By Helen Comrie-Thomson
Out of adversity comes opportunity – a quote often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, and one that seems quite apt in our current climate.
Over the past couple of months, Continuing Professional Development (CPD) activities such as face-to-face seminars and conferences, and even online webinars, have been cancelled or postponed due to the impacts of COVID-19 worldwide. For some, this limited educational opportunities in their chosen learning areas. Despite these challenges, more than 90% of practitioners managed to complete their online CPD declaration on time. This is an impressive result, given the restrictions.
Yes, our country was locked down, but those who could work from home did so. Firms developed new ways of communicating with clients, lawyers utilised online platforms and appeared via AVL (audio visual link) in court. It has been challenging, but it has also provided numerous learning opportunities and the potential for many more.
The impact of COVID-19 on our workspaces, the current workplace climate and advancements in the law provide a lot of food for thought when it comes to professional development. While the purpose of CPD is to assist lawyers in developing their knowledge and skills as legal professionals, that doesn’t mean it’s just about strengthening your understanding and expertise in your area of law. You can also choose to focus on your development of ‘soft’ skills such as interpersonal, communication, problem solving or leadership skills, or your IT management, time management, or stress management skills. As we move back into our places of work, we might like to consider what our future workplaces look like and how CPD can play a role in helping us to reach our ideals.
Deciding on learning needs
Deciding on your learning needs is an important step in the CPD process and there are many ways to approach this. One might be to consider what is pertinent in relation to the profession at this time. What amendments or changes have been made to the law in your practice areas? What impact have the new restrictions the government has put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic had on your practice? Are there new skills that you discovered as a result of lockdown that you might like to develop further, such as using video technology? Do you need to upskill in your use of technology to be able to work from home, should the need arise again?
The Report of the New Zealand Law Society Working Group (December 2018), for example, opened discussion in the legal community about how training can transform culture and standards in the workplace, particularly training on harassment, bullying and discrimination issues. The subsequent December 2019 report written by Allanah Colley, Ana Lenard and Bridget McLay, Purea Nei: Changing the Culture of the Legal Profession also recognised the need for comprehensive training and education to facilitate change. Both reports highlight the need for lawyers to develop their ‘soft’ skills. That is knowledge and skill development that is outside the study of black letter law but would still allow a practitioner to develop their skills as a lawyer and enable them to contribute to the increased competency of the profession.
You might wish to consider what role you can play in ensuring your workplace has a positive and supportive culture. You might consider attending a diversity training workshop, participating in a webinar that explores bullying and harassment, or facilitating a study group about the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.
Or, you might wish to better understand the diverse needs of your clients. Planning action towards this need could include improving your cultural intelligence by learning a language or completing a course.
Another option for developing your learning needs might be for you to reflect on your previous year’s CPD Plan and Record and consider the further learning steps you thought you should take, or the gaps that remained following your learning activities.
You might also like to consider your professional path. Where you would like to be in a year, five years, or 10 years’ time, and how you get there. Thinking about the steps that are needed to achieve your goals might allow you to identify the skills and knowledge you need to develop to meet your career targets. This knowledge and skill development could then form part of your learning needs for your CPDPR – maybe you would like to develop your leadership skills or understanding of power dynamics in anticipation of moving into a more senior position.
Each of these examples are valuable in terms of learning generally, but as your CPD is unique to you it is important that you are able to apply your learning to your practice and can reflect on how your learning has enabled you to meet your needs.
As you are developing your learning needs for 2020/21 bear in mind that every choice you make in relation to your CPD should enable you to contribute to the increased competency of the profession. A practitioner with less than a year’s PQE and a practitioner with 30 years+ will have very different approaches to their planning and learning needs. It’s important to always remember your CPD is about developing you. Your choices should be based on what is important for you, how you can strengthen your skills and knowledge, and further your career path.
If you’re new to the practice of law, and writing a CPDPR, the 10-step guide to complete your own may be a useful place to start. You can find this document on the Law Society website under CPD.
Helen Comrie-Thomson is the New Zealand Law Society CPD Manager.