Over to you: assessing your training need in the age of ‘continuing competence’

In October 2017, solicitors will make their first declaration that they have ‘reflected on and addressed any identified learning and development needs’. Continuing professional development (CPD) is the latest aspect of solicitors’ lives to convert to an outcomes-focused approach, under the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA)’s continuing competence regime.

CLT-IMG_0158While the previous requirement to complete 16 hours of training had a certain virtue of simplicity and ease-of-proof, it was undoubtedly open to abuse. It is no urban myth that yawning personal injury lawyers could be found at the back of a conference room, catching up on the cricket while their property lawyer colleagues got stuck into the finer points of dealing with unregistered property.

In the new era of continuing competence, the power is in your hands. You decide what you want or need to learn, you decide how you will learn it most effectively, and you decide when you are ‘done’. Even better, the SRA’s competence statement gives the same emphasis to personal and management skills as it does to technical legal practice. Mark Prebble, mentor, coach and trainer of in-house lawyers, sees this as the ‘liberation’ of development: lawyers can dip into a topic for a basic orientation, then decide if further training would be helpful.

Good news so far for in-house lawyers. The flexibility of the new regime allows you to fit learning and development around a busy workload and use the method that suits you best. The scope of the competence statement acknowledges that developing strong negotiation skills, for example, is a legitimate learning goal for a lawyer.

The difficulties may be more logistical; with training budgets under pressure, some may have found it helpful to point to an explicit requirement for 16 hours of training. Now, it will be a case of making the argument based on the value it adds to the business.

There may also be practical difficulties in integrating or bolting on the SRA competence statement and approach to an organisation’s appraisal system. Appraisals may be structured around the operational requirements of the business and simply unsuitable for solicitors, without the space for either the specific competences or the reflective learning approach required by the SRA. In such cases, in-house lawyers face the prospect of diverging from their employer’s requirements to ensure they are meeting the requirements of their professional regulator.

Being pragmatic and taking a calculated risk are ultimately greater contributors to achieving the business’ objectives than a beautifully presented, multi-page advice paper.

To support lawyers under the continuing competence regime, tools have been developed to help reduce the administrative burden such as Central Law Training (CLT)’s free Competence Gateway. These tools can be an invaluable resource to easily log, reflect on and collate an up-to-date record of training, whatever form this training takes. Find out how the Competence Gateway can benefit you at www.competencegateway.com

Following its review of post-qualification training, the SRA is now in the process of overhauling the route to qualification. It is currently anticipated that the period of on-the-job learning, in place of the current training contract, could be fulfilled with shorter stints in more than one organisation. This could provide greater opportunities for pre-qualification exploration of in-house career paths.

Outcomes-focused regulation, in all its guises mentioned above, does have the benefit of acknowledging that a fast-increasing proportion of solicitors work in-house. The Law Society puts the current proportion of solicitors working in-house at 22% and anticipates this proportion having grown to 35% by 2020.

Popular technical training for in-house lawyers

90% of attendees at CLT’s contract law courses in 2016/17 were in-house lawyers


79% of attendees at CLT’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) conference in April 2017 were in-house lawyers.

The needs of solicitors working in-house, as outlined elsewhere in this magazine, are different to those working in law firms, so service providers such as CLT are developing products that support these different needs and ensure that relevant training is available to meet the requirements of the continuing competence regime.

The CLT website has a dedicated landing page which highlights training of particular interest to in-house lawyers, whether it is courses specifically designed for in-house lawyers or topics likely to be relevant to the workload of in-house counsel. Courses, conferences and webinars are all tagged with the relevant SRA competences, so you can identify the training that is most applicable to you.

While the law is the same whether you are practising it in-house or in private practice, the way in which legal knowledge is applied depends on whether your clients are external or internal. Chris Parr, a former in-house lawyer and new CLT trainer, highlights the need for commercial application of the law in-house: you cannot just say a deal cannot be done because of competition law; you need to present an alternative and be solution-oriented – while also having the credibility to say no when it is needed.

Development of personal skills therefore deserves a prominent role in training for in-house lawyers. Skills such as negotiation, resilience and emotional intelligence are important tools in the successful in-house lawyer’s armoury. ‘Commercial instinct’, as Parr puts it, is another. Understanding the business inside out, how it makes money and what makes it tick are at the heart of the legal team creating value for the business. Financial literacy and speaking the language of the business will be essential attributes.

Being pragmatic and taking a calculated risk are ultimately greater contributors to achieving the business’ objectives than a beautifully presented, multi-page advice paper.

