At half past three one New Year’s Eve about five or six years ago I was sitting in Chambers. I’d finished everything for the year and just had one unpleasant task to perform. Barristers have to complete 12 hours worth of ‘CPD’ (Continuing Professional Development) annually by the 1st January. And I was only at 11½ hours … Fortunately, dear reader, it was ok. I went online and bought (for £30 from memory) a one hour lecture on confiscation. Clicked play and sat back and did some other work*. At the end of the hour I answered a few questions on the lecture (they weren’t difficult – the fact that I hadn’t listened wasn’t an obstacle) and, hey presto! All my CPD completed for the year.
The deadline for sending off the CPD sheet is today (31st January), although why it takes a barrister 31 days to fill out a one page form is not something I necessarily understand. There is an interesting article in February’s Counsel magazine (not a statement that you often hear me say) looking at the question of CPD. It’s subscription only, but you can get a summary on the website. The gist of it was that requiring a certain number of hours per year was not a sensible way of doing this. Having a fixed number of hours is “arbitrary and indiscriminate” and fails the regulatory objective as not being proportionate to the need.
That is certainly a fair point, and I’d just like to chip in with another. And that is that, as mentioned above, counting CPD hours is a fantastic way of regulating whether someone has done 12 hours CPD. It is useless at measuring anything else.
I like to think that I’m up to date with matters legal : I follow CrimeLine (as does any sensible criminal lawyer) as well as looking at Bailii, westlaw and lawtel every (week)day. It may not make me the most exciting person in the world, but it does keep me informed. That’s pretty hard to measure unless the Bar Standard’s Board is going to start doing pub quizzes, but assessing how many hours of CPD I have done gets nobody anywhere.
The sad truth is that there are many ways of just ‘buying’ CPD. For example, you can buy lectures online and often the only check is a multi-choice question at the end where, if you get the answers wrong, you can just go back and answer them until you get them right – no need to pay attention or have any knowledge of the law at all. It can be a complete paper exercise.
I learned my lesson – last year I got my 12 hours CPD done by March, mainly by giving lectures and seminars – great to keep on top of the law, as well as being completely free. The irony, however, of the annual CPD ‘harvest’ is that those people who are conscientious and listen carefully to the lectures they download (or even attend in person) are the ones that don’t need to have their CPD monitored – they would stay up to date anyway. For them it is just an expensive check box exercise.
The problem CPD faces is the same faced by the QASA scheme – an untested solution to resolve an unproven and unspecified problem. Worse, it potentially provides a false sense of protection to the public in implying that those who have complied with their CPD are on top of the law.
So, what’s the solution? As often in regulatory matters (as in life) – more research. The solution proposed in ‘Counsel’ is a move towards self-assessment of competency. I can see the attraction of this but it is, it’s fair to say, a bit nebulous. It may be that some form of observation or peer review would provide an answer. My gut instinct is that is the way forward, but we shall have to see. The report of the Legal Education and Training Review is overdue (again). It is claimed that the recommendations will be ‘evidence based’ but I’m not going to hold my breath.
I am not criticising any of the organisations that provide CPD for money – they are mostly excellent and, ultimately, are only filling a need in the market. They also generally provide excellent courses (CrimeLine’s, for example, are very good, and I’m not on a commission) and, as an attendee, you get out what you put in. But ultimately, a system that allows a person to buy their way to regulatory compliance is no system at all.
*Legal Disclaimer – for the benefit of any regulator reading, this is obviously poetic licence, I watched it avidly. Honest.