1 What is CRQS?
CRQS (the Commercial Risk and Quality Standard) was devised by Web4Law as a consultancy programme to enable firms to develop risk management policies that would passport to formal accreditation under ISO 9001. This was achieved by defining the systems and processes that need to be in place for risk management in commercial practice in terms that are intelligible to any lawyer. Our extensive experience of quality management systems enabled us to produce guidelines that will make sense to any lawyer, but which are also a complete analysis of what is required under ISO 9001.
2 What’s New about CRQS 2011?
CRQS 2011 builds on this base by offering major firms a wider and more integrated compliance programme. Pressures from the public sector for accreditation to ISO 9001 or the Law Society’s Lexcel programme continue, but private sector tender exercises increasingly concentrate on such issues as business continuity, information security and environmental management. All of these topical issues are also addressed by ISO programmes. How better to evidence your firm’s commitment to these issues than by securing an independent verification of the effectiveness of your programmes? We have therefore addressed:
- ISO 14001 - Environmental Management
- BS 25999 - Business Continuity
- ISO 27001 - Information Security
Critically, all of these programmes are based on the essential structures of ISO 9001 which underpin the contents and structures of CRQS. This has enabled us to develop an integrated compliance programme that enables law firm clients to apply for certification to whichever combination of external standards that they aspire to, or simply to have access to an agenda for a more comprehensive risk programme if they prefer not to undergo a process of external assessment.
3 Do general business standards really apply to large law firms?
The simple answer is that they can do. There is an easier case for this with the generic business standard for environmental management, business continuity and information security. So far as these programmes are concerned the law firm is simply another office-bound organisation, and as such is subject to all the same issues as any comparable commercial concern – more so than most in the area of information security, given the strict professional duty of confidentiality.
There is understandably more scepticism about ISO 9001. As a generic management standard the provisions apply only loosely to legal practice and it also does not specifically address risk management. Our wide experience of law firm quality management programmes has enabled us to interpret the standard, however, so that it will form an appropriate basis for law firm risk management programmes.
A further drawback to the law firm that addresses ISO 9001 is that they will find that it is written in a particular form of international gobbledygook that will mean very little to most lawyers. It is unlikely that many lawyers would think of a ‘review of requirements related to product’ as taking instructions, or ‘design and development reviews’ as being the careful checking of instructions received. To make sense of ISO 9001 in legal practice a translation is required – as provided by CRQS 2011.
There are many who perceive ISO 9001 to be essentially bureaucratic in nature, tying skilled lawyers up in red tape and preventing them from providing a creative service to clients. A badly designed process would certainly run this risk. A well designed programme supports excellent lawyers and simply serves to support the fee earning process - not detract from it. The 2008 revision of ISO 9001 lays a great deal more emphasis on organisations defining the regulatory framework within which they must operate and designing their programmes accordingly. A main driver of the interpretation of ISO 9001 that underpins CRQS 2011 is therefore the Solicitors’ Code of Conduct 2007 - particularly those parts that impact on the fee earning process.
4 So CRQS 2011 can also help with SRA compliance?
Very much so. Guidance note 5 to Rule 5 (Business management in England and Wales) specifically lists certification to ISO 9001 (referred to as BS EN ISO 9000) as forming the sort of evidence that firms are expected to produce of a ‘systematic and effective approach to management’ . CRQS stands to contribute to compliance programmes on such key features as:
- Rule 2 - Client management
- Rule 3 - Conflicts of interests
- Rule 4 - Confidentiality and disclosure
- Rule 5 - Business management
- Rule 6 - Equality and diversity
- Rule 10 - Relations with third parties (especially undertakings)
- Rule 20 - Professional obligations
5 What about the likely changes to regulation for large firms?
It’s very early days for the ideas of separate regulation for larger firms but we believe that CRQS 2011 will form an ideal programme for the concept of ‘authorised internal regulation’ with the enticing prospect of self-governance for those firms that can demonstrate ‘sufficiently robust compliance standards’. The firms that choose to implement the full programme will be able to evidence independently verified compliance with risk management systems and the main professional rules under the Code of Conduct, along with a responsible approach to their duties as large businesses for the environment and as data handlers.
