Over on family law blog Pink Tape, barrister Lucy Reed published what I thought was a really good blog post with suggestions on how to put together a decent training plan for Continuing Professional Development purposes. As she says, the training requirements for solicitors and barristers are now significantly deregulated, meaning it is up to us how to assess and meet our own training needs. The same also applies for OISC advisers in immigration law.
As well as the content and suggestions, I liked Lucy’s food analogy. I do most of the cooking and all of the baking in our household and I rely on several approaches to get edible food on the table. I imagine others are the same.
I often fall back on old stalwart recipes now embedded in my muscle memory. Lasagne on Christmas Eve, for example. Or I’ll just make something up based on the Naked Chef-era Jamie Oliver / Appetite-era Nigel Slater approach to food (yes, my first three post-Delia cookbooks…) and what is in the fridge and cupboard, as with a post-Christmas sausage casserole. The equivalent of doing what you are already doing and therefore not really learning something properly new.
When I’ve been to the butchers or am drawing from the veg box and need to use a specific ingredient, I’ll resort to ‘inspired-by’ dishes blending two or more recipes from t’internet. A venison stew last week vaguely derived from a Nick Nairn recipe, for instance. This might be compared to looking something new up for an opinion or a specific case. Yes, I learn something new that way. But it is responsive and often both narrow and shallow.
Once in a blue moon I look up remembered or new proper actual recipes from a range of proper cookbooks and have to buy specific ingredients. Nigella Lawson’s Ham-in-Coke for New Year’s Day was the latest example. I had to go out and get proper Coke for it (on Nigella’s personal instructions) as well as the gammon. Is it too much of a stretch to liken this to refresher training?
Even more rarely, I might buy a new cookbook, read it and learn a new approach. I’ve bought a few one-pot type cookbooks over the last year or two and also keep dipping into Rachel Roddy’s Italian stuff. This is analogous to genning up on a new practice area.
Otherwise it’s Every-Circle-Of-The-Family-Food-Venn-Diagram-For-Themselves, with fish fingers, beans on toast or pasta-pesto-peas-pancetta for the kids, veggie mush from the freezer for my wife and spaghetti carbonara for me. The already rather strained CPD metaphor might break down a bit here.
Anyway, the point is that there are different ways you can plan for and meet your own training needs. Inspired by Lucy, I’ll follow but also adapt her basic approach…
Updating knowledge of law and procedure
Lucy suggests identifying at least one blog or new blog or podcast to which you do not currently subscribe.
To this I would add maybe following some new people on Twitter, if you use Twitter. There are significant problems with Twitter. It can be distracting, some people show their worst side and it encourages hostility and confrontation. But there are undoubted advantages as well. There’s no better place to find out about latest developments and there are some genuine experts hanging out there too. Maybe there are some people on the list I myself use who you haven’t come across before? It is far from comprehensive but I find it helpful.
If you are reading this, you probably subscribe to Free Movement already. We try to cover everything we think is important and we rely on a range of contributors, but we’re not the Fount of All Knowledge. There are others out there.
On a general level, there’s the Immigration Law Practitioners Association (any serious immigration lawyer should be a member) and the Electronic Immigration Network. Alice Muzira’s UK Immigration Justice Watch Blog is always interesting. There are also more niche or specialist people or groups to follow, like PRCBC on children and nationality law, Rainbow Migration on sexuality and immigration issues, ATLEU on trafficking, FLEX on labour migration and plenty of others.
As Lucy points out, subscribing is insufficient. You’ll also need to set aside time to read and digest the material.
Lucy suggests picking some recent legislation and learning it. For us immigration lawyers, this is an obvious one. Plan ahead for how you are going to get to grips with the Nationality and Borders Bill once it is finalised and becomes law, probably in February or March.
All of the immigration law training organisations will be offering courses, ourselves included. We’ve already put together blog posts summarizing the first version of the Bill as it was introduced to Parliament. We’ll be making multiple courses available to members as soon as we can once the Bill becomes an Act. We’ll also be running live online sessions, probably as a series of shorter, more digestible events.
