Continuing Professional Development (CPD) rules for Victorian legal practitioners

Sonnie Bailey

21 February 2015


The CPD requirements of Victorian legal practitioners are set out in the Law Institute of Victoria’s LIV Continuing Professional Development Rules 2008 (the Rules).

The more traditional approach for undertaking CPD is to attend seminars or workshops such as those arranged by LIV, or other training organisations such as Leo Cussens. These are tremendously useful, both in terms of content and in terms of meeting colleagues.  

The purpose of this article is not to detract from these approaches to CPD but to consider options that complement attending seminars and workshops. In particular, I’m interested in approaches that benefit from new online technology that has become available in recent years. 

These are my preliminary thoughts only, and primarily for my own benefit and future reference. I take no responsibility for anyone relying on what I write. I subscribe to the idea that as a professional you should undertake much more than the minimum units of CPD per year, and that you should do so from many different sources and mediums. So if any particular form of CPD that I discuss doesn’t constitute “CPD activity” to the satisfaction of another’s interpretation of the Rules, then it should be easy to meet the minimum requirements via other means. 

What constitutes a CPD activity?

When looking at conducting CPD activity, especially for the primarily purpose of meeting CPD requirements, it’s important to keep the following requirements in mind. 

Clause 4.1 of the Rules says that a CPD activity must:

(a) be of significant intellectual or practical content and must deal primarily with matters related to the practitioner’s practice of law 

(b) be conducted by persons who are qualified by practical or academic experience in the subject covered; and 

(c) seek to extend the practitioner’s knowledge and skills in areas that are relevant to the practitioner’s practice needs. 

Undertaking CPD activity via courses and study, including “private study”

Clause 4.2(a) states that a CPD activity may consist of:

a seminar, workshop, lecture, conference, discussion group, multimedia, web-based program, audio/video material or online program and any other educational activity howsoever may be delivered from time to time

Notably, reading is precluded from being CPD activity. Furthermore, clause 4.4 places some limitations on “private study”:

Private study does not constitute CPD activity for the purpose of these Rules unless it involves the private study of audio or video material specifically designed for the purpose of updating a practitioner’s knowledge and/or skills relevant to his/her practice needs. A practitioner may claim 1 CPD unit for every 1 hour of such private study and may not claim in any CPD year more than 5 CPD units under this sub-rule. 

In other words, if you are conducting “private study”, it needs to involve audio or video material, and the material must be designed for (rather than having the incidental benefit of) developing a practitioner’s knowledge and/or skills.

Does completing a web-based or online program constitute “private study” and are such programs restricted in the same way? In particular, are practitioners limited to 5 CPD units per year for web-based or online programs? On the face of it, I’d consider this to be “private” study, in contrast to, say, a seminar, workshop, lecture, conference, or discussion group. However, it’s hard to read clause 4.4 as applying. For one thing, clause 4.2(a) explicitly refers to web-based and online programs, and 4.4 only anticipates the use of audio or video material. Restricting private study to audio or video material precludes a lot of web-based or online modules. In light of this I think there’s a strong argument that all CPD could be conducted via web-based or online programs. (And LawCPD takes the same viewstating that “Victorian practitioners can earn… all 10 legal CPD units annually by completing [its] courses”.)

Undertaking CPD by preparing resources for others

Clause 4.2 includes the following other options:

(b) the research, preparation or editing by a practitioner of an article published in a legal publication or a legal article in a non-legal publication. A practitioner may claim 1 CPD unit for every 1000 words of such article but may not claim in a CPD year more than 5 CPD units in this category; 

(d) the preparation and/or presentation by a practitioner of material to be used in a CPD activity or in other forms of education provided to practitioners and/or to other professionals and/or to other persons including articled clerks or trainees but a practitioner may not claim in any CPD year more than 5 CPD units in this category; 

Ie, you can claim up to 5 CPD units each for preparing legal articles in non-legal publications (1 unit for every 1,000 words), or preparing/presenting material to be used in CPD activity to be provided to other professionals (not just other lawyers). 

Some CPD options other than attending workshops and seminars

Prepare CPD and legal articles for others

This isn’t an uncommon approach. Preparing articles for industry publications can be a great way of consolidating your knowledge, as well as getting your name out there and developing a reputation in that industry. Preparing materials and delivering training sessions can achieve the same ends and can also be lucrative on its own. 

Less traditional examples include:

  • preparing articles or materials for a blog 
  • preparing videos and online courses hosted either on external sites such as Youtube or on your own site, that can constitute CPD activity for other professionals (such as financial advisers or other lawyers).

I don’t consider preparing CPD and legal articles for others for the remainder of this article.

Private study resources 

Some private study resources include:

  • The Legal Practitioners’ Liability Committee provides audio-visual material available for free on its website.

As you can see, many of the courses seem to fit pretty well under the category of “Professional skills”. They relate pretty closely to what many lawyers do in their professional lives. However, the latter item might be suitable for “Ethics and professional responsibility”. I haven’t considered each of these courses, but another thing I’d keep in mind is that clause 4.4 requires materials to be “designed for the purpose of updating a practitioner’s knowledge and/or skills relevant to his/her practice needs”. Does a course that relates, for example, to approaching “everyday ethics” rather than “professional ethics” satisfy the Rules? I’m not sure. So I would tend towards those courses that have a clear focus or professional applicability.

(Piece of trivia: I’ve read on several occasions that Bill Gates loves using resources from The Learning Company, which provides these courses.)

  • Youtube, a free service. Remember that clause 4.4 requirement applies, which is that the material must, amongst other things, be “specifically designed for the purpose of updating a practitioner’s knowledge and/or skills relevant to his/her practice needs”. With Youtube or any equivalent services, it might be difficult to establish that the material was designed for such a purpose.

In light of this I haven’t tended to rely on Youtube as a source of CPD material. However, an example of material on Youtube that could arguably be relevant is the excellent Harvard course “Justice with Michael Sandel“. 

Another consideration, which applies to any form of private study, is that it might be difficult to demonstrate that you actually watched/listened to the material. In light of this, it is prudent to take notes at the time of watching/listening to the material in support of this (not to mention, to get the most out of the experience).

Web-based or online programs

More traditional sources of web-based or online programs

I refer to these sources as “more traditional” in the sense that many practitioners may already have come across these sources, or sources of a similar nature. Because of this I haven’t given any examples of the types of courses they provide. 

  • LawCPD, an organisation that focuses on Australian legal practitioners. 

  • CPD Interactive, another organisation that focuses on Australian legal practitioners. 

Less traditional sources of web-baesd or online programs

  • The Tax Institute includes subscriptions for some of its resources which include interactive eLearning. I haven’t used these, and I imagine that they are directed towards taxation professionals. But I have every confidence these eLearning resources would be very applicable to lawyers in many cases. As a lawyer with a focus on estate planning and succession, for example, I imagine that the CPD associated with Marks’ Trusts & Estates: Taxation and Practice would: clearly be of significant intellectual or practical content; deal primarily with matters related to my practice of law; be conducted by persons who are qualified in the subject covered; and seek to extend my knowledge and skills in areas relevant to my practice needs (clause 4.1 of the Rules).

  • Money Management has a resource called “Toolbox” which is directed towards financial services providers. However, for financial services lawyers who deal regularly with financial advice issues (including appropriateness of advice), these resources can be valuable.  

So there you have it! Some resources that I’ve discovered as I’ve considered my CPD for the 2014-2015 year. Feel free to contact me with suggestions for other resources or comments about what I’ve written. 

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