionals to achieve the agreed client outcomes.
Again, this needs clear case planning to ensure that everyone involved – clients, colleagues, other professionals – understand the Solicitor’s role. And that role is clear: the Statement demands that you are in charge, and you must actively manage other players. You are no longer simply a lawyer: you are a case manager. That is the purpose of the communication, to be clear about expectations, options, and outcomes. Doing so should reduce complaints.
Managing yourself and your own work
The strong management theme applies also to the Solicitor’s own work. Part D clarifies the Solicitor’s role as to manage cases effectively, deploying appropriate time, resourcing and budgetary techniques including contingency management. This must be placed in the commercial, organisational and financial context in which the Solicitor works, applying the Accounts Rules, and managing resources effectively.
This is a huge change from the old CPD. You must reflect on learning need, plan and implement appropriately, and be able to take responsibility in driving proactively managed cases that identify, contextualise, evaluate and mitigate risk as a key feature of agreed client outcomes.
For firms with Lexcel accreditation, this will simply be a natural progression: firms with less well-developed management systems might find it a considerable challenge. The themes are integrity, personal responsibility, effectiveness, and active management. On an individual basis, solicitors must be ready to explain how they have signed their Statement. For a law practice, this is more work for COLP in ensuring that Statements are valid. I discuss how a COLP can deal with this task in part two of this blog.
At Enderley, we believe that change is opportunity. The practice rules are there to benefit Solicitors as much as to protect clients. Well-managed firms, particularly those working to the Lexcel standard, are already exploiting and driving the changes to produce lawyers better equipped to understand risk, and to manage it effectively, delivering enhanced client outcomes. Call us today for a discussion on how we can help you to ensure Solicitor competence and implement change in your law firm.
Enderley Consulting Limited
Follow up with part 2 here.