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Getting bang for your buck: Feedback from the 2016-17 CPD audits

06 October 2017 - By Ken Trass

CPD is an investment.

This investment should not be considered solely from a monetary perspective, but in what the training means for you or your organisation. Most importantly, your CPD investment should be appraised on what it will return in regards to better client outcomes, through improved knowledge, skills, and professional behaviours. Ultimately, a focus on these translates to an improved bottom line.

When CPD audits began three years ago, I reported back to the profession with the aim of embedding lawyer understanding of the CPD rules. In the second year, I reflected on ways that lawyers were approaching their learning reflections and I shared various lawyer perceptions – both good and bad – about the CPD programme.

This year, as I move through some 1,350 audits of lawyer CPDPRs (CPD plan and records), two things have become apparent.

Firstly, that the vast majority of the profession are now completing their CPDPRs correctly. These have developed significantly over the last three years with most now displaying clear and purposeful planning, appropriate reflections, and a good level of thinking about what needs to be learnt next.

The second thing that is apparent is that there is a small group of practitioners that treat CPD as a ‘tick the box’ compliance activity. It is not.

As a result, this small group of lawyers are presenting very minimal CPD plans that suggest they are not getting the most out of their investment in CPD.

This is not a commentary on CPD activities or the various providers out there – as it is up to lawyers to carefully plan what learning is appropriate to meet their identified learning needs.

Indeed, careful planning is required as CPD can involve some costs, albeit worthwhile. There may be financial costs to attend an external seminar, time costs for out-of-office events and connecting new learning with your approach to legal work, or in altering your business systems or process. However, the risks of getting this wrong are considerable; the most serious of which is doing nothing while other legal organisations improve as they educate their employees.

The reality is CPD must be done. Therefore, it makes sense to do it well and get “bang for your buck”. So, let us review some lawyer CPD plans keeping the notion of CPD as an investment in mind.

CPD is a continual process. There is no start or end date. If you are a lawyer, then you are required to continually maintain a learning plan – which shouldn’t be something made up on the fly, nor in response to an audit request.

CPD plans need to contain the following information that is specific to you and your needs:

  • Your identified learning needs: what do you need to do and why?
  • Your proposed actions to meet those needs: how best might you achieve your learning goals?
  • Details of activities (CPD hours, verifying documentation): a brief description of what you did.
  • Your own reflections on each activity: what did you get from the learning, why was that important, what is next?
  • The number of hours you needed to complete.

The examples used are unaltered plans, used with permission. The only alterations have been made in the interests of anonymity. Here is the first example plan from this year.

a handwritten CPD plan

Aside from questioning if this example CPDPR meets the expectations of the CPD Rules, some questions that may come to mind are:

  • What is the specific learning need? How was the learning achieved through this CPD activity? What was gained from the activity and, what happens now with what was learnt? How do you know?
  • If you are a manager or team leader, you are perhaps asking if the learning mentioned above (was there any?) was worth investing in.

These are important questions to ask.

The second excerpt below from another plan does identify a specific need, but doesn’t then follow through to reflect on what was learnt.

a brief CPD plan

  • What did this lawyer not find of value and why is that important to know?
  • How is the reflection, as is presented here, promoting the need for attending a ‘more targeted course next time’?
  • What would the lawyer get out of this if they looked at it in three weeks, three months, a year?

Now let us consider one final CPDPR excerpt.

an example of a clear CDP plan

This third excerpt presents clarity as to what has been done, how the lawyer thought about the learning, how this may be used moving forward and possibly gives an insight to the culture of this lawyer’s workplace.

  • Which of the three CPD excerpts present you with confidence that the time and money invested in the learning was well spent?
  • Which plan can be revisited to bring value to the individual, organisation, or indeed profession time and time again?
  • Which plan does yours more closely resemble?

These CPDPR selections are a fair representation of the journey the profession has undertaken with CPD over the last three years with the latter plan a reflection of the approach the majority of the profession is taking now.

Whatever your practice areas or position, make sure that your CPDPR is reflective of you, your organisation and that you get the most out of your investment.

Not sure what part of your CPDPR is most important?

Consider the following as a guide regarding your time investment in your CPDPR.

Having trouble finding appropriate CPD activities?

  • Form small study groups from your local role or within your practice.

Not sure about the specificity of your CPD plan?

  • Identify gaps in your skills set. Plan for these.
  • Share what you’re planning and why. Peer review can create a sharper focus for your learning.
  • Plan early and plan for your specific learning needs, not around an advertised CPD activity.
  • Connect your learning with your organisational or career goals.

Having trouble recalling your learning or writing meaningful reflections?

  • Reflect on your learning during, or immediately after, a learning activity.
  • Review and write in your CPDPR regularly. Set time in your monthly calendar for this – stay connected with the purpose and of your learning.
  • Don’t reflect about everything. Most lawyers are doing far more than the minimum of ten hours. Target the most important aspects of your learning – complete detailed and in-depth planning and reflections on these and be proportional in your investment in any secondary areas of learning. Do less, better.

Thinking of CPD from an organisational development standpoint?

  • Consider the organisational impact of the learning.
  • Place clients at the heart of your decision making around CPD investment. How will they directly benefit from this learning?
  • Leverage off internal expertise to promote and provoke thought around potential professional development pathways. Consider them as your “go to” presenters.
  • Plan to model and sustain new learning; but be patient – learning takes time to embed into practice.
  • Make it an expectation that learning is shared widely – leaving the knowledge with one person could see your investment walking out the door to another role.
  • Think strategically – what was your organisations experience last year? What could you have done better? What learning will add the most value to the client, and therefore your perception/reputation?

Last updated on the 6th October 2017