New Zealand Law Society - CPD: Do what you love and dive in

CPD: Do what you love and dive in

CPD: Do what you love and dive in

Good planning is the key to success, and this might differ depending on your personal style and circumstance. LawTalk profiles why planning matters and hears from the frontline how some select their CPD topics and training.

It is a requirement that every lawyer develops and maintains a written Continuing Professional Development (CPD) plan and record (CPDPR) in which they document and reflect on their CPD activities. As the end of the current CPD year approaches, many lawyers are turning their mind to the learning opportunities for the next CPD year. They’re considering their strengths and weaknesses, the gaps in their legal knowledge and skills, or where they might like to extend themselves, and the next steps in their career paths. It’s a process that can be full of potential, and the promise of progress.

No matter where you are in your legal journey – new to the law, at a mid-career cross-roads perhaps considering practising on own account, or an experienced practitioner who is an expert in their field, every lawyer faces the challenge of how to go about making their CPD plan.

LawTalk has connected with two practitioners who have shared their thoughts on CPD, and their approach to the three stages central to the CPD process – planning, acting, and reflecting.

A good planning process is key to success

As many would agree, a good planning process is key to success, but it may look different depending on your individual circumstances and working habits.

“My planning is definitely an organic process,” Hamilton family lawyer Thilini Karunaratne says. A member of the National New Lawyers Group, Thilini was a primary school teacher before pursuing a career in law. While Thilini takes time out at the start of the year or towards the end of the previous year to plan her CPD, it’s always evolving as the year marches on.

Thilini Karunaratne

“I generally bullet point my plan and record at the start of the year, and this is heavily edited as the year goes on. My CPD planning tends to evolve depending on the cases or files I take on, or if I find an interesting area of the law I’d like to learn about but am not necessarily practising in.

“On top of my work goals and areas for improvement, I’m also influenced by my performance review, feedback from supervisors and courses recommended by my peers.”

For Ben Hamlin, an experienced Wellington litigator in both the civil and criminal jurisdictions and a Standards Committee member at the Law Society, his approach to planning is two-fold.

“First, in January I reflect on what I want to learn this year, in the sense of building new capability. For example, last year I identified Te Ao Māori as an area where I wanted to learn more. I also try and work out which annual conferences I will attend from relevant industry bodies like the New Zealand Bar Association and Competition Law and Policy Institute of New Zealand.

“Second, every few weeks on an ad hoc basis I tend to check the weekly emails from the Law Society and the New Zealand Bar Association about upcoming training. I then fit them around my upcoming work.”

Choosing the most suitable professional development activities

There are a lot of different types of learning opportunities and topics that can be counted towards CPD, and sometimes broad parameters can make it even harder to decide what to do. Ben’s remedy for this is to assess each opportunity with a series of questions to provide direction and clarity.

  • Is the topic interesting?
  • Does it fill a knowledge gap?
  • Is there a commercial opportunity in learning about the topic?
  • What is the cost (including direct cost, travel and accommodation, and opportunity cost of the time involved)?
  • Is this a good networking opportunity?

“Sometimes I also attend to show support for an organisation, a cause, or a presenter,” Ben says.

Ben Hamlin

In the last year, in addition to attending conferences and seminars, he also presented at seminars and published a paper. As practitioners develop their craft it’s great to see them giving back to the profession by sharing their knowledge and expertise through writing and presenting. The Lawyers and Conveyancers Act (Lawyers: Ongoing Legal Education–Continuing Professional Development) Rules 2013 (CPD Rules) allow you to count both the time spent in preparation for a presentation as well as the time spent presenting. There’s no limit on the number of hours you can count, you just need to be fair and honest in your approach. If you publish a paper, or perhaps a chapter in a book, you can count the time spent in research, writing and editing your work. The editing process allows for interaction and feedback with your publisher or peer reviewer.

“I find all of the activities valuable for different reasons. Conferences have the best networking opportunities and can expose you to a wide range of topics, but they also have the greatest time commitment, and usually the greatest cost,” Ben adds. “Seminars are the best for a narrow-but-deep training, or for training that is more akin to listening to a lecture.”

Before stepping out to practise on his own account, Ben was Chief Legal Counsel Competition at the Commerce Commission.

“Since moving from an inhouse role to being self-employed, I have much greater opportunity to attend training that is not directly related to my work specialties, and more for my own development.

For those who would like to take your learning beyond our shores, it is worth noting that international development opportunities that align with your learning needs and meet the definition of activities in the CPD Rules can also be counted towards CPD. This includes overseas conferences, seminars and even university studies.

Your learning style matters

Thilini is currently working towards completing her PhD with a focus on international indigenous children’s rights and recognises that there are several factors that may affect her choice of professional development activities, and one of them is her learning style.

“Generally, I keep an eye out for activities that align with the area that I want to focus on, but I prefer interactive activities as they work well for my learning style.

“I also enjoy webinars as these are convenient and don’t require physical time away from work, but I found the in-person activities, such as workshops and seminars, the most fulfilling.

“Talking and meeting people in person is an effective way of learning for me as it builds connections and reduces distractions from email notifications – you’re forced to concentrate, as opposed to a webinar where your emails may still pop up and it is hard to resist the temptation of checking them!”

Reflecting well means we keep learning and moving forward

Reflecting on the activities you’ve participated in is arguably the most crucial part of the CPD process. It provides an opportunity for you to consider what you have learnt, whether the learning allowed you to meet your learning need or if there are still gaps that need to be filled, and if so, what future learning needs you might have. Thilini and Ben adopt different approaches to it.

“I write my reflections at the end of each activity using the standard template provided by the Law Society. It includes my learning outcomes, what I learned and what I would do differently,” Thilini says. “It’s particularly useful in developing my next year’s learning plan when I have identified a gap or a topic that I would like to look further into.”

Ben on the other hand writes his reflections, “often some time after,” and it’s usually based on, “what I now think about the stated learning objectives.” Although Ben doesn’t use his reflections in the development of his next year’s CPD planning, it gives him an opportunity to assess his learning progress in the past year and keep moving forward.

“If I studied a topic in 2023, then I am less likely to want to learn more about it in 2024, and more likely to want to learn about something new that’s on offer.”

Do what you love and don’t be afraid to dive in

If you are just starting out on your CPD journey, or maybe finding the process challenging, Thilini and Ben have offered some advice.

Ben strongly recommends an online CPD Planner. “The Law Society CLE CPD Planner is a Godsend. It makes it much easier to comply with your obligations. It moves with you if you change employers, or move to the bar.”

Thilini suggests, “If you’re struggling to find a CPD activity that interests you, keep an eye out on the different CLE newsletters for seminars and webinars.

“You can also reach out to senior practitioners or peers and get some recommendations from them about courses or how to plan your CPD. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to dive in, because while it may feel difficult, no knowledge is a waste.”

Now is a great time to check your plan and record (CPDPR) to ensure that you’ll meet your CPD requirements for the 2023/24 CPD year (1 April 2023 to 31 March 2024). This year, the final day to make your CPD declaration is Monday, 8 April 2024.

If you have any questions about CPD or the CPD process you can contact the Law Society’s CPD team at

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