When we were founded in 2012 it coincided with a tender process for new Legal Aid Contracts being run by the Legal Aid Agency. In order to achieve this we also had to attain a practice management standard. At the time we chose the Legal Aid Agency’s own standard; the Specialist Quality Mark or SQM.
There were practical reasons behind this decision. The main reason being that we were able to pass an initial desktop audit by the Legal Aid Agency which reassured them that we had the plans and processes required on paper – and before we started trading – which enabled our tender to be successful. A condition of our contract offer was that we pass a full audit within a year, and we were duly successful with this.
The SQM is an organisational standard. Its purpose is to ensure legal services providers are well run and provide good client care. The three essential elements to the scheme are:
- The specification of standards of quality assurance
- The independent audit of the standard to ensure that standards are being achieved and maintained
- Continuous improvement in the service offered by legal services provider’s to their clients.
Firms are re-audited every 3 years and we duly passed our re-audit in 2016.
As Ian Walker Family Law and Mediation Solicitors started to grow we took the view that we would prefer to move to the Lexcel practice management standard.
Lexcel is the Law Society’s legal practice quality mark.
Lexcel promotes a quality management approach for client service and how to run a legal practice. It provides a flexible, supportive management framework to promote a quality management approach and client service in how to run a legal practice.
The framework helps practices develop consistent operational efficiencies and client services, manage risk effectively, reduce costs and promote profitability. It is the most appropriate Standard for the legal profession as it was written by solicitors for solicitors.
Lexcel is a broader standard than the SQM
The Law Society say:
Lexcel sets the required Standard in seven different areas: structure and strategy, financial management, information management, people management, risk management, client care, file and case management. Lexcel scheme rules outline the design, principles and governance processes of the scheme.
Practices and organisations accredited against the Standard have the flexibility to implement procedures that are appropriate to their circumstances.
It is vital to manage the quality of your legal services effectively. A quality management system that is independently assessed demonstrates your commitment to consistently deliver services that meet client expectations, improve overall satisfaction and assist regulatory compliance.
Lexcel is re-assessed every year.
There is some overlap with SQM, but in our view, SQM is essentially a minimum standard, whereas Lexcel is broader and is a better framework for ongoing practice improvement.
We submitted our application for Lexcel accreditation in October 2018 and were successfully audited at the start of December 2018.
Our audit report included the following from our assessor:
- This was a hugely positive initial assessment visit which provided extensive evidence of compliance with the Lexcel standard even at this early stage
- Overall, I was extremely impressed by the way that the practice has been able to adapt their policies, procedures and plans to meet the requirements of version 6.1 of the standard
- This visit did identify a small number of minor non-compliances but these largely concerned the contents of the Office Manual and associated reports [Resolved by the time we broke up for Christmas]
- Throughout the firm I was impressed by the excellent morale and positive attitude of the members of the firm and how they are looking forward to the continuing growth and development of the practice
- It was also good to hear how positive people are about the move towards paperless working and how everybody, without exception, is clear about the potential benefits of that change
- A number of suggestions are made for further improvement, all of which relate to making already good systems better
Gaining the Lexcel standard shows that we have financial, management and client care systems in place which are comparable to much bigger and longer established competitors.
Gaining Lexcel is a big step forward for the practice as it demonstrates that we are now a fully established and quality practice and will assist us to improve the reach of our practice.
As an exercise, all of our team were involved in the preparation and most were interviewed.
We are proud to display the Lexcel logo on our website as a demonstration of the quality of our practice.