Law Society sets out case for CQS

The Law Society is looking to launch a consumer facing public relations and advertising campaign for the CQS in the spring and Today’s Conveyancer was lucky enough to be able to speak to Jonathan Smithers about it.  Jonathan is the Law Society Council Member for Kent and a past President of Kent Law Society and was instrumental in bringing about the new scheme.
We asked Jonathan:
What are the merits of the Conveyancing Quality Scheme?
The Law Society will be encouraging the public to use a Solicitor rather than legal providers and will be generating publicity for legal practices who have secured the CQS accreditation.  The scheme has the backing of Insurers and Lenders who want to bring higher standards to the profession.
Conveyancing Solicitors who wish to offer a genuinely secure, reliable and efficient transaction to home buyers and lenders, together with the Law Society, must lead the way in raising standards and this is the logic behind the Conveyancing Quality Scheme.  It is intended to be a bench mark for the conveyancing market, is only available to members of the Law Society and those that apply will need to meet the extremely high standards the scheme will set.
Jonathan explained:
“Lenders can be secure in the knowledge that any practice holding the CQS accreditation will be of a truly excellent standard.  Any member who fails to meet the standards set by the scheme will be required to improve or face being removed.  With the support of the Council of Mortgage Lenders, the Building Societies Association, and the Association of British Insurers, the Law Society has created a scheme which requires robust assessment in order for members to gain membership and is not just smoke and mirrors.  There is a point scoring risk analysis carried out and if the practice fails then membership will not be approved although there is the option to appeal so if you don’t succeed you can challenge the decision.”
Entry to the scheme is designed to test the responsibility of the Principals of the practice and also the controls in place as well as being a barrier to fraud taking place.  Key members of staff working within residential conveyancing will be subject to rigorous checks including CRB and credit checks, ensuring financial probity.
The scheme will improve efficiency and ensure that common, consistent standards and service levels are adhered to.  To aid this Standard Conditions have been updated and the Protocol has also been revised.
CQS could also help with the problem that some firms face in respect of lenders’ panels being reduced and could, in time, help with PII rates and terms.
To make the most of the Law Society’s PR campaign they are suggesting that any applications should be in by 28th February.  There are 200 firms currently awaiting confirmation as to whether or not they have been successful with their application and await the forthcoming announcement.
Can firms that are in the ARP be approved for the CQS?
Jonathan said:
“A firm that is continuing in the ARP is not likely to be approved but if a firm was assigned to the ARP because of an administrative error and was only temporarily included the Society would, if satisfied that any defects were put right, more than likely approve the application.
The idea behind the scheme is to set a bar and if a practice can get over that bar then they will receive the accreditation.”
What is the Law Society’s view on what will happen in the market if Conveyancers do not fully embrace the scheme?
“We can’t make people do what they don’t want to do but I believe that small firms will be squeezed out and fewer firms will be viable.  Advice on the high street is disappearing but we are listening to the profession and looking at giving consumers peace of mind when it comes to buying their home.”
If you want to register for the Scheme costs vary from £150.00 plus VAT, with an annual membership fee of £200.00 plus VAT, for a Sole Practitioner to £950.00 plus VAT, with annual membership at £1000.00 plus VAT, for a 50+ Partner firm. For full details see here.
Over 5,000 firms are making applications to the Land Registry each month yet only 200 Solicitors’ practices have applied to the scheme.  Is this a sufficient number to make the scheme viable?  Do you think that the Law Society have made their case successfully — are you convinced of the merits that membership of the scheme will bring to your firm?
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