Paul McCluskey looks at meeting your Lexcel obligations when we are all still social distancing.

Law firms face an unprecedented challenge brought about by the COVID-19 crisis. With a prolonged period of ‘lock-down’ and social distancing likely to continue into next year, law firms have no alternative than to innovate and embrace the idea of remote working.

With staff members working from home, it has never been more important to utilise the trusted risk framework familiar to a Lexcel Accredited legal practice. Clearly documented policies, processes and procedures help to protect the firm, its employees, and its clients. Lexcel accreditation evidences a firm’s commitment to excellence and accredited law firms are rightfully proud to display the Lexcel logo.

With no clear end to the crisis in sight, the Law Society are keen for firms to continue the focus on risk management by encouraging firms to complete annual assessment and corrective actions within pre-agreed timeframes. To help that process, there are 8 key things firms should be considering.

1. How should firms prepare?

Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States, famously said, “By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.”

This sentiment lends itself perfectly to a remote Lexcel assessment. Law firms are encouraged to work closely with their assessor to agree an assessment plan that works for all concerned and enables a law firm to fully evidence their compliance with the Lexcel standard.

Without the ability for the assessor to physically visit the premises, firms should consider:

  • · Can the assessor be set up with remote access to the practice management system?
  • · Could the firm use a data room or some other type of secure file sharing platform?
  • · Can documents be scanned and shared in PDF format via secure email?

Regardless of the communication method both the firm and assessor need to be comfortable with the online security arrangements and be able to hold confidential discussions without distraction.

2. Who needs to be involved?

The involvement of key personnel within the business is still a requirement. The assessor will liaise with the Lexcel Senior Responsible Officer (SRO) to agree an assessment plan involving a selection of fee earners and support staff.

There is no requirement for furloughed staff to attend any interviews or be involved in the preparation of documents.

3. Completing file reviews

In consideration of the time taken to complete a remote file review, the assessment criteria has been amended to allow one file review per fee earner interviewed.

If a law firm has not transitioned to electronic files, then the file review process will be slower but is still perfectly possible. The practice can scan and electronically share the information or post copies of the matter file by secure DHL transit.

If posting information, confidential or sensitive data should be redacted ensuring that client names, contact details and personal data are removed. If it is decided that a file review is simply not possible then, the Law Society should be advised, and a future file review should be scheduled.

4. Reviewing central records

Reviewing central records is a key element of the Lexcel assessment and access to these records is vital to complete the assessment. Without the ability to view the information via screen share or some other type of electronic format, the assessor will consider what can and cannot be shared ensuring that a fuller review is competed at the next visit.

5. Staff interviews

For all interviews I would suggest a call over any one of the video conferencing platforms would be more appropriate than a standard phone call. Staff members can be nervous in assessment interview situations and anything that can be done to build a relationship with the firm and their colleagues should be encouraged. Interviews are never intended to ‘catch people out’ and so a good assessor will look to put staff at ease as much as possible.

6. Assessor expectations

A requirement of the assessor is to complete the assessment and report writing within an allotted time. All assessors will encourage the firm to stick to the pre-agreed plan as much as possible. Ensure staff are familiar with the technology, files and records are available, and staff attend interviews at the arranged time.

7. Seeking time extensions

Inevitably for some firms the practicalities of completing the assessment review are just not possible and as a last resort an extension to the review period is available up to the 31st July 2020.

If an extension is required, the firm should contact The Law Society and discuss their individual situation. The relevant Lexcel assessment body should also be advised where an alternative date can be arranged.

8. Provide feedback

As assessors complete more remote assessment reviews the process will become more familiar and your assessor will be able to advise what has worked best during other assessments.

Unfortunately, remote assessments are likely to continue for the immediate future and therefore feedback on remote assessments are encouraged by the Law Society, assessors, and the assessment bodies.