LEXCEL is the quality mark developed by the Law Society of England & Wales for practices and legal departments which have been independently assessed as having achieved the Practice Management Standards. The Law Society of Northern Ireland has negotiated a licensing arrangement with LSEW to market and assess LEXCEL as a Quality Mark to solicitors in Northern Ireland. No compulsion is involved, it is a matter for the individual practice whether to undergo assessment.
Lexcel v4 Practice Management Standard (PDF, 171kb)
By investing in Lexcel, your practice is likely to benefit in a wide variety of ways:
Failures in administration and service delivery, rather than lack of legal knowledge, tend to lead to most complaints and claims against solicitors, particularly in the areas of casework and communication with clients. Lexcel will provide you with the framework to take preventative action and put systems and procedures in place which will help you to reduce mistakes.
In times of increased competition and demand from clients for evidence of good value and quality service, Lexcel provides a competitive advantage and peace of mind for clients. The Lexcel quality mark is evidence of a well managed practice committed to a quality service.
Increasingly, indemnity insurers will be looking to see what risk management procedures practices operate. Lexcel provides the structure to do this since it not only covers the main causes of claims against solicitors, but also includes specific risk management systems and procedures. The Law Society of Northern Ireland in recognition of these benefits allows a 10% discount for Professional Indemnity Insurance contributions for firms who hold recognised LEXCEL or other quality standards, provided their premium contributions are not subject to loadings or penalties
It is likely that those practices who achieve LEXCEL will gain an advantage in their dealings with major purchasers of legal services, including public bodies, the lending institutions and major corporate clients.
Lexcel could help cut the cost of your indemnity insurance premiums.
Six of the key areas of concern identified by our Brokers and Claims Handlers are covered by Lexcel:
1. Risk assessment and management responsibility
2. Understanding services offered and their delivery
3. Appropriate skills, knowledge and training
4. Supervision of staff
5. File management, diary control and conflict of interest
6. Terms of engagement and Rule 15 compliance.
In addition, the need for good communication is essential (both internally and externally).
Lexcel can be achieved by any practice, regardless of size or type of work undertaken.
The sole practitioner with little or no staff can benefit as can larger practices or legal departments. The Standards incorporate flexibility as they identify what areas must be covered, but leave practices free to choose procedures which are appropriate to their own circumstances.
Local government and commerce and industry legal departments can also apply for certification, despite normally being part of a larger umbrella organisation. The umbrella organisation must give the authority for the department to apply, and the department must be able to show it is a sufficiently independent unit by meeting certain criteria which are set out in the Lexcel Assessment Guide.
It is recognised that some adaptation and interpretation of the Standards is necessary when applying Lexcel outside the private practice environment. This has been taken into consideration when developing the scheme, and additional guidance has been included in the Lexcel Assessment Guide.
As a matter of policy, all offices or branches of a practice must apply for certification simultaneously. However, providing a number of criteria are met, separate branch assessments will be considered by the Lexcel Assessment Panel on a case by case basis. Please contact the Deputy Secretary.
The Lexcel assessment is carried out by our independent Assessment Bodies (see page 10) who are already accredited for the purpose of assessing either ISO 9000 or Investors in People. By having the assessments carried out by third parties on behalf of the Law Society, it ensures that the process is independent, objective and rigorously quality controlled. The Standard itself remains under the control of the Law Society.
Only Assessors who have achieved certain qualifications, who have experience of the legal sector, and have undergone special training, are approved by the Law Society to take part in the scheme. The Assessors will seek to identify whether, and if so, by which procedures, the practice is working to the core requirements. The process will safeguard client confidentiality.
Appropriate checks will be made on the practice’s complaints, disciplinary and conduct records. This should be done prior to the assessment taking place and must be done before a certificate is awarded.
A practice that has successfully completed the assessment will be awarded a certificate by the Law Society and granted the right to use the Lexcel quality mark on stationery and promotional material.
The certificate remains valid for three years, subject to successful monitoring visits, which are conducted at the first and second anniversary to ensure that the Standard is still being met. After three years a full reassessment is required.
By working closely with ISO 9000 and Investors in People assessment units the Lexcel scheme offers practices the opportunity to be assessed to Lexcel alone, or undertake a simultaneous assessment with one of these standards, thereby avoiding duplication of time and costs. It also acknowledges that practices which have ISO 9000 or IIP will have already satisfied some of the requirements of Lexcel and takes this into account on assessment. Something that has recently been checked will not normally have to be checked again in depth, thus reducing the cost and time of the assessment. A comparative table is included.
For practices who require additional support to implement the Standard, comprehensive material has been prepared. The Lexcel Practice Excellence Kit comprises:
Also available is Quality Management for Law Firms – a comprehensive guide to quality management processes, which has been written to complement the material available in the Lexcel Practice Excellence Kit.
The above publications are available from the LSNI Library.
