Continuing professional development – time to get strategic
There are several reasons why this annual stampede occurs. The first is the tendency of many lawyers to put off their CPD requirements until it is impossible to ignore them. This is understandable, given the demands on their time, writes Simone Dixon.
The second and probably more significant reason is because there are some who have given little thought to planning what they want to achieve with their CPD, other than compliance.
CDP becomes a process of trawling available courses and selecting ones where the timing and delivery method is convenient, or where the cost is attractive. The result is many lawyers choose the cheapest, fastest route to discharge their obligations.
It does not have to be like this. CPD can be about more than mere compliance. It can also be about more than just keeping up to date, which is the original objective behind the introduction of the system.
What it should be about is sculpting a career. CPD - and education generally - are critical to lawyers achieving their career goals. Education underscores the specialisation or the generalisation of a lawyer’s skills, depending on how each lawyer sees their career path.
For those lawyers who find themselves scrambling to enrol in courses every year, it is time to sit down and ask themselves a few questions about why they want to be a lawyer, and which type of lawyer they want to be. They can then match their CPD choices to their career path, turning what most see as a nuisance into a positive contributor to their professional success.
To end the ‘Mad March’ CPD rush once and for all, legal professionals need to become strategic about their ongoing education and its contribution to their careers. There are several strategies they can adopt:
Map out a career professional development plan
Some lawyers will want to specialise in an area such as family law, or wills and estate planning. Others have a dream to start their own firm and require practice management skills. CPD can be tailored to both these objectives. With a goal in mind, it is easier to see where knowledge gaps or weaknesses exist, and the types of courses required to fill those gaps.
Get the mandatory requirements done early
All lawyers know they need to complete one hour in each of the mandatory subject areas. So it makes sense to do these early in the year, freeing up time to do the courses which actually support a lawyer’s career aspirations. Better planning is the best way to avoid courses on topics not relevant to a lawyer’s career goals.
Have a preference for active over passive learning
Actively learning is all about doing – getting the practical skills and experience required on the job. Passive learning is still important, but the old model of a teacher conveying information to a classroom has been largely superseded by the internet, where accessing information can now be done virtually instantaneously. Look for courses offering a practical approach with a strong emphasis on skills development.
Learn from the best
This goes without saying but if you have a topic to master, you need to find a master of that topic. The experience and depth of knowledge of the teacher should carry a fair amount of weight when choosing a course. Given the quantity of options available it is hard to make an assessment of their quality, so choosing a course based on the reputation of the educator and educational institution is a good policy.
Develop skills progressively
CPD choices should be progressively more complex and challenging. Given the range of courses available, it is possible to move from introductory subjects right through to masters’ level courses. For example, no one can become an expert in drafting legal documents in one hour, but if the skill is mastered through successive annual CPD cycles, drafting expertise can be achieved.
Achieve wellbeing through efficiency
The nature of legal work together with long hours under intense pressure can, unfortunately, lead to feeling overwhelmed. CPD choices that equip lawyers with efficiencies in their role can alleviate the stress and anxiety many experience. The better someone is at their job, the more enjoyable it will become, leading to a sense of achievement rather than apprehension.
All of these strategies require a change in attitude to CPD – to see it as an opportunity instead of an obligation. As there is no talk of further reforms to the CPD system, it is up to each lawyer, guided by their own sense of purpose, to move away from using CPD as a ‘tick a box’ mandatory requirement and make it a driver of their professional growth.
Simone Dixon is the assistant director of Professional Development at the College of Law.