Continuing Competence for Solicitors: How coaching can help

What is continuing competence?

As from 1 November 2016, all solicitors will be subject to the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s new approach to continuing competence, replacing continuing professional development (CPD). Details can be found at the SRA’s website.

The statement of solicitor competence adopts the following definition:

“the ability to perform the roles and tasks required by one’s job to the expected standard” (Eraut & du Boulay, 2001).

What this means for the individual solicitor depends upon the nature of their job, the stage they are at in their career, and the task in front of them. It is not limited to acquiring or updating legal knowledge, but encompasses a range of skills and knowledge:

  • Ethics, professionalism and judgment
  • Technical legal practice
  • Working with other people
  • Managing themselves and their own work

The competences are linked to a threshold standard required at the point of qualification, with a range of indicative standards showing expectations at different career stages, both pre- and post-qualification.

The SRA provides a continuing competence toolkit to help solicitors meet the requirements of the new approach. This highlights the key tasks as:

  • Reflection
  • Planning
  • Addressing learning and development needs
  • Recording and evaluating learning and development activity

How can coaching help?

Coaching can support and enhance continuing competence for solicitors.

“This is not a soft option to learning and development: you will need to think seriously about whether the quality of your practice meets your obligation to provide a proper standard of service. To do this successfully requires you to think about your strengths, weaknesses, what you can do better, and what you need to do to keep your skills and knowledge up to date” (SRA website)

“It is important to devote an appropriate time for reflection” (SRA website)

Thinking seriously might sound easy, but even giving yourself the time and the discipline for this type of thinking can be difficult in the midst of a very busy working life. It is something that easily slips down the “to do” list, overtaken by other priorities.

An appointment for a coaching session is a lot less easy to cancel than an hour or two blocked out in the diary. But coaching brings much greater value than just a devoted time.

Coaching can help with every part of the continuing competence approach.

Reflection: Thinking about your own performance, strengths and weaknesses, and development needs, is more effective with a coach to guide and structure the conversation, offer challenge, and make you think just that little bit deeper.

Planning: Quality of planning is key. It needs to be focussed and relevant, and it will be most successful if the actions come from the individual, rather than being imposed upon them. This is a real strength of a coaching approach.

Addressing L&D needs: Coaching is identified by the SRA as a development activity in its own right. It can also help to identify a broader range of options, and address how learning can be maximised across teams and organisations.

Recording and evaluating: Coaching after an activity is the perfect opportunity to evaluate how the activity met the identified learning and development needs, cement the learning, and identify how the learning will be consolidated into practice. This will improve the quality of recording and evidence of development arising from the activity.

Development for non-qualified staff

The continuing competence toolkit can help aspiring lawyers and non-qualified staff to understand the requirements of knowledge and skills to progress towards qualifying as a solicitor.

Coaching is equally valuable in supporting and enhancing the ongoing development of those aiming for qualification, and indeed those in paralegal or non-legal roles.

Trish Hannen, ILM Level 7 qualified Leadership and Development Coach
Trish Hannen, ILM Level 7 qualified
Leadership and Development Coach

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