Law Society fends off criticism of how it assures quality of CQS firms

Law Society: bigger picture

Law Society: bigger picture

Claims that the Law Society’s Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) does little to actually check the quality of the work solicitors do have been rejected by Chancery Lane.

CQS has been the central tool to help solicitors stay on lenders’ panels, and the Law Society’s website says that quality of members is maintained by a “pool of trained assessors” visiting practices to ensure compliance with the CQS protocol, the core practice management standards, and that practices are providing the correct information to the Law Society.

“We will also operate offsite assessments which may entail contacting practices and asking for them to supply us with evidence of its policies and procedures,” it says.

However, Private Eye reported recently on freedom of information requests that revealed the pool of assessors was only four strong, and that since the scheme was launched in 2010, they have visited a mere 12 of the 3,000-plus members of the scheme.

It said this resulted in just two firms having their accreditation revoked and more than 99% of applications being approved.

“With only desk-based assessment and the Law Society rarely bothering to inspect the law firms – either before or after accreditation – its CQS appears little more than a money-making membership scheme,” the magazine alleged.

Though the Law Society declined to comment to Private Eye, a spokesman told Legal Futures that the freedom of information request underpinning the story “asked a very narrow question about revocation of accreditation and as a result misses the bigger picture”.

He explained: “First of all, every one of the 3,053 members of the CQS scheme undergo an annual assessment. This ensures that all firms that are part of the CQS are able to demonstrate compliance with the CQS protocol and, where necessary, amend existing policies or draft new ones to meet the scheme’s requirements.

“Currently there are a number of firms on the scheme which our assessment deems non-compliant. But far from revoking their membership, we are working with these firms to drive standards up and – we hope – to ensure their compliance with the standards of the scheme in the near future.

“Where that doesn’t happen, of course we take action to remove them from the scheme – ultimately the point of a scheme like this is to drive up standards and ensure consumers get the right advice.”

He added that while only two firms had seen their accreditations revoked because of visits from assessors, in all 27 firms have had their accreditation revoked since 2012, as “the primary method of ensuring compliance is through the application assessment either as part of the initial application or through their re-accreditation application”.

He concluded: “It’s also worth stressing that over the same period a number of firms had their applications rejected.”

However, the spokesman refused to confirm or deny whether there had indeed been just 12 visits by assessors to firms in the last six years.

We have previously reported that the Law Society is facing legal action in the Competition Appeal Tribunal from Socrates Training, which provides anti-money laundering training, among other compliance-related courses.

It claims that the Law Society acted anti-competitively by changing the CQS rules last year and requiring law firms to buy its own training in order to maintain their accreditation.

The Law Society is defending its position and following a hearing in June at which its costs budget was slashed, the pre-trial review is scheduled for today ahead of a three to four-day hearing starting on 7 November.

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