Running a law firm results in a constant stream of audits and assessments. Even if you avoid the SRA’s attention, if you have a Legal Aid contract, you will get a quality audit relating to Lexcel or SQM, and visits from your LAA account manager.
We can help you avoid the pitfalls faced by many and ensure you obtain and retain your quality marks.
Obtaining a quality mark for the first time without experienced support is a rare achievement. A quality accreditation is a pre-requisite for holding any Legal Aid contract and is desirable even if you don’t do this type of work. Quality marks provide a framework for managing your business, but there is a lot of work involved at the outset. Even a decent set of templates belies the focus required to customise all necessary documentation for your business in terms of:
- Business planning documentation – comprising a business plan, training plan, marketing plan etc
- Office manual – to deal with every aspect of your practice, from file management standards, and processing financial transactions to defining the procedures for reporting to your compliance officers
- HR policies – including a disciplinary policy, grievance procedures, modern slavery policy
- Risk management policies – business continuity plan, outsourcing, conflict management, supervision etc
- Information management policies – GDPR policy, central registers etc.
We can help you draft these documents to align with the processes that your organisation uses. If you are using other RockMS services, such as ledger processing, we have written them already.
Legal Aid auditing
Consider this in the context of legal aid contracts in criminal or civil work. For each there is:
- A Contract – which falls just short of 100 pages
- A Specification – weighing in at over 150 pages
- A Cost Bills Assessment Manual – another 100-page tome.
So that’s a mere 350 pages of rules and regulations for each contract. But that’s not all. For criminal work you also have:
- A Criminal Legal Aid Manual – just shy of 200 pages
- Crown Court Fees Guidance – around 120 pages
- Guidance on banding AGFS offences – another 100 pages
- Lord Chancellor’s guidance on LASPO – 61 pages
- Crime Lower Fees Guidance – 113 pages to round everything off.
It is a similar story in civil law. When there are nearly 1,000 pages of rules, regs, and guidance relating to your compliance with a particular contract; is it any wonder that the LAA can always find something to pull firms up on? And no wonder that LAA audits can feel like a lottery with regards to what they are looking for and how they assess your files against their standards.
There is no right answer with regards to how to address the many and varied issues that LAA audits can throw up. However, only the brave (or naive) would face an LAA audit without experienced help. We can provide support from people who have been there, done that and got T-shirts saying “I ♥ reading legal aid manuals”.
This accreditation is not yet that common in the legal sector, not even for those firms that undertake Legal Aid work. However, the .gov website states clearly that Cyber Essentials is required for government contracts that involve the processing of sensitive information. So, we should expect Cyber Essentials to be part of Legal Aid tender requirements soon enough.
Cyber Essentials is therefore likely to be the “next big thing” in a similar vein to GDPR. It is worth getting ahead of the curve on this one – and we can help you with that.