Iain Larkins, also a former in-house lawyer and CLT trainer, gives the example of the difference between taking instructions and giving advice in-house versus in private practice. Instructions in-house can be as brief as a sticky note saying ‘Is this legal?’ on a stack of documents left on your desk, and advice needs to be snappy – possibly even delivered orally in the first instance. Being pragmatic and taking a calculated risk are ultimately greater contributors to achieving the business’ objectives than a beautifully presented, multi-page advice paper. Parr speaks of the need for lawyers working on either side of the table to be able to ‘translate “legal advice” into “company speak”’.

That is why CLT has developed management and skills courses specifically for solicitors working in-house in commercial enterprises. Designed and presented by trainers who have extensive in-house experience themselves, these courses get to the heart of the skills you need to be an effective partner to the business, whatever your level of experience. CLT also offers courses that will assist in-house lawyers confronted with legal issues that fall outside of their comfort zone or technical expertise.

There are a number of benefits to going external for training and development. One of the most significant is the opportunity to meet others in a similar role and gain insights into how other teams and enterprises operate. Identifying common challenges and different responses is invaluable peer-learning that can make you feel less alone in the role, and seeing things from an alternative perspective can have a rejuvenating impact. As Parr notes, there is huge value in the diversity of attendees and the deep knowledge of an experienced trainer: ‘a true technical expert can be a joy to listen to’. While there may be resistance to paying for external courses when free options are available, it is worth bearing in mind that free training does not generally come with no strings attached.

There are a number of benefits to going external for training and development.

For the ultimate in bespoke provision, organisations can select courses to run on their own premises, with their choice of trainer and the content tailored to their exact requirements. This can be cost-effective for even a small group, as travel costs are eliminated and less time is spent away from the coalface.

To find out more about how Central Law Training can help you keep up to date and develop your skills, visit www.clt.co.uk/in-house-counsel.

Featured courses

Management skills for in-house lawyers

Mark Prebble, who practised for 20 years as an in-house lawyer for companies in the UK and Europe, leads two courses designed to develop management skills at different levels. Prebble draws on his experience of coaching and mentoring in-house lawyers to understand and help people to overcome the challenges and anxieties of the role. The introductory course addresses the personal skills that will help you develop credibility with others in the organisation and adopt effective ways of working, not just deliver good advice.

The advanced course caters for those who aspire to or currently manage a team. It provides practical guidance on developing a strategy for legal services, allocating resources and assessing results, developing and coaching the members of the team, and self-development.

Drafting and negotiating international commercial agreements

Chris Parr spent more than 30 years as an in-house lawyer in Europe, Asia and the US for multinational businesses, including Conoco and Monsanto, and in his courses he shares real-life experience of legal issues in a variety of contexts. This course explains and demonstrates the reality of international commercial agreements – how to build them and how they work. Ideal for lawyers and experienced contract managers, it provides attendees with ideas, principles and working tools that can be used to deliver commercial agreements that represent the deal they address.

Essential toolkit for in-house counsel

Iain Larkins spent 13 years as an in-house lawyer for Mercedes-Benz, before launching his own law firm, Radius Law. He brings his wide experience and war stories to this highly practical two-day course which takes you through essential areas of law including company secretarial, intellectual property, data protection/GDPR, TUPE, competition law and commercial law. It also provides guidance on selecting and managing professional advisers, leveraging information technology and client care and selling the value of an in-house team.

Understanding and interpreting company accounts

This course provides guidance in the use of accounting concepts and techniques; the components of a set of financial statements; and how to understand and interpret such statements and related information in decision-making from both the lenders’ and investors’ perspectives.

Avoiding and managing commercial disputes: a guide for in-house counsel

Designed for in-house lawyers who do not have a contentious background, this course will assist you to minimise the risk of disputes by identifying risk factors and implementing measures to mitigate these risks. It will help you to deal with disputes as they arise, examining the issues that should be considered, advising on compliance with disclosure obligations and providing strategies to reduce the cost and time incurred.

Joint ventures: creating the framework for a successful relationship

Roles and responsibilities under a joint venture (JV) deal can be multiple and complex, with parties taking on roles which might include landlord/tenant, supplier/customer and licensor/licensee. This means that a JV is unlike any other agreement that commercial parties normally create. This course unravels some of the complexities of the relationship and investigates the different ways by which the inherent issues can be dealt with or, at least, provided for within the JV agreement.