A Guide to CQS Accreditation for Law Firms
As the only authorised CQS Training provider outside of the Law Society, and a market-leading supplier of software for law firms, including conveyancers, Access Legal has a lot of experience when it comes to CQS accreditation and best practice for law firms.
In this article, we explore the Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) accreditation process in depth and offer five things you should consider before starting your CQS application. The article also lists a seven-point checklist for you to follow on your way to getting yours.
What is the Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS)?
The Law Society’s Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) is the gold standard for measuring the competency of law firms that practice residential conveyancing law in England and Wales.
The scheme went live in early 2011 and is available to law firms that provide residential conveyancing services. Law firms must be SRA (Solicitors Regulation Authority) authorised/regulated to be allowed to apply.
The accreditation, once attained, lasts 12 months and up to six weeks before the firm’s accreditation expires, conveyancing practices can apply to be re-accredited. Assessment follows a three-year cycle. Year one is the main assessment and then during years two and three short re-assessment audits take place.
How to get your CQS Accreditation: 9 essential steps
Below are nine steps for completing a successful application for the Conveyancing Quality Scheme Accreditation.
1. Appoint a senior responsible officer (a CQS SRO) and develop a healthy compliance culture
A Senior Responsible Officer (SRO) must be appointed to make sure the firm has a trusted executive completely accountable for the CQS Accreditation commitment. The SRO needs to embrace the project to ensure everyone at the firm involved in conveyancing is on board and adheres to the scheme’s rules.
Well-documented policies, control and procedures alongside robust training will take the Practice towards obtaining and maintaining the CQS Accreditation. However, there must also be a strong compliance culture from the top down and vice versa. Promoting this across the firm and within the conveyancing department is paramount.
The SRO remit is to encourage this Practice-wide, ensuring they lead by example and have an ‘open-door policy, working in unison with the firm’s Compliance Officer for Legal Practice (COLP) and its Money Laundering Reporting Officer (MLRO). Avoiding an atmosphere of fear or blame is key. A motivational culture is more likely to drive a hunger amongst the whole team, for achieving and maintaining compliance.
2. Ensure your software is being used to its full potential
A good legal practice management system, with conveyancing workflow and other related modules, will make your CQS Accreditation process easier, and give you a better chance of success.
With the Conveyancing Quality Scheme Accreditation in mind, we recommend you review the configuration of your system to ensure the Practice is making the best use of the software you have.
The Access Group has three different software packages designed especially for law firms, which all include functionality designed specifically for conveyancing firms, as well as many time-saving, efficiency-enhancing tools for best practice for general practice management. Book a free demo for our Access Legal software.
If you are an existing Access Legal software customer, and you wish to contact an Account Manager about booking some consultancy time to review the configuration of your system, in light of your CQS application, please contact your account manager via our website today.
3. Study closely the scheme’s core practice management standards
Study closely the Law Society’s Core Practice Management Standards (CPMS) and determine how well you are doing against them and where work is needed.
The CPMS document provides specific direction regarding core standards relevant to the Conveyancing Quality Scheme. They are designed for those conveyancing firms that either already have CQS accreditation or are working towards the very first accreditation application, and fully clarify the meaning of all requirements, and provides further guidance for firms.
The CPMS document covers six areas:
- Risk Management
- Financial Management
- Supervision & Operational Risk Management
- Client Care
- File & Case Management
- Information Management
4. Check out the Law Society’s LEXCEL / CQS comparison document
Firms should check out the Law Society’s Lexcel / CQS comparison document because if the firm has been awarded the Lexcel Standard, it is already part of the way there to achieving CQS Accreditation.
For example, for the Lexcel accreditation, practices must have a risk management policy – including a compliance plan, a risk register, defined risk management roles and responsibilities and arrangements for communicating risk information. This is an identical requirement for the CQS Accreditation. Therefore, if a conveyancing firm has Lexcel, no further work is required to satisfy the CQS Audit.
As well as ‘Risk Management’, overlap between CQS and Lexcel exists in many other areas, under the six categories of the CPMS listed above, including:
- Money Laundering
- Mortgage Fraud
- Bribery Prevention
- Business Continuity
- Financial Management
- Management Structure, Responsibility and Accountability
- Personnel Supervision
- File Reviews
- Handling of Conflicts
- Client Care
- Complaint Handling
- Client Satisfaction
- Matter Strategy, Management & Progression
- Declining Instructions
- Client Communication
- Discharge of Undertakings
- Data Protection
For any firm requiring a Lexcel compliance review, get in touch with Access Legal.
