Interview with Update manager Sarah Prior about the new slate of training opportunities to meet solicitors' CPD needs

Opportunities for CPD abound these days. More flexible rules, digital delivery and increasing in-house provision in some firms have greatly widened the choice for solicitors looking to meet their personal training needs.

You might think, then, that there is less demand for the seminars traditionally put on by the Society’s Update team. Far from it.

“Last year we did 216 events, with over 8,500 delegates, all over the country”, says team manager Sarah Prior. “That’s up from 177 events and about 7,000 delegates in 2010. It’s a huge programme that we run each year.”

More options

Yet what appears in the monthly Update page in the Journal is “just the spine of what we do”, as Prior puts it. Already well used to providing remote access to events via videoconferencing, particular for In-house Lawyers Group seminars, the team has recently launched a webinar series, Update Online, which enables solicitors to take online seminars (of about 45 minutes each) at a time and place of their own choosing. Seven seminars are now live, on topics such as client care, avoiding complaints, hot topics in conveyancing, and money laundering; by the end of March there will be 12, with more to follow.

Less visible is Update Direct, which involves the team arranging bespoke training at the request of a particular firm or local group: a tailormade half day or couple of hours on cashroom practice, for example. “We can really do any size, as long as they have the facilities for us to come out and run the event”, says Prior.

“Update Direct will also supply speakers for seminars or conferences that firms are organising. If they want a Society speaker, just let us know what the topic is and we’ll supply the speaker.”

So why the continuing popularity of the seminar programme? “I think being able to network with colleagues in the same situation as you, has a real pull still. Probably the majority of the members would rather come out to a face-to-face event to interact with speakers and their colleagues. For example the legal aid conference is probably the one time in the year that legal aid practitioners can get together and just have a chance to network with their colleagues from around the country.”

Across the board

Not being a purely commercial concern, Update will always try and ensure that an event goes ahead, Prior says. “Probably the smallest we will run are our new lawyers series, which can be about 10 people. The majority are 15 and upwards. It’s important to ensure that delegates receive the training they want and have registered for, so we very rarely cancel any event.”

The team is extending its reach. It has just been given conditional accreditation (conditional on speakers being approved) as a provider of trainee CPD, which launches in May. Also coming is Update Paralegal, a mixture of face-to-face and online events designed but not confined to those on the Registered Paralegal scheme.

Are they seeing more competition, more alternative providers? “Certainly, but we encourage the competition because it ensures we are keeping up on our game and providing the best possible seminars and conferences”, Prior replies. “And because we’re not just out to make money, we want to make sure that members are getting the best training, wherever they’re getting it from.”

Update will advise any firm holding an event on what will count for CPD. “And if any other organisations are running any CPD they’re welcome to send us their programme to make sure that it complies with the regulations, with learning outcomes etc.”

Can you do one on…?

Shortlisted once more in the Training Provider of the Year category at the forthcoming Scottish Legal Awards, the headline points in Update’s submission this year are their coverage across the country, including the videoconferencing, and all the new initiatives in hand. “In the current climate, people aren’t launching new products because they’re worried about who will actually buy in”, Prior comments. “I think it’s great that we’ve been able to do what we have.”

They do other requests. “We are always looking for new topics from members. If members aren’t seeing a specific type of course or a topic that they would like, they should contact us and we’ll endeavour to put it on in some way if possible.” Suggestions are passed to an individual coordinator to investigate, consulting the relevant Society committee, and if appropriate going on to find speakers, perhaps from accredited specialists or those involved in leading cases. Hence the regular appeal on their Journal page for new speakers on different topics.

Update comes under the oversight of Neil Stevenson, the Society’s Director of Representation and Professional Support, who comments: “The energy and enthusiasm of the team is part of what makes me look forward to coming into work at the Society every day. Over the last three years I’ve watched the number of members they serve massively increase because they provide the training the profession want, at their preferred locations, in a format to suit their busy working and personal lives, and at a great price.

“The latest developments, and the external accolades that Update has won, show a team constantly innovating and growing, with ambitions to support every solicitor in Scotland at some point in their career progression.”

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