If you are interested in gaining the Lexcel quality mark you can start preparing now by:
1. Your practice contacts the Law Society & chosen assessment Body
2. Practice sends application form, status enquiry form and registration fee to the Lexcel Office at the Law Society
3. Law Society checks complaints, disciplinary and conduct or otherwise and informs you and your chosen assessor that you may proceed to assessment
4. Practice agrees mutually convenient assessment date with chosen Assessment Body
5. Assessment conducted and feedback provided. If required, deferral plan agreed and corrective action taken
6. Assessor sends report to the Law Society (via Assessment Body)
7. Law Society awards certificate
Before you submit your application form, contact your chosen Assessment Body. If a practice intends to apply for Lexcel assessment only, it should make little difference which Assessment Body it chooses, as Lexcel will be assessed in a standard way. However, different Assessment Bodies have different fee structures and it is advisable to seek quotes.
Choice of Assessment Body may be influenced by whether the practice already has the ISO 9000 or Investors in People quality mark, or plans to achieve either quality mark in the future, since simultaneous assessments can be arranged. As a result, the overlaps with the Lexcel requirements may be taken into account on assessment to reduce the time and cost involved.
A list of the Lexcel Assessment Bodies is included below:
Head Office Address
|ISO 9000 Certificating Bodies|
|SGS United Kingdom Ltd|
System Service Certification
SGS United Kingdom Ltd
121 Donegall Road
BELFAST BT12 5JL
Tel: 028 9027 8869
Fax: 02890 233284
|Centre for Assessment Ltd|
6E Mandarin Court
Tel: 01925 256650
Your practice is likely to already be meeting a number of the Lexcel requirements (especially if you have other quality standards in place). Before proceeding, practices will therefore find it useful to complete the Self-Assessment Checklist. Any weaknesses identified should be corrected before assessment. It may be necessary to repeat the self-assessment process a number of times before arriving at a satisfactory result. A practice should therefore make as many copies of the Self-Assessment Checklist as necessary, always keeping a blank to be completed when the self-assessment process produces an entirely satisfactory result.
Further help with implementing the Lexcel requirements can be found in the Lexcel Practice Excellence Kit which contains the Lexcel Assessment Guide and the Lexcel Office Procedures Manual.
Training is also available for internal advisers, such as quality managers or practice managers, who may be supporting their practices with the implementation of the Practice Management Standards. The training will ensure that they are familiar with the requirements of Lexcel and the assessment process. For further information on training, contact the Deputy Secretary.
Whilst it is not necessary to use a consultant, some practices may choose to seek the help of a consultant. Training has been offered to consultants so that they are familiar with Lexcel and the assessment process and are kept up-to-date with any developments. Details of consultants who have attended the Law Society training courses are enclosed.
Consultants who have attended a training course are issued with a certificate of attendance. Practices should ensure that the certificate relates to a recent course and that the consultant is up-to-date with the scheme. This is not a guarantee that a consultant has experience of the legal sector.
A number of the Lexcel requirements concern case file management and assessment of those requirements would normally include the Assessor gaining access to a sample of case files to gather evidence that the requirements are being met.
Practices should take account of the full guidance on confidentiality set out in the Lexcel Assessment Guide and, where appropriate, should start to build up a body of case files that Assessors can have access to by writing to clients as soon as possible, advising them that the practice is seeking the Lexcel quality mark and seeking consent to disclose case files to the Assessor. This may be included as part of the client care letter for new clients instructing the practice. Seeking clients’ consent will not only assist with the gathering of evidence for the assessment process but will also provide the practice with a valuable opportunity to promote to clients the practice's commitment to quality.
The Law Society has a confidentiality agreement with the Lexcel Assessment Bodies, but practices will also want to ensure that any agreement entered into with the Assessment Body will cover a requirement to keep information confidential.
In some circumstances practices may not be able to allow inspection of some or all case files. This may be because the client has refused to give consent, or in some cases the practice may exercise its judgement (as explained fully in the Lexcel Assessment Guide), and not seek a confidentiality waiver from clients, for example, in commercially sensitive matters. If the practice cannot allow access to case files, it will have to work with the Assessor to identify other ways in which satisfactory evidence can be established. This is likely to be done by the Assessor interviewing the fee-earner with conduct of the matter. This method may take longer, and may increase the cost of assessment. It is therefore advisable that the practice’s approach to access to case files is discussed with the Assessment Body at an early stage.
There are two elements to the cost of Lexcel assessment:
(1) An annual registration fee charged by the Law Society which goes some way to cover the scheme’s administration costs. Please send this fee with your application form and status enquiry form prior to each annual assessment.
Sole Practitioner £50.00
All Other Firms £25.00 per partner, e.g. a 5 partner firm - £125.00
The registration fee will be commensurate with fees for private practice, but adjusted to take account of senior staff who are not admitted solicitors. Please contact the Deputy Secretary for further details.
