A guide to Lexcel accreditation for law firms and how the right software can help
By Brian Rogers, Regulatory Director, Access Legal
Since it was introduced by the Law Society in 1998 the Lexcel standard has become recognised by many as a sure-fire way for legal practices to reduce risk, reduce complaints and reduce mistakes. Any law firm wishing to improve clients satisfaction and profitability should consider Lexcel, but before they embark on the process, they should consider whether or not their legal practice management software is up to the job. Is it going to aid or hinder the firm with the Lexcel accreditation process?
This article is a summary of what the Access Legal team of software experts has learned over 25+ years about Lexcel from many in depth customer interactions – including the benefits of getting the accreditation and key facts all law firms should know about the process and requirements. It also aims to show why having the right software in place can help a law firm achieve and maintain its Lexcel accreditation. We have collated our key learnings as a result of working closely with many Lexcel accredited firms for almost three decades.
The main points provide an interesting list of considerations for those firms wishing to go for Lexcel for the first time. However, this guide is probably of even more significance to practices that feel they are currently working too hard to maintain the accolade, and are perhaps recognising they need to look for new legal practice management software.
What is Lexcel and why should law firms become accredited?
Anyone who has anything to do with the running of a law firm knows that Lexcel is an off-the-shelf formula firms can implement to improve all areas of legal practice. However only 16% of law firms in England and Wales currently have the accreditation (2021). Lexcel provides a well-proven structure for people to follow consistently and is probably one of the most highly-respected, effective ways to improve the running of a legal Practice. Currently, there are just under 10,000 law firms in England and Wales, and around 1600 are Lexcel accredited.
When we speak to our clients about Lexcel, most of them tell us although achieving the accreditation is a considerable undertaking, its benefits far outweigh its cost. Here are some of the reasons our clients say getting the Lexcel accreditation has benefitted their practice:
- The Law Society only awards the Lexcel quality mark to the law firms that meet the highest standards of client service and technical expertise in specific areas of law. With just 1600 of the UK’s 10,000 law firms being Lexcel accredited, the quality mark is something that is going to set your firm apart from the competition. So a successful Lexcel accreditation is a commendable achievement, which can be used effectively in the firms’ marketing material.
- The Lexcel accreditation can be a significant morale booster for the team. Something to be proud of. Something to be celebrated.
- It adds credible level of competitive advantage and will generate new opportunities for the Practice.
- Clients, existing and new will be impressed when they see the Lexcel logo when they search for the firm online, e.g. via the Law Society’s ‘find-a-solicitor’ web pages.
- Lexcel is entirely separate from regulatory compliance, and should be treated as such, but it makes sense that if a firm puts its house in order to achieve Lexcel, it will be in a far better position to achieve compliance in terms of other industry requirements, such as the Conveyancing Quality Scheme.
Key facts all law firms should know about the Lexcel accreditation
- Any Practice of law or legal department in England and Wales can apply for Lexcel, regardless of area of legal specialism or the size of the operation (Lexcel v6.1).
- Practices located in foreign jurisdictions and overseas branches can apply too. (Lexcel v5.1).
- There are two types of Lexcel application: one for law firms and Alternative Business Structures (ABSs) that are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. The other is for inhouse legal departments.
- Lexcel certification lasts three years, but requires rigorous independent assessment annually, making it a significant, long-term commitment.
- Annual maintenance visits take place at the end of year one and year two.
- If a firm wishes to go for re-accreditation – full re-assessment will need to take place at the end of year three.
- A financial investment is required from law firms wishing to apply for Lexcel accreditation. The Law Society charges an annual Lexcel registration fee (currently between £78 and £896.40 at the time of publishing this article) depending on the size of the Practice. In addition firms need to pay an annual assessment fee directly to the independent assessment body of their choice, who are free to define their own charging structures.
- Law firms must have either the Law Society’s Lexcel accreditation or the Legal Aid Agency’s Specialist Quality Mark to hold a legal aid contract with the Legal Aid Agency.
- There are three stages for your Lexcel application: 1) Complete the assessment checklist 2) Submit the application form 3) Be assessed by an independent body.
- The Lexcel application process is likely to take up to 6 months. This will depend on volume of applications being processed by the Law Society at the time, but also on the number of practice areas the firm offers, the number of fee earners and support staff at the firm, and other quality standards held (e.g. ISO 9001) which may shorten the Lexcel process.
- Accredited firms can order a range of free Lexcel promotional materials such as Lexcel logos, certificates and window signage to promote their successful accreditation.
