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CPD doo dah

12 Feb 2020 / Education Print

CPD doo dah, CPD day!

A new year brings new resolutions. Why not make one of those resolutions to reflect upon your training needs and plan your professional development for the coming months?

It is often asked why CPD is important and why it matters.

The reasons for its importance are many and varied but, simply put, it assists in ensuring solicitors remain competent in providing a professional service by ensuring their knowledge and skills are relevant and up-to-date.

It also opens up new knowledge and skills areas, which can assist in career and practice advancement.

Additionally, undertaking professional development can also help develop personal qualities to effectively undertake a job or perform a function at a higher standard with enhanced professionalism, capability and skill, which can complement the continuous ‘on-the-job’ experience gained through day-to-day practice.

CPD should not be seen as merely a ‘box-ticking’ exercise or something undertaken simply to comply with regulatory obligations.

The benefits of planning your professional development and undertaking well-delivered CPD and training cannot be over-emphasised.

Personal development

Solicitors should also be mindful of the fact that CPD is not just about learning about new updates or practices in the law; it also provides for personal development, wellness, and skills that can assist solicitors working in stressful environ-ments and also help to achieve a better work/life balance.

The new CPD Scheme is effective from 1 January 2020 and introduces updates to the existing CPD framework, which reflect an awareness of the high levels of stress the modern-day solicitor is under, and of the various behaviours we can each incorporate into our daily lives to promote a more inclusive, diverse and healthier workplace.

The changes include expanding the range of topics that may be claimed as CPD, a recategorising of topics, claiming CPD for ‘workplace wellness’ programmes, and relevant training undertaken to alleviate work-related stress and anxiety.

These updates are set out clearly in the revised CPD Scheme booklet.

Stress, stress everywhere!

It will come as no surprise to hear that work-related stress, anxiety and depression are major causes of illness in the workplace.

Stress places immense pressure and strain on physical and mental wellbeing, with a resulting effect on performance, relationships and behaviour.

As we are all aware, legal workplaces can be stressful environments, where solicitors are subject to a high-pressure culture involving intense workloads, long hours and lengthy commutes, in addition to family and personal commitments outside of the office.

For many, there is a constant need to work harder and faster, with an ‘always on’ culture following a solicitor, even when they have left the office.

Absenteeism and ‘presenteeism’

While stress can be harnessed for a good purpose and be motivating in some instances, excessive stress can be threatening to a person’s wellbeing.

Prolonged periods of stress can have an obviously detrimental effect on a solicitor’s health and wellbeing and, consequently, have a negative impact on the firm or organisation they are employed by, through absenteeism, ‘presenteeism’, high staff turnover, or a reduced quality or standard of work.

Given the worrying increase in job stress and the negative consequences for both the health of the employee and the organisation’s performance, in addition to also having an impact on solicitors’ clients and colleagues, the reasoning for many employers introducing ‘stress management’ training into the workplace is clear.

Performance

The effect of stress on an employee’s performance and abilities demonstrates an obvious link between wellness and risk management, and it is obvious that there are serious implications and consequences for failing to manage such risks appropriately.

Given the serious repercussions, stress management is being considered from a risk-management perspective under the revised CPD Scheme, meaning that training on stress management will now fall under the ‘regulatory matters’ category of CPD.

Well, hello

Wellbeing can mean different things to different people. Broadly speaking, however, most understand it to mean eating well, sleeping well, exercising, and trying to achieve a healthy work/life balance. Maintaining and improving (when needed) each of these elements is vital for a person’s health and wellbeing.

In addition, meditation and mindfulness are useful tools to focus ‘on the now’ to alleviate work stresses, and regular practising of both can help to build resistance to the pressures that both work and personal life brings.

Due to the nature of the job, clients attend solicitors’ offices seeking help and assistance, or require us to problem-solve on their behalf. Consequently, solicitors are no strangers to be being placed in situations that involve a myriad of emotions, ranging from contentious litigation cases, to adversarial family disputes, to distressing medical malpractice cases.

Emotional intelligence

It is assumed that solicitors should not be negatively affected by the range of emotions that situations such as these invoke. However, this is not always possible. Consequently, solicitors can tend to ‘carry’ the emotions of a client or case with them.

