There has been some considerable discussion online about proposals made by the BSB to alter the scheme for barristers’ CPD. It all started with a post by Alex Aldridge on The Guardian website: “Why barristers balk at the ‘box-ticking’ of continuing professional development“, followed up by Adam Wagner on the UK Human Rights Blog in a post entitled “Blogging (and maybe tweeting) should be part of Continuing Professional Development“, and subsequently the Law Gazette. Links to the relevant Bar Standards Board docs are contained in Adam’s post, so I will link only to the draft CPD Handbook which contains the offending passage at 2.6, by excluding from the scope of legitimate CPD “Unofficial networking activities such as running a personal website, blog, legal commentary or online diary.”
Others, Adam Wagner in particular have done a good job already of analysing the purpose of CPD and deconstructing the problems with the proposals so I don’t propose to duplicate that effort, but I do have some supplementary remarks, and they are these:
I take issue with the classification of blogging and legal commentary as “unofficial networking activities”. Whilst they undoubtedly have benefits as networking aids (and for some this is their sole purpose) this is not the only function that they have. It’s not all about PR. For many of us PR is an added bonus, but very much ancillary to our main purpose. My main purpose is to inform myself and to inform others – a fortiori professional development?
The wholesale exclusion of all online legal commentary / blogging appears to confuse form with content and does not attempt to distinguish between material which is a serious intellectual or educative endeavour and that which is “mere puff” (to borrow a phrase from another context). Some, indeed much, of the material on this and other blogs is frivolous and inconsequential, and I wouldn’t dream of claiming CPD for it – but some of it is the result of hours of work and thought which could just as well have been produced in print. In fact there are examples on this blog both of material which was originally written for a print publication and was subsequently republished here, and of material which has been originally published on this blog and subsequently published in more traditional format (albeit still electronically) via Lawtel. Why shouldn’t these or pieces of similar quality attract CPD (subject to avoiding any duplication of hours when one item is republished)?
When asked why I write this blog one of the answers I give is that it is a form of self discipline – to ensure I keep myself up to date with legal news and developments – my own form of self imposed CPD. I wouldn’t expect to carry out all my CPD in this way, and still take advantage of traditional courses and seminars. But I take my professional development seriously – what use is a lawyer who only knows out of date law? In my experience 12 hours of courses is not really enough to keep up to speed. To that extent I would support the proposed extension in the number of hours, but only if there is a sensible approach to the classes of work which can count towards the total.
I do think the proposals are missing the point somewhat – what is effective at making us better lawyers? Pink Tape undoubtedly makes me a better lawyer. The BSB should look to devising a system which enables appropriate online writing to be claimable as CPD. I don’t suggest that the quality of each piece should be specifically audited, but it may be that the pieces which are to be claimed should be appended to the CPD record card for verification and audit purposes. There is now no system of quality assurance – in my experience legal journals may stipulate length, format or topic but there is no rigorous pre-publication system of quality review.
There is another aspect to this. We operate in a changing and increasingly demanding market. That is tough for all of us, but particularly so for women who are taking breaks from practice when they have children. I know from recent experience that cashflow and margins are serious problems on return to work, and the cost of CPD is a genuine problem – not just the course fee but the cost of taking yet more time off when you need to be in court on your feet earning money and winning back the work from those who jumped into your shoes before you left. One of the reasons the blog has been so useful to me is that I can do it whenever I like, pick it up and put it down depending on whether a child has woken or is slumbering. I keep myself up to speed with no interference to either my parenting responsibilities or my earning ability. This is in common with online CPD courses, but if I am honest I learnt little to nothing from the 3 hours of online CPD I did last year at the tail end of December. I did this CPD in order to tick the boxes, and if it was intended to further my knowledge it failed. I did it because I was hesitant to claim more than a small amount of CPD for my blogging related activities. This year I had resolved to claim the full 4 hours unaccredited, but it seems that the door I had finally decided to push open may be slammed in my face.
It’s a shame when innovation is not embraced.