The Importance of Continuing Professional Development / Continuing Legal Education for You, Your Practice and Your Country
Continuing professional development (CPD) or continuing legal education (CLE) is the legal instruction that continues after a lawyer has completed his or her degree in law and is, in most cases, practicing as a lawyer. In many jurisdictions, the professional licensing organization such as a bar association or law society requires such legal instruction. In such case, it may be referred to as MCPD or MCLE, meaning “mandatory” continuing professional development or “mandatory” continuing legal education. In either case, it remains fundamentally the professional responsibility of lawyers to ensure that their legal knowledge and skills continue to be relevant, robust and comprehensive so that they can provide a quality of service that adequately responds to the expectations of their clients, responds to the requirements of the legal profession and ultimately protects the public. On a very basic level, CPD/CLE is a key element in the development and progress of lawyers and the legal industry as it ensures lawyers remain competent in their profession. Additionally, however, on a broader and even more significant scale, because lawyers are at the same time, the architects, enforcers and agents of law and legal transformation, such development and progress contributes to the overall capacity development goals of the country.
Lawyers must understand and accept that their formal legal degree is just one stage, in fact, only the preliminary one, in their legal education. Indeed, due to the evolving nature of law and legal practice and to a lawyer’s professional obligation to keep abreast of the law, lawyers must continue to learn as they progress in their careers in order to be effective and successful. CPD/CLE helps lawyers to achieve this learning by extending their knowledge of the law and legal practice beyond what they learned in the classroom during their formal legal education (which in many cases took place years earlier). As such, done effectively, CPD/CLE ultimately adds value to the lawyer, the lawyer’s employer, the lawyer’s clients, and to the legal and broader communities in which the lawyer practices.
CPD/CLE bolsters lawyers’ legal knowledge in two main ways: The first is by filling any gaps in a lawyer’s legal education and the second is by broadening a lawyer’s legal knowledge both in areas such lawyers know and areas they don’t know well.
Filling Knowledge Gaps
The importance of filling educational gaps is particularly relevant for lawyers at a junior level, but also applies to more senior level lawyers. With respect to the former category, it is generally understood that law school alone typically does not prepare a lawyer for legal practice. Thus, CPD/CLE can be used to fill the knowledge gap between what a lawyer acquired during their formal legal studies and what a lawyer needs to know and understand to be an effective, confident and competent representative for his or her clients. CPD/CLE may assist by:
1. Helping the lawyer’s general understanding of the type of law he or she is practicing; and
2. Preparing the lawyer for future higher value participation in deals and/or cases.
All of which assist junior lawyers to become more effective in the workplace.
As noted, however, the need to continue to fill educational and knowledge gaps does not apply only to lawyers in junior positions. Lawyers who are in a senior level of legal practice often take for granted their knowledge and expertise. However, as we know, laws themselves and legal practice are continuously evolving and this means that the law you knew yesterday or the law you know today may be different tomorrow. As such, even senior lawyers need to continuously educate themselves to be aware of those changes, to be effective, competent, reliable counsel to their clients. In this way, CPD/CLE also helps ensure that a lawyer’s skills and capabilities keep pace with the current standards of other lawyers. A lawyer with outdated information knowledge is not only inefficient, but can also be dangerous to those he/she is advising.
Broadening Legal Knowledge
CPD/CLE additionally allows lawyers to broaden their legal knowledge and expertise beyond the type of work they already know to include the type of work they may want to be doing or the type of work that they should be doing based on client demand. Broadening the lawyer's skills can help the lawyer keep the clients the lawyer has and help the lawyer attract new clients.
Another positive point with respect to broadening one’s legal knowledge is gaining exposure to other types of practices. This also enhances a lawyer’s ability to contribute to the deals, projects or cases the lawyer works on. For example, for a lawyer who spends a lot of time on dispute resolution, a course on contract writing could help such lawyer understand the genesis of the subject of the litigation and vice versa, a lawyer who spends a majority of his or her time on commercial contracts might likewise benefit from a course on dispute resolution to understand what might go wrong and what that might mean for the client.
Finally, on-the-job learning is valuable but is necessarily limited to the scenario presented by the transaction or case at hand. Because it is not specific to one transaction, CPD/CLE can broaden lawyers’ specific knowledge of the types of law they already practice.
The benefits of CPD/CLE extend far beyond the lawyer as an individual, however. Continuing legal education helps lawyers make meaningful contributions to their firm and teams. In addition, it leads to more knowledgeable, competent and effective lawyers, which improve legal professional standards and lead to increased public confidence in legal professionals and the profession as a whole. Finally, because lawyers are not only the enforcers of the law in any given jurisdiction, but indeed the creators of it, the more that individual lawyers know and the better they themselves understand the law as it exists today, the better agents for positive legal change they are in the communities and countries in which they practice.
Filling educational gaps and broadening legal education through CPD/CLE allow lawyers to take a proactive role in their legal education development and, if done correctly, should provide an ongoing, holistic and comprehensive view of the lawyer’s practice as well as how their practice interacts with other types of law and practices, which makes on the whole better lawyers. And better lawyers not only are better positioned to get more and better work (and to charge more for that work) but also contribute more completely to the overall capacity development goals of the country in which they practice.
To see the ways in which you or your lawyers may improve your legal practice and abilities, please view the list of Angaza Africa Law Training’s current courses at https://www.angaza.africa.com/content/Course-Descriptions.aspx. Click here to contact us at Krescent for advice on your law firm's training program.