Since September 2010, Lexcel accreditation has been attainable by any law firm or in-house legal department anywhere in the world. The scheme continues to be administered by the Law Society of England and Wales.
For some practices, accreditation is an absolute must have, whilst for others it represents a distraction from day-to-day practice management. The key question to ask is: why do you want it? Usually there are three possible drivers:
- Assisting with regulatory compliance.
- Earning the badge to stay on a level playing field with competitors.
- Developing and implementing your practice’s business strategy.
Of course, Lexcel can assist with all these aspects. However, it’s the motivation behind going for the badge that can make all the difference.
It is quite possible to use Lexcel as a framework for compliance and an audit trail mechanism. Although Lexcel is not sold in this light, the quality standard is regarded by many practices as a mechanism for ensuring regulatory compliance with the SRA’s Code of Conduct.
In the same way that many suppliers of practice management software say their products assist with compliance, the key word is “assist”. Neither good software nor Lexcel itself can guarantee compliance. The burden of ensuring adherence to regulatory demands rests firmly with the partners or business owners.
The badge as a benchmark.
This approach means that you are using the process simply to meet the standards set by Lexcel. Whilst this will put you on an even footing with your competitors, that really is all it will do.
Having achieved accreditation, you will only be perceived as being as good as your competitors. The net result is that you will have gone through the pain only to end up as one of many in a crowded marketplace. That’s a great deal of effort for no perceivable competitive advantage. In all likelihood, achieving the assessment criteria will deliver a fixed approach to working practices without any noticeable improvement to service for clients.
Accreditation for strategic gain.
If you use Lexcel for strategic gain, you really are taking the bull by the horns. You are embarking upon an odyssey that will raise numerous questions about the way in which your practice functions and how you can improve things. The aim should be to improve the business for partners, employees and clients and to continue improving and adapting thereafter.
The starting point for all this and Lexcel accreditation has to be at the strategic business planning level. You’ll need to re-evaluate all your processes and establish how you can improve them for every stakeholder. A key part of this also involves establishing differentiators that will set you apart from your competition. Once done, you can build them into the standard and review their efficacy.
The strategic route will inevitably be a longer journey than the check-box approach. However, it makes more sense to build a platform for the future rather than one that documents past working practices. In all businesses, there is only one constant factor – the presence of change. Those practices that do not embrace and adapt changing markets will fall by the wayside. Using Lexcel at the strategic level is a good way to implement change and build in constant re-evaluation for future market changes.
Mike O’Donnell, March 2017.
Mike O’Donnell is an experienced marketing professional who has spent much of his career working in and advising the legal profession.