- There is an online database of accredited legal Practices that is updated by the Law Society monthly, publicly available.
How to achieve the Lexcel standard with the right software
Most importantly, if a firm does not have the right software in place, projects like going for Lexcel the extra work can be a significant distraction from the law firm’s main priorities, serving clients and generating fees. Lexcel accreditation requires focused commitment in terms of mind-set, and a significant investment in time and effort but achieving and maintaining the Lexcel can be made far easier, and more streamlined, if the law firm has good practice management software in place, that is aligned to the Lexcel standard. Much can be done to streamline the relevant processes via software configuration to automate the processes that matter for Lexcel.
Many legal software systems offer some of the features and functionality required to evidence to your Lexcel auditor that you are running your firm to Lexcel’s exacting requirements, however, sometimes you may find this is more luck than judgement. Access Legal offers leading practice management software for law firms all of which have been aligned to Lexcel’s seven areas of assessment:
- Client Care
- Risk Management
- People Management
- Structure and Strategy
- Financial Management
- Information Management
- File and Case Management
Below are examples of how software functionality and configuration can help a law firm with each of the seven Lexcel areas:
1. Client Care
Communication at matter take-on is scrutinised under Lexcel. Your practice management software should automate the production of the relevant documents, including client care letters with terms of business, questionnaires, reminders for return, and generating costs estimates and quotes when relevant. Also complaints handling procedure is an area of interest for the Lexcel auditors. You should be able to log and handle complaints within your practice management system and analyse and report on complaints.
2. Risk Management
Your Lexcel auditors will need to see evidence of your policies and procedures governing the risks in delivering legal services and advice. This will include how you accept and manage new work, supervision, outsourcing, conflict management, adhering to dates and operational risks. Of course procedures for regular, independent file reviews is a must as are robust anti-money laundering procedures. A good suite of practice management software will provide a range of functionality that enables the law firm to manage and report on all of this, providing the evidence you need for Lexcel accreditation success.
3. People Management
The Lexcel accreditation requires evidence that the law firm is providing role profiles and inductions for all personnel. Also that learning and development plans for everyone at the practice are in place, with performance management procedures. Your auditors will also need to see that the Practices is managing recruitment, selection and progression well within the firm, and that the management of people leaving the practice is robust. Choosing the right software in terms of HR and law firm earning and development modules will make life a whole lot easier for law firms.
4. Structure and Strategy
As well as having a definition in place for the Practice’s longer-term strategy with annual objectives, the Lexcel auditors will need to see a disaster recovery plan. Having a trusted-advisor relationship with your tech partner, and a software-as-a-service infrastructure with quality training for all your people on cyber security, with a learning management system where you can log learning as it takes place – is the best way forward.
5. Financial Management
Lexcel is looking for robust financial management procedures to aid tracking performance against targets. At the heart of any good practice management system is an SRA-complaint legal accounts package with far-reaching functionality designed to enhance efficiency and save time for cashiers and fee earners alike.
6. Information Management
The Lexcel accreditation insists on seeing evidence of the policies you have in place to manage information exchange and assets ensuring compliance with data protection legislation. Also it requires a central register of all plans, policies and procedures and a named person responsible for their management and update. Ask your software supplier to demonstrate the software features within their system that aid the law firm to achieve all of this.
Our team offers compliance consultancy services to help you prepare for your Lexcel audit.
7. File & Case Management
The process you Lexcel auditors need to see include details of how your firm ensures matters are effectively managed and progressed and close. A good legal case management software system will give a firm all the tools it needs to manage your case-load, and will more than satisfy the Lexcel standard in this regard. Also of importance for the audit are the firm’s procedures for managing the use of third parties, such as estate agents, expert witnesses and
Advice from Lexcel accredited law firms
We asked a number of our law firm clients what advice they would give to other law firms thinking of applying for the Lexcel Standard for the first time. Here are some of the key themes you may want to take away:
- With Lexcel, half-heartedness is not an option. The whole firm must be on board in terms of using your legal practice management system to its full potential.
- No suite of software, on its own, is going to achieve the Lexcel accreditation for you. But if configured correctly and used properly, it will make assessment a lot easier, whether you are going for Lexcel for the first time, or re-assessment.
- Lexcel is a team effort, box-ticking is not an option, commitment to it must permeate the whole practice.
- Buy-in is required across the board, as without it achieving Lexcel can be a painful process.
- Losing accreditation once a firm has had it obviously doesn’t look or feel good.
- You’re going to need a software partner that understands Lexcel. Do your homework.
For more information about Access software please visit: https://www.theaccessgroup.com/