Educating the lawyers

The Lawyer discovers how barristers, in-house lawyers and City law firms can benefit from the right training.

Continuing professional development for the bar

The Bar Council is phasing in compulsory continuing professional development (CPD) for all practising barristers from 1 January 2001, as part of its commitment to improve and maintain standards.

The Code of Conduct says that a barrister must not accept any brief or instructions 'if he/she lacks sufficient experience or competence to handle the matter'.

CPD provides a means for barristers to comply with this obligation by maintaining and enhancing their skills in new and existing areas of practice.

The Bar Council has a responsibility to provide a framework to enable all barristers to meet acceptable standards and ensure that barristers can comply with these standards.

The first steps toward the introduction of a mandatory CPD policy were taken with the introduction of the New Practitioners' Programme in October 1997. The programme is compulsory for all barristers commencing independent or employed practice with the intention of exercising rights of audience. By the end of their first three years of practice, new practitioners have to undertake at least 42 hours of CPD in advocacy training, ethics, case preparation and procedure and substantive law or training relating to practice. The programme was reviewed in 1999 and practitioners expressed concern that it may be too prescriptive. The Education and Training Committee approved changes, coming into effect in October 2000, which retain the core compulsory advocacy training and ethics components, but introduce more flexibility in the rest of the programme.

Following the report of the Southwell Working Party on Continuing Professional Development in 1997, the Bar Council approved that all barristers should undertake CPD throughout their careers. The Established Practitioners' Programme requires all barristers to take at least 12 hours of CPD each year. Those who have completed the New Practitioners' Programme will start the scheme on 1 January 2001, and all barristers by 1 October 2004.

The scheme is intended to be as simple and flexible as possible and to give barristers a wide choice of the kinds of CPD in which they engage. Thus, one third of the programme can be fulfilled by delivering or attending activities provided by the inns, circuits, specialist bar associations, chambers or commercial providers accredited by the Bar Council. The remaining two thirds can be met through accredited activities or other means, such as writing for journals.

Barristers will be expected to keep a record of all activities undertaken and the Bar Council will undertake a random audit of a percentage each year. When practising certificates are introduced, it is anticipated that renewal will be linked to a declaration that the minimum CPD requirements have been met. A barrister who does not meet the requirements can be referred to the Professional Complaints and Conduct Committee. However, the Education and Training Committee made it clear that the priority was to promote the benefits of CPD to the practitioner and the profession as a whole. It anticipated that the need to impose any sanction will be rare and only in the last resort.

The arrangements for CPD were reviewed by the Collyear Committee in its interim report Blueprint for the Future. The committee proposed a system of self assessment and peer review which will enable barristers to reach informed judgements about their experience, past performance, learning needs and which CPD activities might be appropriate. The committee did not underestimate the task involved in introducing this to a profession mainly composed of self-employed professionals. But it concluded: 'Success will come when each individual barrister perceives them as a contribution to the enhancement of standards for the profession as a whole and the esteem with which it is regarded… When complete, the committee is convinced that the benefits to the profession as a whole will be substantial.'

Jane Creaton is senior education officer in the Bar Council's education and training department.

The benefit of in-house training

Business in the 21st century is more cost conscious than ever.

In-house lawyers are increasingly required to service rapidly expanding organisations from decreasing resource. You are at full stretch dealing with the headline issues and do not have the time or means to keep watch over all areas of the business. How do you manage the risks when you are unable to be in 15 places at once?

Employment Tribunal applications are up by

25 per cent in the last year due to increasing regulation. The cap on unfair dismissal damages has been raised to £50,000. Harassment, stress and discrimination claims are resulting in huge damages payouts. How do you minimise the risk of your company becoming part of these statistics?

It is prudent to review business practice and instigate procedures to address areas of greatest exposure. But procedures need to be patrolled to ensure they are followed. And most in-house lawyers do not have the time to enforce them.

The ideal situation would be for the client to patrol himself, to identify the problems before they develop and apply proactive solutions. To know when to ask for help.

How can this be achieved? The answer is with training.

