Law reform/cpd. Self-education makes CPD practice perfect

The President of the Law Society, Martin Mears, has complained that prov-iders of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) enjoy a gravy train rather than provide good quality education. He is also said to favour the abolition of the CPD requirements altogether.

Getting back to fundamentals, what is CPD trying to achieve? It is not designed to impose an inflexible and costly burden on practitioners for no point at all. It obliges them to do what self-respecting practising professionals ought to do in any event – namely, educate themselves. Unfortunately, experience suggests they are poor at doing this without some encouragement (or even coercion).

And the requirement, after all, is modest: 16 hours amounts to about 1 per cent of an average practitioner's fee-earning time in any one year (assuming a seven-hour working day).

If, as is alleged, providers supply expensive courses which line their pockets, fee earners do not have to attend them to get their hours. Surely practitioners can recognise a costly time-waster when they see one? The market is flooded with cost-competitive training and a variety of methods of acquiring education. You can get your CPD by a number of routes: watching videos, writing articles and giving talks to clients all count.

This is not to say that the CPD system is perfect. It allows a lot of flexibility, but those who have to deal with the administration from a firm's point of view know that it is sometimes a complex and bureaucratic regime. More, and simpler, advice on how to get CPD needs to be made available to the profession.

We should help practitioners get their hours in the most cost-effective and relevant fashion be that reading a relevant journal, or spending time conducting research for a piece of know-how on a client matter. All of this is self-education and should be recognised.

We ought also to be encouraging maximum flexibility and not manipulating the CPD regime for political or “official” ends. Currently one gets extra hours for attending certain types of approved courses, and there are recommendations on the minimum number of hours to be spent on things like management training. I think these should be removed in favour of a completely level playing field which imposes no hidden agenda.

CPD is good for the profession (even if it does not know it) and its clients. We should do more to enable practitioners to fulfil the CPD requirements through the widest possible range of self-educating activities and with the minimum of regulatory fuss.