(2) An assessment fee charged by the Assessment Body for conducting the assessment. The cost of assessment and annual maintenance visits varies according to the size of the practice. Each Assessment Body will have its own charging structure and charges are likely to be based on day rates. Assessment Bodies are required to be open about their charges and provide quotes to practices enquiring about Lexcel assessment, based on the specifications of the individual practice. The daily rates may be in the region of £500-£650 which are the level of fees charged by Assessment Bodies to assess ISO 9000/Investors in People. Practices should enquire whether there will be any additional expenses on top of the fees quoted, such as for Assessor’s expenses or work conducted off site.
When calculating the duration of the assessment, the main factor will be the number of fee-earners, though a number of other factors must be considered:
The following tables outline the likely duration of Lexcel only assessments for both single and multi-office practices. They are intended to give practices a rough guide as to how long an assessment may take, and therefore enable practices to work out the likely cost.
The costs for annual maintenance visits are likely to be around half those of the full assessment.
To calculate the likely duration of assessment for the practice, add the number of day(s) identified from table A below to the number identified from table B.
Estimated duration of assessment is: 4 fee-earners @1 day + support staff @ 0-0.5 days.
Total = 1-1.5 days.
Estimated duration of assessment is: main office @ 1.5-2.5 days + branch office @ 0.5-1 day.
Total = 2-3.5 days.
Once your practice has satisfied itself that it meets the Lexcel requirements and has selected an Assessment Body, an Application Form should be submitted to the Lexcel Office at the Law Society. In addition to the Application Form, Status Enquiry Forms will need to be signed by all staff who are involved in earning fees in order to authorise the Law Society to check the practice's indemnity insurance and disciplinary records prior to the assessment taking place. The Application Form and Status Enquiry Forms are available to download here or on request from the Lexcel Office. Practices should take as many photocopies of the relevant Status Enquiry Forms as are necessary.
With the completed Application Form, the practice should send to the Lexcel Office:
The Lexcel Office will provide your chosen Assessment Body with a copy of the Application Form and other relevant information. The status enquiry checks will be made at the outset so that if there is a problem, practices do not incur costs of Lexcel assessment unnecessarily.
If the status checks reveal matters such as serious professional misconduct or fraud, the Law Society reserves the right to withhold, withdraw, defer or suspend certification. Such a decision will be made by the Lexcel Assessment Panel - established by the Law Society to oversee the Lexcel scheme. The results of the status enquiry checks will not be revealed to the Assessment Body, which will only be informed whether the assessment may proceed or not. The status enquiry checks may
take approximately four to six weeks depending on the volume of checks that are being made. The Law Society will notify the named person on the Application Form whether the assessment may proceed. Practices must inform the Law Society of any changes to the practice’s disciplinary records after the approval to proceed to assessment has been given.
The process and assessment criteria are intended to be entirely transparent and full details are set out in the Lexcel Assessment Guide. This publication provides further guidance on the conduct of Lexcel assessments such as sample size guidelines for interviews and case files, guidance on non-compliances, and arrangements for Assessors to report to the practice and the Law Society.
Assessment Bodies are responsible for ensuring that their nominated Assessors meet the Law Society's criteria for Assessors and attend the Law Society’s training. They are also responsible for quality assuring the assessment process and the administration of that process. Any complaints about the assessment or the Assessor should be taken up with the Assessment Body direct. The Law Society will monitor complaints and may adjudicate over any complaints that cannot be resolved.
You will be invoiced separately by your chosen Assessment Body for the relevant assessment costs.
The Assessor will report to the Law Society on whether a practice has met the Lexcel requirements. The report will be reviewed by the Law Society and any queries arising from the report referred back to the Assessment Body. If the practice has met the requirements of the Standard, the Law Society will advise the practice and the Assessment Body of the outcome.
If there are any doubts about whether the practice has met the Standard, the matter will be referred to the Lexcel Assessment Panel, and the practice and Assessment Body informed of the outcome.
The Lexcel Appeals Panel will consider appeals against decisions taken by the Lexcel Assessment Panel.
To maintain the Lexcel certificate and ensure continuity, practices must undergo annual maintenance assessments, and after three years a full re-certification assessment. An annual registration fee is payable to the Law Society on each occasion. There will also be an assessment fee payable to the Assessment Body.
Practices should inform the Law Society where necessary of any changes in personnel since the previous assessment and must complete Status Enquiry Forms for any new starters since the date of the previous assessment. In addition, the Society will carry out new Status Enquiry checks in relation to the practice.
The new Lexcel standard, launched on 23 October 2007, provides legal practices with a framework of best practice principles for managing their practice. In particular, Lexcel helps practitioners comply with the new Solicitors' Code of Conduct 2007 and other regulations.
The new standard has been updated to reflect relevant changes in law and practice management. Compliance with Lexcel v4 is optional from 1 January 2008 and mandatory from 1 June 2008.
Lexcel v4 Practice Management Standard (PDF, 171kb)
For further information please contact:
Law Society of Northern Ireland
96 Victoria Street
BT 1 3GN