The VLSB+C has today released the findings of our independent review into Continuing Professional Development (CPD) in Victoria. The review heard from over 170 organisations and individuals about how the system in Victoria could be improved to enable the legal profession to have meaningful, relevant and accessible learning opportunities that enrich the quality of legal services provided to the Victorian community.
The review, conducted by independent consultant Chris Humphreys, found that while the CPD system is not broken, it needs improvement to reflect more contemporary approaches to adult learning and professional development.
“The reverence for knowledge espoused, and genuinely felt, by many in the profession focuses on the acquisition of knowledge about the content of the law. While this focus is valuable, it is insufficient to equip a lawyer with the skills needed to apply the law, to conduct a business, to advise clients or employers, to make difficult ethical choices. Comprehensive learning is not embraced as an integral part of a practice in which a lawyer reflects systematically on their strengths and weaknesses and how to become a more effective lawyer” Mr Humphreys said.
In a key finding, the report recommends a competency framework for lawyers be developed to give greater weight to the whole basket of skills that are needed for contemporary legal practice, and to shift the focus of activity from compliance to genuine learning and development. The competency framework would complement the current 10 point minimum threshold requirements.
“The annual 10-point threshold is useful for ensuring a minimum commitment from all practising lawyers but has a negative impact on the way that they think about their learning needs and seek out relevant learning and development opportunities. A reflective, planned approach to learning and development needs is one of the best ways to overcome the compliance-driven rush to accumulate points in February and March each year.” Mr Humphreys said.
The report also found that the learning modes employed for professional learning and development have not evolved far beyond the traditional classroom approach to teaching.
“Whether the teaching occurs face to face or online, much of the content is delivered by a presenter with insufficient engagement with the lawyers who are attending, many of whom might already be experts in the field. There is little accounting for the many and varied forms of effective adult learning, the need for practical engagement, for continuity of engagement, or the unsuitability of classroom methods for the acquisition of professional, business or ethical skills” Mr Humphreys said.
The report, ‘Getting the Point? Review of Continuing Professional Development for Victorian Lawyers’ provides 28 recommendations for change, including:
- development of a competency framework that describes the core skills for practising lawyers, differentiated by levels of experience and expertise
- production of resources for lawyers that provide information, guidance and templates about CPD activities, including reflective practice and planning
- working with the Law Institute, Victorian Bar and CPD providers to identify ways in which more effective, customised activities can be designed and delivered
- raising the profile and strengthening the resources available for CPD in key areas such as technology and the law, sexual harassment, family violence, diversity and inclusion, and health and wellbeing
- improving the approach to CPD Ethics programs
- developing a more active approach to identifying risk and linking CPD programs to identified risks
- using the CPD audit process to gather better information about risk and lawyers’ use of CPD
- establishing a CPD Steering Committee with representatives from the Law Institute, Victorian Bar, lawyers not in private practice, and an academic or other expert to implement the review’s recommendations, in consultation with other stakeholders and
- strengthening and re-orienting the profession’s culture of learning through leadership and communication of the new approaches.
There are also some recommendations aimed at clarifying and broadening the CPD topics and options available for those lawyers working in the corporate, government and community sector.
Fiona McLeay, Legal Services Board CEO and Commissioner, congratulated independent consultant, Mr Chris Humphreys for this important, comprehensive and measured report.
“We are grateful to Chris for the high levels of engagement generated and fostered with our stakeholders and the legal profession and for the considered and thoughtful manner in which the review was conducted. We thank everyone who contributed to the review and took the time to share their experiences and views, and to engage in the conversation. We will now review the recommendations and develop a regulatory response for discussion in early 2021” Ms McLeay said.