It is just over 2 years now since the Law Society unveiled its latest Quality Standard The Wills and Inheritance Quality Scheme and coming up to 2 years (on 31st October) since the first applications were invited for.
Today’s Wills and Probate understand that around 200 law firms have achieved the WIQS quality standard which is low compared to other schemes such as Conveyancing Quality Standard (CQS) which has around 2,700 firms accredited.
Why the low numbers? Traditionally quality standards do have a low take up initially but for the thousands of law firms who have a strong wills and probate department and specialize in this area of law it could be a key way of differentiating your law firm from that of other firms.
The Law Society has run it’s biggest consumer campaign in 2015. “Use a Professional” advertising has included a range of media including ITV on demand, buses and social media with wills topping the charts in consumer interest so could now be the right time to gain WIQS?
One reason for the apparent low take up is that there is currently no external pressure on firms to attain the standard, unlike the Conveyancing Quality Standard which became a requirement for those doing lender panel work for most, and growing numbers of lenders. There also exists a recognized Quality Standard available for STEP’s (Society of Trust & Estate Practitioners) Members known as the Code for Will Preparation in England and Wales.
We asked Legal Eye, the UK’s leading external compliance supplier to law firms, what they saw to be the key differences between the two standards:-
All existing SRA regulated practices or sole practitioners who can prove 3 years’ experience of wills, probate and estate administration are eligible to apply for WIQS accreditation. For new practices or sole practitioners or existing practices or sole practitioners who have been in existence for less than 3 years, the nominated SRO and/or Head of Wills, Probate and Estate Administration must be able to demonstrate 3 years previous experience of wills, probate and estate administration. Accreditation is, therefore, awarded to the practice rather than to an individual with WIQS. In contrast, a full Member, Associate, Affiliate or student of STEP who has successfully completed the Advanced Certificate in Will Preparation is entitled to market themselves accordingly with a special logo that may be used on their own advertising and corporate materials. However, the logo cannot be used on a firm’s homepage of their website or anywhere where it may imply that the firm are a member of STEP or imply an endorsement of a particular firm, product or service by STEP since the logo attached to the individual (eligible practitioner) and not to the firm.
Both the Quality Standard and the Code have client care at their core and both provide a framework within which practitioners are required to work ensuring the highest standards of client care and service, improved communication and increased transparency.
WIQS is designed around 5 pillars, namely probity, quality standards, core practice management standards, client service and scheme quality assurance with a detailed (83 page) protocol to which firms must adhere. The standards within the STEP Code are similar to but do not go beyond those required of a solicitor in practice, for example, costs information, conflict of interest requirements, confidentiality clauses, adherence to AML provisions and assessment of mental capacity.
Application Process and Fees:
Although the application process for WIQS is similar to that for CQS, firms who are CQs accredited must use the CPMS cross reference table for additional criteria that must be met in order to achieve the WIQS standard. Firms that are Lexcel accredited do not have to satisfy the Core Practice Management Standard. The process for obtaining WIQS requires an SRO and/or Head of Wills, Probate and Estate Administration to be nominated and a detailed application form and supporting documentation to be submitted to the Law Society. Post-submission, there is a period of time before a practice hears whether it has been accepted, awarded a fail or given a referral (referred to the assessment panel and/or subjected to an audit). Mandatory training is also a requirement for all relevant staff and the SRO/ Head of Wills, Probate and Estate Administration (unless it is the same SRO as for CQS). Fees are at a flat rate, discounted for those firms that have Lexcel or CQS, together with a fee per relevant member of staff for the first year and thereafter an annual fee on the same basis.
In contrast, there is no application process for the STEP Code nor a fee to be paid, which is to be expected, since the accreditation attaches to the eligible practitioner (ie the member, associate, affiliate or student of STEP who has successfully completed the Advanced Certificate in Will Preparation).
Legal Eye Ltd regularly assist firms working towards WIQS, CQS and Lexcel and offer a free health check worth £400 to law firms.