Legal software suppliers reach an important agreement with the Legal Services Commission (LSC)

New agreement will mark better working practices for both sides.

The Legal Software Suppliers Association (LSSA), the UK industry body for legal systems developers and vendors, has today announced an important agreement with the Legal Services Commission (LSC), the body that runs the legal aid scheme in England and Wales. The agreement, which is seen as a significant breakthrough by all concerned, will govern how changes in LSC policy will be communicated to – and implemented by – LSSA members.

Representing most of the leading UK suppliers, the LSSA sets and maintains professional standards within the legal software industry, and also manages areas of mutual interest between lawyers and software providers. The LSSA also has numerous links with legislative bodies – including the Land Registry and the Law Society, as well as the LSC – and is committed to developing clear channels of communication so that law firms can gain the maximum benefit from their selected software solutions.

“I think that it’s fair to say that the LSC has not always prioritised the impact of change on software vendors. Any changes in policy – including those which might seem relatively minor to the LSC – will potentially have a big impact on software providers,” says Dominic Cullis, Chairman of the LSSA. “However, following a recent Working Group meeting with representatives from both organisations, we are feeling much more optimistic about the LSC’s ability and willingness to keep its promises with regard to how future changes will be rolled out to members of the LSSA.”

A key element of this newfound partnership rests on the formation of this Software Vendor Working Group, a body which will help to create a formal channel for two-way communication between software vendors and the LSC. Cooperating at this level will allow the LSC to hear the views of software vendors first-hand, and to take account of these concerns when implementing change. The Working Group will also ensure that a representative range of vendors will now be brought into discussions at an earlier stage in the planning of policy implementation.

The LSC, an organisation which currently funds legal advice and representation for more than two million people each year, is clear that a certain amount of change is unavoidable, but vowed to work closely with software vendors to ensure that they can cope with changes more easily. To this end, the LSC is already planning a “test site” where software can be thoroughly tested before any new changes come into effect. This approach will benefit both sides, as bugs in the LSC system would be identified by vendors when they were carrying out their testing.

“We are very much aware of the impact of change on LSSA members, and recognition of this issue has reached the top level of our organisation,” says John Binks Head of Provider Readiness at the LSC. “The Provider Readiness Team has implemented a sign-off procedure for all change requests where an impact on vendors is likely. This way, we can take the opportunity to seek the views of vendors on proposed changes, gain a better understanding of the impact they may cause, and factor that into the sign-off process. With this approach, we can ensure that the LSC understands the impact of change on software providers from the beginning, and factor into our plans proper provisions for making technical information available to vendors, along with sufficient time to prepare for change.”

According to the LSSA, even trivial changes can have a big impact on software vendors, as suppliers will need to review and understand the new specification, write and test the new code, make any necessary design changes, communicate the changes to clients, distribute the updated software, organise additional training, and then respond to any queries they receive about the changes from clients.

As such, following the most recent meeting of the Working Group, both sides have agreed that any changes affecting case management software will only be requested by the LSC for implementation at two set dates in a year, in April and October. Furthermore, the LSC has promised that a clear description of the transitional arrangements – as well as requirements for access to old data – will be supplied, and that software vendors will be provided with all appropriate changes in reasonable time to allow for the development process.