The Law Society is dramatically beefing up oversight of its Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) by introducing onsite compliance checks and many more desk-based assessments (DBAs).
The lack of visits has been a longstanding criticism of CQS, of which 3,037 law firms are members, and up to now the society only carried out about 20 DBAs a year – leading to questions about how meaningful the accreditation truly is.
But the society has told Legal Futures that in future it will visit 8-10% of firms annually, and a further 10% will be subject to DBAs.
The society is in the process of appointing an independent assessment body to carry out the visits.
Chancery Lane pledged to fund the cost of the changes, meaning they will not impact on current accreditation fees.
A spokesman explained: “With growing competition in the market, we are committed to continuing to champion the role of solicitors and their position at the heart of the conveyancing process. We will continue to use CQS to drive improvements in standards and best practice across the sector.
“Onsite visits and desk-based assessments will enable us to ensure that CQS values are being demonstrated in practice and help us provide our members with meaningful feedback on their compliance.
“We will produce corrective action reports for firms to support and embed a culture of continuous improvement and will use this intelligence to continually share best practice with the wider CQS community.”
An average of just seven firms a year have had their accreditation removed in the past five years, but the spokesman stressed that the society’s approach was “always to try to help firms which require support into compliance where possible”.
During 2018, the Law Society has also been reviewing the current accreditation and re-accreditation assessments, along with the core practice management standards and scheme rules
The outcome of these has not yet been published, but it said three core values will sit at the heart of the new CQS and be the basic standards against which compliance will be checked:
- Members proactively and effectively manage risk and demonstrate behaviours that support and promote the integrity of CQS and the community;
- Members demonstrate best practice and excellence in client care through robust practice management of residential conveyancing; and
- Members demonstrate thorough knowledge and skill in handling conveyancing transactions
The Law Society also pledged to do more to build “the CQS community” – sharing best practice, holding regional roadshows to support conveyancing firms and help them network with other CQS members, and raising the profile of CQS to consumers and other “key stakeholders”.
Rob Hailstone, chief executive of the Bold Legal Group – which has hundreds of conveyancing firm members – said: “CQS is in urgent need of a complete overhaul and I hope these new changes mean that the CQS firms find that being accredited actually brings real benefits but I have my doubts.
“Over the last few months I have received numerous complaints and gripes about CQS from some of my member firms, particularly as far as training is concerned and especially the training that has been delivered by the Law Society itself.”
Mr Hailstone said CQS could be in “the last chance saloon”. He explained: “The government response to improving the home buying and selling process included the need for other accreditation marks to enter the market and these are starting to come to the fore.
“There are other providers starting to enter the market that can now offer a much more rigorous and accurate way of monitoring and assisting conveyancers.”
He said his members – who are collectively responsible for nearly 35% of all residential transactions across England and Wales – felt that if it was not for a number of lenders mandating CQS to gain access to panel membership, “then many wouldn’t need to go to the additional expenses of obtaining CQS accreditation”.
Brian Rogers, director of regulation and compliance at Riliance, added: “Those CQS firms that have until now seen complying with the CQS requirements as a tick-box exercise, and haven’t actually complied fully, need to catch up quickly or face a more robust assessment regime that could ultimately lead to their CQS membership being withdrawn, with the consequential loss of lender panel membership and property work.”