Quality Marks and Standards
The Legal Aid Agency requires all holders of Legal Aid contracts to hold current accreditation under either Lexcel or its own Specialist Quality Mark (SQM).
Lexcel is the Law Society's legal practice quality mark. It is THE legal quality mark and is only granted to law firms and in-house legal departments that have undergone a successful assessment by an independent external assessor appointed by the Law Society. In order to maintain the quality mark, further assessments take place annually. Lexcel accreditation is available to law firms anywhere in the world as well as in England and Wales, and to in-house legal departments. Why go to the trouble of being recognised with a Lexcel accreditation? What are the benefits? Lexcel provides a structure which will go a long way to ensuring that a law practice meets its obligations under the SRA’s Standards and Regulations. It also helps compliance with data protection legislation and legislation designed to guard against involvement in financial crime as well as providing a framework for general good practice in relation to the management of the business and its people, management of client’s work to ensure high levels of client satisfaction, reduce complaints and manage risk so lessening the likelihood of negligence claims. Promoted prominently alongside the pricing information you are required to publish on your website under the SRA Transparency Rules, Lexcel can help to differentiate your firm positively compared with its competitors. Fewer than 2,000 firms in England and Wales have currently been accredited – that’s less than 20% of all firms. Lexcel is a standard well regarded by insurers as a tool to manage risk which can lead to lower professional indemnity insurance premiums. A recent survey indicated that 51% of legal service users considered a quality mark to be important when choosing a provider. Furthermore, feedback indicates that Lexcel is becoming a pre-requisite in tenders for legal work. With around 16% of law practices currently accredited, Lexcel confers a definite competitive edge for those that are. A Lexcel assessment is not solely focused on compliance. Firms receive feedback on things they are doing particularly well and suggestions for ways in which they might improve their policies and systems to make them more efficient or deliver improved performance. Many firms say that the suggestions they receive are the most useful aspect of accreditation.
The SQM is the Legal Aid Agency’s own accreditation and it is available to law firms in England and Wales. Whereas Lexcel applies to a firm across the board, most firm’s opting for accreditation against the SQM do so only in respect of the areas of law for which the firm holds, or wishes to apply for, a legal aid contract. As a result, it is often the preferred option for very small firms offering predominantly publicly funded services. There are some similarities with Lexcel and a firm that has the SQM is generally well placed to upgrade to Lexcel.