A CPD revolution

Stephen Honey outlines the benefits the changing face of legal CPD can bring to barristers

According to a report published last year by research firm Outsell, the UK legal Continuing Professional Development (CPD) market is estimated to be worth £21m in 2016. 

The delivery of this training would once have been dominated by face-to-face conferences and seminars, but over recent years there 

has been a move away from this traditional format in favour of learning through online means such as podcasts and webinars. This change has been enabled by greater access to cheaper, faster broadband connections which facilitate the streaming of audio and video. However, the change in lawyers’ learning habits has largely been driven by the increased convenience and cost-effectiveness of online learning compared to the face-to-face alternative.

Online training events may be delivered live in real time, but are also generally made available on demand so can be viewed at whatever time is most convenient. As training can be undertaken from your own desk, or even on-the-go via your mobile, the costs of travel and accommodation are avoided. These features make online learning particularly suitable for members of the Bar, where the demands of work frequently involves travelling to and from court and keeping unsociable hours.

Furthermore, online training looks set to remain an established part of the learning landscape following the Bar Standards Board’s (BSB’s) announcement in April that it will introduce greater flexibility into the CPD regime for barristers on the Established Practitioners Programme. The new scheme, from January 2017, sees the relaxation of the requirement for barristers to undertake accredited training as part of their CPD activity. Under the previous rules, online training providers had to register with the BSB and provide a test as part of the online course for it to qualify as accredited. With the removal of this requirement, online learning will be placed on an equal footing with any other form of training in the eyes of the regulator.

Webinar formats

One of the more popular online legal training methods is the webinar (short for ‘web-based seminar’). However, while a number of training providers offer what are described as webinars, the format of these can often be very different. At the most basic level, they consist of a PowerPoint slide presentation accompanied by an audio commentary. At the next level of sophistication, the viewing experience is augmented through the addition of a video of the presenter, although this may be a single camera position which remains unchanged throughout.

The presentation can be further enhanced by using multiple presenters and multiple camera angles, so the viewing experience is more akin to watching a news or current affairs programme on television. This is the approach adopted for LexisNexis webinars, which are filmed in a dedicated multimedia studio in the company’s central London offices.

Benefits for presenters

So, while there are multiple benefits to delegates in maintaining their knowledge via webinars, what are the motivations of those who present them?

According to PJ Kirby QC, joint head of chambers at Hardwicke, whose practice is in the field of costs: ‘The reasons for doing a webinar are much the same as the reasons why barristers give seminars – we are marketing our practice and our chambers. We are saying to those who attend or in the case of webinars watch – look here I am, I know what I am talking about, I can communicate, instruct me.’

This is a view echoed by Peter Dodge of Radcliffe Chambers, who says: ‘There’s no doubt that a well thought-out webinar offers a great opportunity to promote your status as a specialist to a large audience – and, just as important, the right audience.’ Adreeja Chatterjee, a family law practitioner at No 5 Chambers, says: ‘The modern webinar is a time and cost-effective way of reaching out to busy practitioners who can’t get out to external seminars in person.’ Rachel Tandy, of Henderson Chambers, adds that the webinar platform has the added benefit of being ‘a lasting one, as it stays online for 12 months’.

The promotional value of webinars is likely to become increasingly important with the rise of direct access to the Bar. As the audience for legal CPD webinars includes in-house lawyers, giving a professional and authoritative presentation may lead to instructions from corporate legal teams. Similarly, with the introduction of the public access scheme, a clip from a webinar hosted on YouTube may be a source of private client work. In addition to being the world’s leading video-sharing website, with over one billion users, Youtube is also the second largest search engine (after Google) processing more than three billion searches a month. It will be many people’s first port of call when seeking an answer to a problem.

In addition to their promotional value, presenting webinars is also a good means of deepening your own understanding of a topic and ensuring you are completely up to speed with the latest developments. Philip Simpson QC, of Old Square Tax Chambers, says that one of his motivations for speaking is the chance to ‘consider areas of law in a more comprehensive way than I get the chance to do when advising clients – in other words, advice is always on specific points, whereas webinars always take place in a more theoretical, and therefore overall, framework, which I find helps in gaining a better understanding/insight of individual cases as they subsequently arise’.

Finally, Tandy makes the point that they offer the chance to hone presentational skills: ‘It is important for someone in my line of work to make the most of any opportunity for public speaking. Since oral presentation is a big part of the job that we do, it seems sensible to practise it whenever we can.’

The future?

While traditional conferences continue to have their place, particularly for those lawyers who value the networking opportunities that they provide, according to the Outsell report, the provision of legal CPD has become increasingly polarised ‘between personal learning solutions delivered online and very large summit events’.

Looking outside of the legal sphere, the ‘virtual conference’ has recently gained ground as a training medium in disciplines which have a large international audience, such as the life sciences and information security. Such events are essentially a coherent programme of webinars delivered around a common theme over the course of day supplemented by a live chat forum. They represent an extension of online learning into summit-style events. It remains to be seen whether this trend will catch on in the legal world.

Contributor Stephen Honey is head of learning, LexisNexis

Author details: 
Stephen Honey

Stephen Honey is head of learning at LexisNexis. He has 25 years’ experience in the legal information and training business and, prior to joining LexisNexis in November 2014, launched a range of e-learning solutions for the Law Society.