By Helen Comrie-Thomson
As the Law Society’s Continuing Professional Development Manager, I carry out audits of compliance with the annual CPD requirements. While CPD audits serve to verify that practitioners are complying with the CPD Rules, they also provide an opportunity for lawyers to receive individualised feedback on their plan and record, and for the Law Society to see what the profession has been learning about over the last year.
In December 2018, the Law Society released its Working Group Report which discussed a proposal for mandatory training related to safe workplace culture, diversity and equality. We know that the legal profession has a culture of lifelong learning, so one of the focus areas in this year’s audit was to see whether practitioners were already placing an emphasis on culture change by making workplace culture, diversity and equality part of their 2018-19 CPDPR learning needs.
It turns out they are. The audits undertaken so far have shown that a third of practitioners are engaging with education linked to the prevention of bullying and harassment in the workplace and the areas covered in the Working Group Report. And it’s a diverse range of practitioners choosing to focus on this learning need: in house lawyers and employees, as well as partners, barristers and sole practitioners.
There was further evidence of lawyers choosing to focus on specific educational areas in response to recent changes in the profession, shown through the prevalence of AML/CFT CPD that was being undertaken. A third of the practitioners audited had chosen to make learning about AML/CFT requirements and compliance a continued focus.
Our aim with feedback for those audited this year was to provide individualised educational support and guidance. Often, this was around the writing of learning needs or how to add a little more depth to reflections.
As we’re auditing, something that we see a lot of are plans and records where a practitioner has chosen the activity first and then developed their learning need to fit the activity. If you really want to attend the activity, then it’s likely that you did have a need in the first place. However, attending for the sake of attending, while ticking off your required CPD hours, doesn’t necessarily help you to develop or gain the maximum benefit from the event – which is what CPD is all about. Our advice is to always start with your learning needs – then find the activity.
When you’re writing your learning needs, remember that your plan and record (CPDPR) is about your professional development. Think of it as an investment in yourself and your career. Learning needs don’t necessarily need to be about developing skills and knowledge in black letter law, and it was pleasing to see over half of the practitioners audited chose to include practice and professional skills as part of their CPD, for example, learning te reo Māori, how to prepare electronic bundles, public speaking skills, or writing skills.
Reflecting on CPD activities can be tricky as we often get tied up in whether or not the experience was a good one. Try to focus on the learning, rather than the experience. What did you learn? How might you use what you learnt in your day-to-day practice? And what might be your next learning steps? Thinking about your next steps might just help you to develop your learning needs for the subsequent year.
The legal profession is being asked to change, and to paraphrase Nelson Mandela, education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change. Use your CPD to your advantage. Make those 10 hours work for you. Invest in yourself.