“For real depth of flavour,” Lucy writes, “I suggest you also identify one hot topic in your field of law.” This stands out to me as a particularly good suggestion. It is all too easy to just plough on with whatever work happens to come one’s way, no more than scraping the surface.
There are loads of major issues in immigration law and practice, both existing and new. How about automated decision-making, government data-sharing, the history of immigration controls, modern race discrimination theory and practice, the law of international rescue, international law and refugee off-shoring, non-refoulement in human rights law… there’s an awful lot to learn out there.
You could try reading a book. Not Macdonalds: no-one reads that, they look things up in it. There’s my own offering but loads of really interesting others, such as Amelia Gentleman’s on the hostile environment, Maya Goodfellow’s on the history of how migrants are treated, Nadine El-Enany’s polemical (B)ordering Britain, Luke de Noronha’s Deporting Black Britons, Hiroshi Motomura’s on immigration within and outside the law in the United States (I found these fascinating), Bridget Anderson’s Us and Them, Chris Bertram’s on the ethics of immigration control, David Owen’s on the philosophy of refugee law and policy. There are loads of others out there too.
But it need not even be about immigration law. You could check out The Secret Barrister’s books, Joshua Rosenberg’s on judges and society, Nick Wallis’ new one on the Great Post Office Scandal, Sathnam Sanghera’s on the British empire, David Olusoga’s Black and British. There’s loads of stuff to learn out there. A lot of these are available as audiobooks, which is the closest we can come to The Matrix’s “I know kung fu” style of learning.
Lucy suggests well-being should be baked into any training plan. This sounds very sensible indeed to me. Looking after yourself is not just a legitimate part of continuing professional development but arguably an essential, integral part of it. I’m no expert in this myself and I don’t really know what to recommend here without being a total hypocrite. But I do know that burn out is a real issue in immigration law.
You may have resources available to you through your employer or chambers. If so, maybe give them a try? ILPA has a well-being group and a resource hub. I’ve bought but still not read the Legal Action Group’s Vicarious Trauma in the Legal Profession.
One of Lucy’s suggestions is investing in a counsellor to talk to, which is apparently tax-deductible. The other is don’t go on boring conferences. This has me thinking that Lucy must have been to some really bad conferences. I’ll add one of my own: set proper, hard limits on your working hours. I’m lucky to be in a position where I rarely now work weekends or evenings. But I’ve had to turn away a lot of work to do that and in doing so have undoubtedly damaged my career and earnings as a barrister.
To return to the cooking metaphor, I would liken practice management to my dog-eared Delia and more recently acquired Mary Berry cookbooks. These are unglamorous but absolutely vital, and they underpin almost all the cooking and baking I do.
Learning how to make best use of software tools can help streamline work flows. Accounting, billing, time-management, note-taking and data-protection can all be improved with better use of existing software tools. There are all sorts of weird and wonderful little shortcuts to learn on your phone or computer that make life just that little bit easier.
Reading up on a new area, attending a training course or specialist conference or joining a practice group (check out the ILPA working groups for example) can be a way of opening up a new area of work for yourself. It’s helpful to meet people, listen to them, interact with them and learn from them. Different perspectives can really help get to grips with a subject.
Writing a blog piece for Free Movement (do please check with us first though!) or an academic article for the Journal of Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Law or another peer-reviewed publication could be a way of cementing a new specialisation.
Whether we realise it or not, we all do practice management all of the time. Sometimes it is positive and proactive. But where it isn’t, it’s happening all the same. Just not in a good way.
Ultimately, if you already have too much work (or even just enough) but want different or better work, you’re going to need to learn how to say ‘no’ to some of the stuff you are doing right now.
Finally, you need to write it down, both for your own purposes and to show your regulator on demand. If your plan is to attend training and conferences on a certain subject, master some software, read a book and write a blog post, then say so.
I’ll leave you with another quote from Lucy:
Simmer slowly for a year. Do remember to check and turn it periodically, rather than leaving it till half past November.