Lawyers spend time and money attending training courses to be up-to-date with the law. But what about the in-house clients?

We realise the full consequences of the new Competition Act but what about the sales director who regularly discusses pricing over a round of golf?

Lawyers often email analysis of new legislation to their clients. How effective is this at making sure the facts hit home? A marketing manager may receive over 200 emails a day and is far too busy to read and absorb the legal breakdown sent from the lawyer.

Perfect employment policies and procedures are a waste of time if staff do not read them. Employment tribunals find time and time again that despite adequate policies, an employer's defence to a harassment claim will increasingly fail if they do not actively raise awareness of the issue.

This means that staff need to be trained.

Training can ensure that the right information gets to the right people.

But how do you maximise its effectiveness?

External courses are expensive in terms of cost and time. Content can often be boring for a non-lawyer and few executives can afford a full day out of the office. The lawyer may advise attendance but the business person will not turn up if they perceive the course to be a waste of time.

The costs are less justifiable for junior management. But this is arguably the area of business where the greatest risks lie. These are the people who would most benefit from advice on problem avoidance.

Training held in-house enables the lawyer to tailor courses specifically to business needs. Content can be precisely targeted to the audience.

Contracts managers may need to know about the latest developments in contract law. But more importantly, they may need to understand the effect of those changes on their company's standard terms of business. To run the course in-house will ensure that information is received and understood.

Courses can be adjusted to the time the business has available. For example, a slot in the marketing department's monthly meeting may be all that you can secure. An hour may seem short. But used to maximum effect, the advice on pricing and competitions that can be given in that time may well avoid a time consuming and costly investigation by trading standards in the future.

Training is one of the most effective methods available to the in-house lawyer to manage the risks of the business. Running that training in-house will ensure it is within budget and on target.

Megan Keech is a director of in-house legal training company StraightTalk UK.

Law schools for the City

There has been much recent publicity about a consortium of City law firms commissioning a specially-tailored LPC directed at their needs. The idea of competing law firms working together for training purposes may seem unusual, but in fact is not new. For some time, City law firms have been providing joint post-qualification training (CPD) for their lawyers. Nottingham Law School provides specialist training at that level to various consortia of City-based law firms and has regular enquiries for training in specialist areas from firms which wish to work with others. After all, the training needs of like firms are similar.

There are many benefits of providing training in this way. Firstly, course development costs can be shared and therefore reduced for each firm. When I am approached to produce a course in a specific area – a recent example being adjudication advocacy in construction disputes – I have to first ensure that research into the substantive and procedural aspects of that work is carried out. It is only once that is done that expert course designers can prepare and write an appropriate training programme. I will meet the clients regularly to ensure that we are tailoring the course precisely to their needs and that the outcomes of the course will match their expectations. All of this is obviously expensive, and if it can be shared, not only will the cost to each firm be less, but the quality of the course itself will be greater.

An important issue for a smaller firm or a small specialist department is that there is no need to release a whole department from fee-earning work at any one time. Lawyers can go on courses in small numbers from each of several firms.

The environment of a training course allows for healthy competition to develop among delegates. Teamwork is a strong feature on our courses and thus lawyers are often in or against teams with people from competing firms. This adds realism to simulated exercises. Also, the training environment is perfect for networking with other professionals – junior lawyers particularly find they build lasting working relationships with others. Working practices are improved by gaining an insight into others' thinking and way of working. Why not work together, unless training is in an area which is so cutting edge that you might have a competitive advantage over other firms?

International law firms have already embraced the notion of training for departments which span different countries. For example, a firm with offices in the UK, the US and different European countries may well organise a week's training in London for all the lawyers in the corporate departments because they recognise the benefits of bringing them together.

Training in a consortium with other law firms can bring these same benefits to firms which may not be able to follow this example themselves.

Innovation and an enthusiastic approach to training is essential to improve the quality of legal practice and the level of service to the client. Training with others is a way of achieving this goal.

Suzanne Fine is head of business development at Nottingham Law School and is in charge of the new London base.