Bar Training: growing your career

Barristers’ continuing professional development has taken a new direction, with CPD now based on a self-direction model. How are barristers now expected to develop their career at Bar – and are there any unexpected problems?

All currently practising barristers must still, during their first three years in practice, undertake the New Practitioners Programme. This means a minimum of 45 hours’ CPD – 9 hours of which must be advocacy training; 3 hours of ethics; and 33 hours’ CPD.

What’s new?
From January this year, the CPD rules changed for barristers of at least three years’ call. Under new rules for the Established Practitioners Programme (EPP), they no longer have to tick off an obligatory minimum number of accredited hours per year of CPD. Nor do they have to cover topics from a set range.

Instead, a degree of autonomy is given to barristers - with an outcomes focused approach (in line with an increasing trend). It is for them to decide what training they think they require – and act on it. They will now have a wider range of activities that will satisfy the new requirements. Members of the Bar will now conduct their own CPD, reflecting the view of the Bar Standards Board that members should be encouraged to “take ownership” of their own professional learning and development.

Members will, however, remain answerable for the CPD they choose to do. There is a four-stage process which barristers are expected to follow: the BSB says members must Review, Record, Reflect and Report as follows:

Review, ie. plan your CPD year in advance – in writing. Set out your learning objectives (which must be specific and measurable, and not vague or generic) and the activities you plan to undertake. Your plan can be varied through the year as appropriate

Record your CPD activities in writing over the last three years. The BSB says this should include “reflections” on the CPD you have done, whether there were any variations in your plans, and an assessment of “future learning objectives”

Reflect on whether you have met your objectives. Your written reflection needs to be completed by 31 December each year

Report annually your completed CPD to the BSB. In practice, this will normally be completed as part of your authorisation to practise process when you renew your practising certificate

There are also five general areas for training and development to consider: legal knowledge and skills; advocacy; practice management; working with clients and others; and ethics, professionalism and judgement.

The BSB sets out permitted activities and excluded activities which members need to be aware of. Note that excluded activities include work undertaken for a specific case (including pro bono work).

The BSB is therefore expecting barristers to think broadly about their career growth and plan their CPD around this, rather than considering CPD as merely a tick box exercise. The aim is that it will make CPD more relevant to individual barrister.

Following a 14-month pilot scheme of the proposed changes, a report concluded that “barristers made use of the additional flexibility afforded to them by undertaking atypical CPD activities, but without reducing the number of hours undertaken”. But it highlighted the need for barristers to better plan the learning objectives of a particular piece of CPD.

But is this as good as it sounds?
The Bar Council has strongly criticised the new regime. In particular, it has aired concern about the requirement to review and plan the CPD year in advance, saying “it will be time consuming for practitioners, and will often be completely pointless as the year’s practice changes”. In its response to the BSB’s consultation on the new regime, the Bar Council felt it “… unlikely that the typical barrister will stand any realistic chance of adhering to those targets, because the exigencies of practice will intervene. The barrister will therefore have wasted time both in setting out the targets and then in explaining how he or she was unable to meet them”.

For now, the regime is here to stay, and if members don’t complete their CPD requirements, they risk corrective action being imposed by the BSB; or a referral to the Professional Conduct Committee (which could impose penalties).

Career growth
CPD in a vacuum can potentially be a burden – a requirement that you have to fulfil because the regulator says you must, and prove it. But whilst the new CPD regime has attracted criticism (and time will tell whether or not those concerns will be borne out in practice), it encourages barristers to be far more focused early on, on the activities that will help further their career. Can that be a bad move?



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