Positive response ahead of new solicitor exam’s first sitting

More than a thousand people have signed up to take the first ever Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) assessment in November. The new single assessment sets consistent high standards for solicitors at the point of entry into the profession.

Bookings for the first SQE1 assessment closed last week. The majority of bookings – 74 per cent – are for candidates to take the assessment in the UK. The remaining candidates will be taking their SQE1 exam overseas, with bookings in 47 other countries.

The initial assessments will commence during the transition to the new SQE system. Anyone who has started on their training journey to become a solicitor – such as those who have begun a law degree, law conversion or training contract – can choose to carry on through the Legal Practice Course (LPC) route. A range of law firms have already committed to taking on SQE trainees, with many starting next year.

Read the full story here

Legal Services Board of England and Wales research shows public support for ongoing competence checks

Newly commissioned research by the Legal Service Board of England and Wales (LSB) as part of their wider work on ongoing competence, has demonstrated that the public places high importance on lawyers having up to date knowledge and skills, and the right attributes to provide high-quality services. The report also showed that there was a gap between public expectation and the current regulatory requirements around ongoing competence.

The survey was made up of 1,005 respondents in England and Wales and found that:

  • 55% of respondents assumed that lawyers face regular skills checks, in a similar manner to doctors, pilots or teachers
  • 95% thought that lawyers should have to demonstrate that they remain competent throughout their careers
  • 87% thought that regulators should do more to reduce the risk of lack of competence
  • 88% thought there should be more consistency in competence requirements across the profession, as there are for other regulated professions

Dr Helen Phillips, Chair of the Legal Services Board, said:

“This research shows that there is a gap between what the public expect when it comes to lawyers’ competence and what checks are currently in place. We will be developing our thinking on what more needs to be done in this area to build public confidence, and engaging widely on our emerging thoughts.”

Read more about the research here. 

Legal Services Board of England and Wales release new report on ongoing competence

The Legal Services Board of England and Wales (LSB) has released a new blog alongside a newly commissioned report on ongoing competence. The blog highlights the fact that ‘the LSB’s work on ongoing competence is central to its regulatory objective to protect and promote the interests of consumers. Consumers should be able to trust that legal professionals have the necessary and up to date skills, knowledge and attributes to provide good quality legal services.’

The report was commissioned from legal market consultancy Hook Tangaza, following the LSB’s call for evidence in 2020, which identified ongoing competence measures used in legal services and other professional sectors in England and Wales as a key area of interest, stakeholders told the LSB that it would be beneficial to understand the approaches of other jurisdictions.

The blog sets out how the LSB has used the report to “identify some models in jurisdictions taking a first-principles approach to assuring ongoing competence, thinking about what they are trying to achieve and why. As a result, these jurisdictions are increasingly attentive to the regulation of legal professionals beyond the point of qualification i.e. in-practice regulation.”

Adding that “In-practice regulation has historically been overlooked around the world, while ensuring ongoing competence has not been prioritised or linked to a wider understanding of what competence looks like in a practising legal professional. This is out of step with consumer expectations of competence and the robust checks they assume are in place throughout legal professionals’ careers.”

Read the full report here, read more about the LSB’s work on competence here, or read the blog here.

Nederlandse Orde van Advocaten launches a self-assessment tool for lawyer CPD

The Nederlandse Orde van Advocaten (NOvA) has launched a self-assessment tool designed to assist lawyers with CPD. The online platform is entirely voluntary, to use, and allows lawyers to assess their own progress on metrics of expertise, interaction and attitude. This allows them to reflect on their own professional development, and to identify areas of improvement.

Lawyers who complete the assessment will receive one CPD point, with the assessment estimated to take around an hour. The digital assessment fits into NOvA’s wider digital development, including the DillemAp an ap which raises various ethical questions to practitioners, creating a forum for discussion around ethics and practice.

Theda Boersema , member of the general council said: “How do you stand in your work, what are your motives, where are the pitfalls and how can you continue to improve yourself? Within an hour, the self-assessment will give you insightful insight into this. It is not a test, there is no right or wrong. It is mainly intended to increase your ethical awareness and sharpen your craftsmanship. ”

Read more about the tool here, or view the tool here.

Legal Services Board releases options on ongoing competence

The Legal Services Board (LSB) has published anew report on ongoing competence in the legal services sector. Confirming that it plans to develop this thinking further and consult on how competence can be assured over the course of a lawyer’s career. In the report the LSB points out that whilst legal regulators have comprehensive measures on entry into the profession, however there are few checks to ensure that competence is maintained.

The report was produced following the call for evidence that was carried out in 2020. It has been compiled using extensive discussions with stakeholders across and outside the legal services sector. It also considers approaches taken in other sectors such as financial services, aviation, healthcare, engineering and teaching, which generally have more systematic ongoing competence checks.

