New applications for SQM accreditation will be subject to both a Desktop audit (remote activity) and a Pre-Quality Mark audit (a site-based activity). These will take place within a maximum period of 6-months from each other. The desktop audit seeks to assure compliance against the SQM requirements from the written documentation provided to support the application. The Pre-Quality Mark audit looks to test the practical implementation of the written policies and procedures. The Pre-Quality Mark audit will require access to client files and therefore consideration may need to extend to the timing of the pre-audit to ensure we can access everything required.
There are a number of mandatory documents that will need to be made available to the Auditor prior to any audit activity commencing. The extent of documentation required does vary according to the nature of the application being made. Please refer to Appendix One of our application guidance for further information.
Where a service provider has 3 or more offices, the Auditor will be required to visit more than one office. This exact mix of offices to be visited will depend upon the services delivered from each. Please see section 2.8.1 of our application guidance document for further information.
Where a legal aid contract with the LAA is held, the audit will typically focus on those individuals and client files relevant to the contract category. Individuals included within the scope of the audit will include anyone that comes into contact with a legal aid client, including reception and support/finance staff as well as fee earners, supervisors and managers.
When considering the sample of both open and closed files to be reviewed at audit, typically these will be drawn from the pool of legal aid files available. Where there is an insufficient number of legal aid files available for audit, to ensure the minimum sample numbers determined by the audit process can be achieved, the sample will extend into private client files. Note. It is envisaged that this will only be necessary in situations where the firm is a new start up firm and has not opened a sufficient number of files under the contract, and/or where caseloads tend to be much smaller and the cases run for longer periods of time in specific categories of law i.e., clinical negligence.
Unfortunately Recognising Excellence is unable to offer any extension to the SQM accreditation certificate already in place. Audits should be completed in full prior to the date of expiry of the current certificate. This includes any period of corrective action that may apply following the audit. If a provider is unable to proceed with their renewal arrangements within these parameters, they should liaise directly with their LAA Contract Manager (where applicable), and copy Recognising Excellence into any correspondence.
The simple answer is yes. The application process for new start-up firms does not require a firm to be trading at the Desktop audit stage, although this will be a pre-requisite prior to proceeding with the second stage, the Pre-Quality mark audit. Whilst a desktop audit does not require the business to be open, it does require a full suite of written policies and procedures that set out how the legal service will be provided, along with a supporting business plan and financial budget. These should be provided to support the completed application form. Please see Appendix One of our application guidance document for further information on what is required.
Audit fees are determined by the number of individuals involved in delivering the legal advice service. This includes all managers, supervisors, fee earners and admin/finance support roles. This will also extend to the use of police station representatives and consultants should these roles apply. Please see section 2.8.4 of our application guidance document for further information.
The duration of the audit process will be influenced by the size of the service provider and corresponds directly to the number of individuals involved in delivering the service. Durations will span from circa 1 day onsite to 3 days, dependent upon the size of the team. Please contact our offices or liaise directly with your allocated Auditor for a more tailored answer to this question.
The contracting arrangement with the LAA falls outside of the remit of Recognising Excellence and the SQM audit process which is independent from the contracting arrangement. You should therefore liaise directly with your LAA Contract Manager in this regard.
For the purposes of SQM accreditation, accreditation against the SQM standard is awarded to the service provider that was subject to the audit process. Generally speaking, accreditation cannot be transferred between two separate firms or legal entities. In the event that you are seeking to novate SQM accreditation to a new legal entity, please contact Recognising Excellence to discuss your specific circumstances further.
An early bird booking discount is available for existing SQM accredited providers, subject to meeting specific terms and conditions.
Requests for an audit received:
(a) 5 months prior to the expiry date of a current accreditation certificate, and
(b) where the audit takes place within a period of 6 weeks from the date of the application,
will attract an Early Bird Discount of 5%, applied to the total audit fee.
A refund to the value of the 5% discount will be issued following completion of the audit where points a and b above are both met.
Note: Where the audit does not take place within 6 weeks of the application date, either due to the service provider requesting an audit date outside of the 6-week timeframe, failing to agree to an audit date offered, or requesting a delay/postponement, the early bird discount will not be applied.
It should be noted that Recognising Excellence is not able to pre or post-date accreditation certificates. Certificates are therefore dated according to when the current audit has completed (including any period of corrective action). Where audits take place earlier than the expiry date of the current certificate, this will result in an overall reduction of time on the current accreditation certificate.
A worked example of this is as follows:
• Current certificate ends on 1 December
• Audit application is received on 1 July
• Audit must take place within 6 weeks i.e., no later than 12th August
• Application is therefore eligible for Early Bird Discount
• Assuming full report writing (5 days) corrective action period (28-days) is utilised, new accreditation certificate will be dated 9th September
• Period between 9th September and previous accreditation expiry date of 1st December is lost.