Reflection a Key Step to Competence

In the early part of any career, a lot of time is spent learning the skills, obtaining the knowledge and adopting the behaviours expected. This is certainly the case with Solicitors as they spend years (at least six if not more) reaching the required standard. By studying ILSPA’s Legal Secretaries Diploma course, you will have started the journey to competence in the legal profession.

When you start working within the legal environment, you are taking the next of many further steps in your learning journey. How your employer helps you with your continuing professional development (CPD) will vary, but the standard for any legal employer will be the same – continuing professional competence.

Continuing professional competence

Since November 2016 those working in legal practices are expected to maintain “continuing competence”. This goes beyond simply clocking up enough hours of CPD training every year. Lawyers are now expected to be able to reflect on, plan for, evaluate and record how they are competent to carry out their role. This might be done by keeping up to date with changes to the law or obtaining new skills, but the focus is on the quality of learning rather than the quantity.

As far as Solicitors are concerned, their code of conduct has emphasised that it is not just Solicitors who need to be competent. The legal service that an organisation provides must be at a competent level, which means that all staff (including Legal Secretaries) should maintain continuing competence.

So how does continuing competence work? The first thing to consider is the Solicitor’s statement of competence. The statement is split into four competencies, A-D. Part A deals with ethics, professionalism and judgement. Part B covers technical legal abilities. Part C explores how effectively someone works with other people. Finally, part D covers how Solicitors manage themselves.

For solicitors there are 91 specific examples of skills and behaviours they should meet. For other employees in a firm, such as Legal Secretaries or Paralegals, not all 91 specified examples would apply, but when you look at the A-D competencies you would be expected to demonstrate some of these. Things like technical legal skills might not be a key aspect of your role, but any employee would be expected to have competent “soft skills” such as an ability to communicate well and be organised.

So how can you effectively develop and thrive in this new training environment? The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has provided a useful toolkit and four-step approach to remaining competent – reflect, plan, learn and evaluate. We will concentrate on how to reflect effectively and follow up on the other steps in a future article.

Reflecting: How to identify your learning and development needs

Let’s start by recognising that reflecting does not come naturally to everyone, but it is a fundamental step in the learning process. Confucius said that there were three ways to learn wisdom – by reflection (the noblest), imitation (the easiest) and experience (the bitterest).

So how can someone identify a gap in their knowledge when it may be something they know little or nothing about? Reflection is a skill that can be learned, and good reflection normally involves thinking about how you currently go about your role. Are there areas that you have already identified as needing development? Ask yourself:

  • How you think you are performing

  • What you think you have learnt from your work

  • What has gone well

  • What you could do better in the future

As you identify learning and development needs, make a record of them.

You need to give yourself enough time to reflect. This is often most effective when done at regular intervals. Look back at the last 3, 6 or 12 months or look forward over a similar regular interval.

If you can start reflecting well then you will be ready to explore how to plan for, learn and evaluate your competency training needs. When you finish reading this article, ask yourself some of these questions and jot down the answers:

  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?

  • Could you have done a task better? If so, how?

  • Do the areas of improvement involve knowledge, technical skills or “soft” skills/behaviours?

  • In relation to that knowledge or those skills or behaviours, what do you need to do to get to where you need to be?

Once you have written down your answers to these questions, congratulate yourself as you have made the first entry in your reflective training log.

Article by Seamus Ryan