Graham Murphy is Product Manager at the Law Society and part of his mandate is to ensure law firms are fully engaged with CQS. He told Jane Common at Today’s Conveyancer how the Society gathers feedback from members around the scheme – and implements their ideas….
Why is keeping CQS updated such a priority for the Law Society, Graham?
“Prior to CQS’ arrival there wasn’t a huge amount of convergence on how the conveyancing process should work protocol-wise so the scheme has become the standard for best practice in conveyancing transactions in England and Wales. Just under 3000 law firms – 2913 at the last count – are CQS accredited now and the Law Society is trying to ensure all firms that undertake conveyancing on a regular basis have the mark. So CQS is important and we are justly proud of it but we need to keep innovating and moving it forwards so that we can really embed quality within the conveyancing process.”
How did the 2015 summer CQS road shows go?
“It was our second year of hosting the road shows and they were a great success. The idea is to get out there and meet our membership base – to consult them about their views on CQS and what possible changes they might like to see. To that end, prior to the road shows this year we sent out a survey that about 400 solicitors completed – then, in July 2015, we visited ten different cities across England and Wales and spoke to 250 or so CQS-accredited Law Society members.
“There were several issues that arose through those conversations and interestingly, one of the main issues was the need for some sort of training for unqualified staff – so that’s law firm secretaries and administration officers who aren’t qualified solicitors or legal practitioners but still play a vital role in the conveyancing process. The number of unqualified staff in firms is rising all the time – and set to carry on – and that’s partly where the issue arises. So, as a result of the summer road shows, our training team in conjunction with some of the best training brains around are developing a programme for those unqualified staff, launching next autumn. It won’t be mandatory but getting involved will be very much encouraged.”
So what issues did the 2014 road shows throw up – and have you implemented them?
“At the six road shows we held in 2014 we were trying to understand the pain points for CQS firms. There were three main areas where lawyers felt changes were required and we’re now implementing them: the first was a change to the application process; the second a need for a simplification of the mandatory training that registered staff have to undertake and the third was to introduce more robust monitoring of CQS members.
“So, as of October 2105, we have eased the application process by putting in place a rolling annual maintenance assessment process. Previously when a firm re-accredited to the scheme, they had to go through the same process as when initially applying. With the changes being implemented we are concentrating on the key areas relating to risk, compliance, probity and any major structural changes to practise – it should make the process less onerous for firms when re-accrediting. Obviously the changes will take a little while to filter through but we hope they will speed up the processing of CQS applications whilst at the same time ensuring the integrity of the scheme is maintained.
“The second modification that came as a result of those 2014 road shows is to our mandatory training. CQS has been running for over five years and we’ve now simplified the training process. New staff members will now have to undertake two training modules. The first is on financial crime and covers mortgage fraud and anti-money laundering – an area the Law Society is very interested in helping our members understand – and the second is an introduction to CQS protocol itself. Then, for members who are already part of the CQS scheme and have been for more than 12 months, there’s annual update training. This will cover Conveyancing Practice and also Risk and Compliance. Obviously the law is changing all the time so we have to keep our courses as relevant as possible.
“The third issue that came out of the road shows was a need for more robust monitoring of CQS member firms – while most firms do follow the protocol, there are a few that aren’t sticking to the guidelines perhaps quite as closely as they should. So the idea here is to monitor firms and ensure there’s greater compliance. We already gather quite a lot of intelligence on firms but we need to know what’s going on in the market place and understand where these lapses are occurring – only then can we take the necessary action to rectify them. So, as well as relying on solicitors informing us of cases when the protocol isn’t followed we’re introducing a monitoring system called a Desk Based Assessment through which we’ll be looking at actual transaction files. And when firms have been remiss we’ll issue some very specific guidance about where they are failing to comply and set a timetable by which they have to comply. We don’t want to come down with a heavy stick so it will be a process of engagement, but if we need to be robust we will be”
And presumably the lenders want to know that CQS is functioning well and protocol being upheld?
“Yes, we’re actively involved in stakeholder engagement so we meet lenders on an on-going basis and they are very interested in how CQS is developing, whether they mandate it or not. This is all part of an on-going engagement strategy with both our members and our stakeholders. Our aim is to improve the conveyancing process for everyone.”
Will there be 2016 road shows Graham?
“The road shows in both 2014 and 2015 have proved to be really successful and it is something we are taking forward into 2016. What we are looking to do is not only connect SROs with one another but also with other stakeholder groups such as lenders, developers, estate agents and surveyors and maybe even local and central government. The timetable is being put together at the moment with the first event likely to be late January or early February.”
For more information about CQS, log on to http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/support-services/accreditation/conveyancing-quality-scheme/