From its research, the LSB has concluded that most consumers mistakenly assume that lawyers are subject to regular formal checks. It has suggested that this leads to a misalignment between the current practice and what the public expects. This is why the decision has been made that ensuring legal professionals’ ongoing competence is vital to ensuring consumers’ trust and confidence in the sector. The LSB’s view is that this would also help consumers avoid harm from poor quality legal services.

In its role as the oversight regulator, the LSB has a statutory duty to assist in developing regulatory standards in the legal sector. In the report, the LSB explains that it will proceed to develop and consult on new expectations for regulators, noting that these proposals are likely to encompass high-level expectations that legal regulators should:

  • set out the standards of competence that legal professionals should meet at the point of entry and throughout their careers; and
  • have mechanisms in place to:
    • identify legal professionals who are failing to meet those standards;
    • identify areas of increased risk to consumers;
    • respond when legal professionals fall short of the standards of competence;
    • provide appropriate protection when there is an increased risk of harm to consumers.

Helen Phillips, Chair of the Legal Services Sector, said:

‘Public trust and confidence are integral to the credibility of the legal services sector, and consumers need to know that their lawyers have the necessary, up-to-date skills, knowledge and attributes to help them with their legal problems. Many people assume that legal professionals are subject to ongoing formal reviews of their competence, but there are, in fact, very few routine checks once a lawyer has qualified. Legal regulators typically do not have systems or processes in place to identify or respond to concerns about competence. This is unusual and out of step with other professions which routinely adopt tools to ensure ongoing competence to promote public trust and confidence, and protect consumers from harm. We need to reshape legal services to better meet the needs of society, which includes ensuring lawyers remain competent throughout their careers. This will help increase trust in legal services, raise standards and improve access to justice.’

Read the full report here, or the LSBs comments here.

Victoria Legal Services Board recommends significant changes to CPD

On the 25th November, the Victorian Legal Services Board and Commissioner (VLSB) released the findings of an independent review into Continuing Professional Development (CPD) in Victoria. The review was conducted by independent consultant Chris Humphreys and involved interviews with over 170 organisation and individuals about how the system in Victoria could be improved, enabling the legal profession to have meaningful, relevant and accessible learning opportunities that enrich the quality of legal services provided to the Victorian community.

The review concluded that while the CPD system is not broken, it needs improvement to reflect more contemporary approaches to adult learning and professional development. Saying “The reverence for knowledge espoused, and genuinely felt, by many in the profession focuses on the acquisition of knowledge about the content of the law. While this focus is valuable, it is insufficient to equip a lawyer with the skills needed to apply the law, to conduct a business, to advise clients or employers, to make difficult ethical choices. Comprehensive learning is not embraced as an integral part of a practice in which a lawyer reflects systematically on their strengths and weaknesses and how to become a more effective lawyer”

A key recommendation of the report was the development of a competency framework for lawyers, which gives greater weight to skills needed for contemporary legal practice and to shift the focus of activity from compliance to genuine learning and development.

The report, ‘Getting the Point? Review of Continuing Professional Development for Victorian Lawyers’ provides 28 recommendations for change, including:

  • Development of a competency framework that describes the core skills for practising lawyers, differentiated by levels of experience and expertise
  • Production of resources for lawyers that provide information, guidance and templates about CPD activities, including reflective practise and planning
  • Working with the Law Institute, Victorian Bar and CPD providers to identify ways in which more effective, customised activities can be designed and delivered
  • Raising the profile and strengthening the resources available for CPD in key areas such as technology and the law, sexual harassment, family violence, diversity and inclusion, and health and wellbeing
  • Improving the approach to CPD Ethics programs
  • Developing a more active approach to identifying risk and linking CPD programs to identified risks
  • Using the CPD audit process to gather better information about risk and lawyers’ use of CPD
  • Establishing a CPD Steering Committee with representatives from the Law Institute, Victorian Bar, lawyers not in private practice, and academic or other experts to implement the review’s recommendations, in consultation with other stakeholders
  • Strengthening and re-orienting the profession’s culture of learning through leadership and communication of the new approaches.

There are also some recommendations aimed at clarifying and broadening the CPD topics and options available for those lawyers working in the corporate, government and community sector.

Fiona McLeay, Legal Services Board CEO and Commissioner said: “We are grateful to Chris for the high levels of engagement generated and fostered with our stakeholders and the legal profession and for the considered and thoughtful manner in which the review was conducted. We thank everyone who contributed to the review and took the time to share their experiences and views, and to engage in the conversation. We will now review the recommendations and develop a regulatory response for discussion in early 2021” Ms McLeay said.

See the VLSB’s statement, or read the full report

Catherine Marienau on experiential learning and CLE

2Civility, the communications arm of the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, has released a new video in its series on reimagining the law. The video features an interview with Catherine Marienau, Professor Emerita at DePaul University, discussing experiential learning and its use in CLE, particularly with regard to online learning.

Watch the video.