THE ACT Law Society says it can see little benefit in making continuing professional development (CPD) mandatory for lawyers.
Despite moves by most jurisdictions to impose a minimum number of hours of further education as part of practising certificate requirements, ACT Law Society executive director Larry King said last week “it’s probably a complete and utter waste of time”.
“Our view is that a lawyer’s stock-in-trade is between her ears and it’s her obligation to keep it in good repair,” he said.
“If she doesn’t, she falls down the ladder of competitiveness and therefore is in a less advantageous position as far as earning capacity is concerned.”
He believes other jurisdictions are introducing mandatory CPD (MCPD) in the interests of uniformity and for laudable consumer protection reasons, but says the “cons significantly outweigh the pros”.
“I think that government sees it as a part of the consumer protection armoury,” King said. “I don’t know why, I’ve seen no empirical evidence that it actually works but I suspect that that’s the reason it’s being hoisted upon the profession by the regulators probably with the purest and noblest of motives but on the spurious grounds that it’s going to be good for consumers.”
Ultimately, however, he said the ACT may have to introduce the policy if all other states and territories do so.
“Let’s say we are caught in the maelstrom of a national move towards [mandatory continuing legal education (MCLE)],” he said. “I think [introducing MCLE] would almost be inevitable. The principle reason is that with this national model law that we’ve all been endeavouring to enact and apply, there’s a great deal of store placed on uniformity.”
Other law societies acknowledged that one of the primary rationales for introducing the policy was to ensure there is a favourable perception among consumers of the legal profession, even though many said most lawyers would already be meeting the mandatory requirements being introduced.
Many also said they didn’t want to be the odd jurisdiction out when most others had agreed to MCPD.
Lawyers working in country areas have been among those that are apprehensive about the new requirements, fearing they will have to travel long distances to attend seminars in regional centres or capital cities.
In Western Australia, the Legal Practice Board (LPB) has acknowledged the negative feeling by dropping the “mandatory” tag, even though its policy — due for introduction next year — will be compulsory.
The LPB’s education committee also plans to make amendments to its draft policy making it clear that country practitioners can view DVDs of educational material to make up their points, but this must be done as part of a group discussion.
Several states are also not accrediting courses to cut down on administrative costs.
King said it would only be acceptable to make CPD mandatory if it is not too hard to comply with, but then questioned whether such a low standard is worth the bother.
“The major benefit [of MPCD] would appear to be that it would force those who never attend CPD seminars and such like to come along. But my point is that really what good is that if they’re just going to sit there?
“They’re not going to absorb a bloody thing. Furthermore, unless you have the latest word in information technology, you’re not really going to know whether or not they simply paid their money and failed to turn up.”