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SRA consults on draft ‘Competence Statement’ as educational shake-up continues

The Solicitors Regulation Authority has launched a consultation on a draft version of the new ‘Competence Statement’ for solicitors.

The statement has two core functions. These are to:

  • set out the standard of competence that would be expected from anyone applying to the SRA for the award of the title of solicitor; and
  • define the continuing competences the regulator requires from all qualified solicitors.

The consultation, which can be viewed here, runs until 12 January 2015.

The Competence Statement is accompanied by a ‘Threshold Standard’ and underpinning ‘Statement of Legal Knowledge’.

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The changes are part of the SRA’s Training for Tomorrow programme of educational reform, which has included the regulator deciding to end the requirement for qualified solicitors to conduct a minimum 16 hours of CPD a year.

Writing in the foreword, Martin Coleman, chair of the SRA education and training committee, said: “By making substantive standards, rather than process, the focus of our education and training regime we aim to ensure that solicitors are able to fulfil the important service that they provide to their clients and in support of the rule of law.

“In short, a move away from the current process driven system to one based around standards places quality rather than procedure at the heart of our education and training system.”

He added: “In order to identify what competences this [statement] should include, we have undertaken an extensive exercise involving solicitors from a range of practice type, academics, vocational course providers and consumers. Our initial conclusions are set out in this consultation document.

“In brief, we believe that there are a number of core activities relating to matters such as ethical behaviour, technical skills (drafting, negotiating, researching), management of work (planning, prioritising, record keeping) and working and communicating with other people that all solicitors should be able to undertake competently.”

Coleman said that how these qualities were demonstrated would vary according to practice area and experience but all competent solicitors should possess them.

“We recognise that competence continues to develop after qualification and we have defined a ‘threshold’ level of competence that those wishing to qualify as solicitors must demonstrate,” he added.

The SRA committee chair said that identifying the appropriate standards, through the proposed Competence Statement with its underpinning Statement of Legal Knowledge and Threshold Standard, was an essential first step in enabling the regulator to assess standards more rigorously and with greater consistency.

Coleman claimed that the SRA had already demonstrated its focus on the substance of a solicitor's skills and knowledge, rather than process, in its new approach to CPD “where we have decided to require that solicitors undertake appropriate professional development to ensure that they remain competent rather than continuing to formulaically mandate the number of hours of CPD that must be undertaken”.

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