This is where ‘emotional intelligence’ is of particular relevance and importance – it is the ability to recognise, understand, and manage not just your own emotions, but those of others too.

It is important to be aware that by working on and improving your own emotional intelligence, it can also benefit by being an effective tool in recognising and managing stress and anxiety in both yourself and others.

Workplace wellness’ programmes and stress management assist in developing and maintaining a healthy and resilient workplace. They incor-porate training focused on assisting, educating and promoting a work/life balance, and how to thrive in a high-performing and challenging environment.

Given the increasingly relevant and important role this form of training takes, and the ensuing benefits offered to solicitors, the updated CPD Scheme permits the claiming of CPD points for attendance on ‘workplace wellness’ programmes and training on stand-alone topics based around achieving wellness in the workplace.

Mindfulness is a form of meditation in which you pay attention to, and focus on, the present moment and how you are feeling at that time. Practising it involves breathing exercises, imagery and other methods to relax the mind and body.

Switch off

It helps us ‘switch off’ our thoughts and ‘just be’ in the present and focus on the moment, which helps to alleviate stress and anxiety.

Given the effectiveness of mindfulness and meditation practices in aiding the reduction of stress levels, the new 2020 CPD Scheme permits points to be claimed for training relating to meditation and mindfulness practice for reducing stress in the workplace. 

Divided, we fall

We have all heard the phrase ‘small changes can make big differences’. Never has this phrase had more relevance than in the modern-day workplace. It is vital then that a culture of inclusivity, diversity and respect is adhered to in the work environment and adopted with everyone we interact with – work colleagues, fellow professionals and clients.

Diversity and inclusion are essential components for a healthy and well workforce, and solicitors should be mindful as to how they can build and promote healthy relationships in the workplace.

Too often, the importance of speaking with colleagues face to face is forgotten, and a quick email is sent off instead.

Daily human interactions can make a big difference in fostering and maintaining good working relationships, particularly during stressful periods of time.

The CPD Scheme is cognisant of the importance of diversity, inclusion, and implementing and maintaining good working relationships, behaviours and habits. Consequently, the revised scheme specifically details that training pertaining to this may be claimed under the ‘management and professional development skills’ category of CPD.

What you do is what matters

Solicitors are reminded that the CPD category of ‘regulatory matters’ is not just based on regulatory obligations, but also encompasses matters such as professional conduct and ethics.

The importance of this cannot be over-emphasised, and it is vital that all solicitors regularly check to ensure that their ethical behaviour is at the forefront of their considerations when dealing with all work-related and professional matters.

Standards of professional ethics can be strongly encouraged and supported by the work environment and culture in which a solicitor is practising but, similarly, it may not be given the appropriate amount of awareness in some organisations.

Given a solicitor’s role, both in private practice and in-house, it is inevitable that every solicitor will be faced with making difficult decisions on occasion – but it is crucial that their professional independence and core values are not compromised.

Maintaining and adhering to a high standard of professional ethics is an inherent and vital component of what is means to be a solicitor, and ethical integrity and professional conduct must be protected and promoted at every juncture.

Solicitors are reminded that training undertaken on professional ethics and standards continues to be claimable under the CPD category of ‘regulatory matters’.

Fail to plan, plan to fail

As we are now at the beginning of a new year, you may think that there is plenty of time to think about CPD training at a later date.

However, as the saying goes, there is no time like the present: This month is a good time to reflect and plan your professional development for the rest of the year, as training is shown to be of greater benefit when planned.

It is important to invest time in considering your CPD needs, and it is best to carefully look at where there may be gaps in your knowledge or skill-set.

Be honest with yourself – do you need to undertake training to update yourself on changes in the law, or learn new skills which would bring new business or clients to your practice or organisation? Consider how these needs may be overcome and addressed by attending and completing relevant CPD training.

Avoid a rush

It is important not to leave matters to the last minute – complete CPD training throughout 2020 and avoid a rush to fulfil your CPD obligations in the last few weeks of the year, which is often the busiest time for a legal practice or organisation.

Further information and clarification on all aspects of the updated CPD Scheme are provided in the revised scheme booklet, which is available in the CPD Scheme section of the ‘Solicitors’ area on the Law Society website.  

Anthea Coll
Anthea Coll is the Law Society’s CPD Scheme executive