5. Use the comprehensive CQS guidance notes
There are lots of useful guidance notes for your SRO (Senior Responsible Officer) and other staff regarding the Conveyancing Quality Scheme available from the Law Society. Here are the main downloads you will need:
- scheme rules (PDF 234 KB)
- guidance notes (PDF 653 KB)
- Conveyancing Protocol
- Core Practice Management Standards
- Comparison Against Lexcel Standard 6.1 (PDF 451 KB)
In addition to these guidance notes, there are additional notes for firms that have not yet been running for three years. Also for firms with more than 10 partners, the advice is they should contact the Law Society for advice on which Partners need to be included in their CQS application. The Law Society’s ‘How to apply’ page provides contact details.
6. Make sure you fill in all the correct forms
There are a number of forms to complete, and submit by email for the firm’s application for CQS Accreditation. The SRO has a form to complete, but also all relevant members of the conveyancing team, and others within the practice, must complete separate forms to support the application.
- The SRO application form (Word 433 KB)
- The new SRO or head of conveyancing (Word 687 KB)
- The form for additional managers (Word 408 KB)
- The form for additional qualified conveyancers (Word 387 KB)
- The form for additional non-qualified conveyancers (Word 372 KB)
- The form for additional locums (Word 371 KB)
- The form for additional accounts staff (Word 367 KB)
7. Make sure you are well prepared for your audit
Firms need to demonstrate compliance with the CQS Management Standards through their policies, controls and procedures. The questions firms can expect to be asked are quite specific, and so a thorough review should be part of the preparation process for firms going for CQS.
Once your SRO passes the 15-question, online CQS assessment (with a pass mark of 80% or over) the firm will be able to move forward with its CQS Accreditation. The application is assessed and the Law Society will contact the firm with the outcome.
Conveyancing CQS Accreditation follows a three-year assessment cycle. In year one the main assessment is carried out, and during years two and three, short assessments/audits take place. After 3 years, Practices can apply to be re-accredited.
Download your free CQS Accreditation Review Service brochure from Access Legal. This service involves a full review of the firm’s policies, controls and procedures against the CQS Management Standards. An Access Legal CQS expert will have a detailed discussion to understand how the policies, controls and procedures work in practice. This is followed by a report of our findings and with any recommendations for improvement either in relation to obtaining the accreditation for the first time, or maintaining the accreditation.
8. Be aware you can make an appeal if your application is not successful
There is an appeals policy for firms that are unsuccessful with their CQS Accreditation. If a firm’s application for CQS is unsuccessful, or a decision has been made to revoke accreditation the law firm can lodge an appeal with the Law Society’s accreditation appeals panel.
When notified that an application has been rejected, it will be in writing to the firm with a list of reasons why. The firm can appeal the decision in writing, at a cost of £258 + VAT, within 28 days of the rejection letter. The Practice must provide the appeals panel with full details of the reasons why the Practice does not agree with the decision, and it is prudent to include any supporting documentary evidence with your appeal letter.
The panel will only consider the appeal once the fee is received and there are only two likely outcomes; the panel will agree and reinstate accreditation, or they will uphold their original decision and write to the Senior Responsible Officer explaining their reasons. Following the appeals process the firm has no further right to appeal. However, the firm may reapply for CQS again in the future if confident sufficient improvements have been made.
Amongst other reasons, the breach of scheme rules, omitting to do something detrimental to the reputation of the scheme , or posting an unacceptable risk to the scheme are all examples of grounds for CQS Accreditation application rejection.
To ensure success next time round, you may decide to consider new software. For more information about what Access Legal has to offer conveyancing law firms by way of practice management software, view our conveyancing software. Additionally, the Access Legal team of CQS experts are available for CQS Accreditation Reviews to help you prepare for success.
9. Put a CQS training plan in place
Once your Practice is accredited there is a six-month window in which all staff involved in conveyancing must complete mandatory CQS training. Any new staff joining an already accredited firm are required to take CQS Update Training, within six months of their start date.
Read the original article at Access Legal.