6 We might be interested in some, but not all, of the CRQS 2011 programme. Could we use it in this way?
Yes – both the main Standard and the accompanying guidelines are colour-coded so that you can see which provisions relate to the various strands that make up the programme. If, for example, you were only interested in environmental management (ISO 14001) the colour coding would highlight those areas that you would need to address to satisfy that standard. The rest of the CRQS 2011 programme would be optional, or you could address different elements in turn and phase your compliance programme accordingly.
7 We have or are thinking of applying for Lexcel. Is this compatible with CRQS 2011?
CRQS is based on the model of ISO 9001, as is Lexcel. The first version of the practice management standards which appeared in 1993 (which later supported the first Lexcel awards in 1997) was based on the experience of the first firms to adopt BS 5750, as ISO 9001 was then referred to. Lexcel compliance is therefore entirely compatible with CRQS 2011.
ISO 9001 does have various advantages over Lexcel for some of the largest firms, such as:
- It is available for part of the practice, or particular offices only, whereas Lexcel can only be awarded on a whole firm basis;
- The audit methodology is ‘bigger picture’ and does not depend on set quotas of interviews and file checks at the eventual assessment;
- There is more flexibility in the interpretation of the requirements – for example on the key issue of file reviews where Lexcel requires reviews for all fee earners, including partners.
Nonetheless, many top 100 firms do have Lexcel and are thoroughly committed to it. Lexcel also has the advantages of being a legal management standard and Law Society approved. For this reason we have charted Lexcel compliance into CRQS 2011, meaning that firms can integrate Lexcel compliance into the other business standards covered. This will be particularly relevant to those firms that already hold Lexcel certification but that now wish to extend their compliance programme or make it more challenging.
8 Times are hard and the Managing Partner is not a fan of anything that drains resources. His/her priority is improving our top line. How do I sell this to them?
In most firms business performance and professional compliance occupy competing corners. Profits are maximised by a freedom to do as the partners wish and compliance is seen as a drain on time and money, with the result that the two areas conflict - fee earners and fee spenders!
The key element to CRQS 2011 is integration. By integrating better compliance for the firm within the fee earning process, especially in relation to issues in the Code of Conduct such as client relations under Rule 2, better business results are achieved through enhanced compliance. Improvements include: more robust client retainers; supervisory processes that ensure that work is done at an appropriate level; better fee capture and fewer write-offs or write-downs; improved client communication and greater levels of client satisfaction; and enhanced risk management, leading to a reduced risk of claims and an enhanced PII profile.
9 What will be the results of our working through this programme? What will actually be in place?
One of the disadvantages of the compliance programmes of many major firms is the proliferation of separate – usually unrelated – policies. The adviser might have to flit between a risk manual, a money laundering policy, a set of instructions from the Group Head, a data handling policy and so on.
The work we are now pioneering with the first firms to have adopted CRQS 2011 enables us to produce an integrated fee earning manual (which we recommend be adopted on a group or departmental basis) which sets out in one definitive policy how advisers should go about their job. We believe that fee earners should be confronted with one main manual setting our how they should perform their day-to-day work. There will also need to be various management manuals in place, but these do not impact directly upon most of the lawyers for most of the time.
Integration is again the key – CRQS 2011 enables the firm to distill all of its requirements of lawyers into one document, and so spares them the job of addressing multiple compliance sources.
10 And the cost of CRQS 2011?
During this development phase the cost of the standard and guidelines is limited to £1500 plus VAT. This includes a visit from one of our advisers. Consultancy rates are £1000 per day plus travel and other expenses and draft manuals can be supplied at rates to be agreed. We envisage these rates increasing sharply as the programme develops momentum.
Given the substantial intellectual capital that our copyright in the CRQS 2011 programme represents it is a condition of our supplying you with the standard and/or guidelines that it/they is/are available within your firm only and is/are not copied to or shared with any other organisation. It is also a condition that you do not show or copy CRQS 2011 to any other external consultant or adviser without our prior written approval.
For more information, contact Simon Bray.