Getting your house in order: Why CQS accreditation matters more than ever

Access Legal have written an article discussing getting your house in order, and why CQS accreditation matters more than ever.

Brian Rogers, risk and compliance expert, and Access Legal’s regulatory director, explains why it’s critical that conveyancing professionals keep their training up-to-date to maintain CQS accreditation, and reduce risk.

It’s sobering to think that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) received more complaints about solicitors and firms in residential conveyancing than any other area of law in the five years leading up to January 2023, matched only by probate.

Detailed in the Annual assessment of continuing competence 2023, the regulator points out that not every allegation is upheld. In fact, just 15% of complaints across every area of law lead to a formal investigation by the SRA. Nevertheless, residential conveyancing and probate are still the two where a regulatory decision is most likely.

The ever-changing nature of the property market underlines why building and maintaining competencies is critical for any firm offering conveyancing services. In the years covered by the SRA’s report, conveyancers have faced an onslaught of challenges, from the disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic, and avalanche of work during the SDLT holiday, to the potential legal claims linked to the cladding and leasehold scandals.

A highly-competitive market and growing consumer expectations have also heaped more pressure on professionals, resulting, in some cases, in a race to the bottom on pricing and pressure to maximise billable hours.

Often hardest hit by these challenges are the smaller law firms. According to our research, they’re fighting for a smaller proportion of business in a market dominated by big players with the technology, resources and economies of scale to work more efficiently. This can leave little time for training and professional development, beyond what is mandatory.

Making the case for CQS accreditation:

CQS accreditation might not be mandatory for SRA-regulated firms, but they do need it. Without this accreditation many firms will be unable to join lender panels and unable to practice altogether. It is one of the most effective ways of building and demonstrating competencies, which reduce compliance risk, and provide reassurances to clients.

Up-to-date training gives professionals the knowledge they need to navigate the complex and ever-changing property landscape and ensures that clients receive the best possible advice as legislation changes. The Law Society’s CQS badge, which accredited firms can display on their branding, also creates a point of difference in a competitive market, which can help to win new and repeat business.

Evidence of training, such as a CQS accreditation, could also reassure the regulator when concerns are raised. In its continuing competence report, the SRA notes “[carries out] specific checks on training and supervision arrangements…[and reviews] training records to understand whether solicitors are learning and developing.”

Efficiency in training – and practice:

Like any kind of accreditation, CQS requires an investment of time, particularly as re- accreditation is needed every 12 months. But it shouldn’t come at the expense of fee-paying work, nor the well-deserved downtime solicitors need in the evenings and at weekends. Ultimately, the knowledge they develop by working towards accreditation should empower them to tackle their workloads as efficiently and compliantly as possible, freeing them up to concentrate on the most rewarding aspects of their work.

The availability of online training means that building and demonstrating competencies isn’t as arduous as it once was. Used alongside your learning management software, it is now easier to keep track of what training has been undertaken and deadlines such as the six-month time limit for completing the training after your CQS accreditation date.

Online courses are an efficient and cost-effective way of delivering training, but it’s vital that you choose a training provider that offers the latest modules required for accreditation.

Access Legal is one of a few authorised CQS providers apart from the Law Society and, as such, we’re continually developing new material to help firms meet the latest requirements.

We’ve just launched the two new Update courses for the 2023-2024 syllabus – Risk, Compliance and Client Care, and Conveyancing Practice. These courses, released in January this year, cover everything legal professionals need to know about the Building Safety Act 2022, home buying and selling reform, climate change guidance and digital conveyancing.

Healthy compliance culture:

CQS accreditation isn’t a box-ticking exercise, and it certainly isn’t about creating a culture of fear or blame. Training and accreditations are only valuable if they are underpinned by a healthy compliance culture. The first step in achieving CQS status is appointing a senior responsible officer (SRO) who champions the accreditation, and ensures compliance through well-documented policies, control and procedures. A healthy compliance culture extends across the conveyancing department and the firm, from partners and senior staff to trainees.

Good-quality training courses are a key part of a healthy compliance culture. The content has to be engaging and genuinely useful if firms are to encourage people to carve out time for learning and then implement it in their day-to-day work. Again, this is something we’ve worked hard to achieve with our courses. Designed by legal sector experts, they’re practical, interactive, and include relevant and relatable scenarios.

Final thoughts:

As always, reports of competency concerns in some firms can overshadow the many others that consistently demonstrate integrity, professionalism and expertise. For firms that fall into the second category, achieving or retaining CQS accreditation means they are recognised for their good work, and are less likely to face allegations of incompetence in the first place.

At a time when really reputation matters and consumer expectations are high, having full CQS accreditation could be the key to helping your firm stand out from others within an already highly competitive industry.


Getting your house in order: Why CQS accreditation matters more than ever

Brian Rogers

Written by Brian Rogers, Access Legal’s regulatory director


Kindly shared by Access Legal