It has been announced that, since launch, the Conveyancing Quality Scheme (CQS) has received 1, 443 applications from Conveyancing Solicitors’ firms, of which 768 have been accepted, and 21 refused (information accurate as of November 2, 2011). We have been discussing the merits of this scheme since it launched last year, but these statistics give me pause.
On the face of it, CQS accreditation has improved service standards across the industry - and at a time when tightened belts in a shrinking market would otherwise provoke sharper sales tactics and other less-than-honourable behaviour, as firms struggle to get work. Better service and professional oversight can only be a good thing in these circumstances.
As more Conveyancing Solicitors join the scheme, the chorus of press releases, tweets and announcements of each local Conveyancing firm’s membership are all singing variations on a theme; namely, QS accreditation is a ‘badge of excellence’ or ‘mark of quality’.
Given the recent numbers, however, are these laurels justified? If a mere 21 of 789 processed applications are rejected, meaning 97. 3% achieve CQS status, then would it not be more accurate to claim that CQS accreditation is instead a ‘badge of ordinariness’?
Many of the Solicitors awarded Conveyancing Quality Scheme approval are indeed excellent and deliver best-of-breed service, speed and client satisfaction, all at reasonable cost. But the 789 successful firms cannot all be excellent.
In response, it may be argued that there are many, many Conveyancing Solicitors who have not applied for CQS status yet, and that fear or awareness of failure may be putting off the smaller, slower or ‘less excellent’ Property Lawyers from applying.
Is seems as likely that the more commercial and opportunistic firms would be among those to apply first, however; precisely the type whose high-volume, low-quality practices the CQS is intended to protect against. Yet only 2. 66% of these early adopters, whose reviews are complete, are rejected.
Of course, the Conveyancing Quality Scheme is not intended to be punitive, and the Law Society’s intention when launching the award was to raise service standards across the board. The accreditation process is designed to encourage compliance, so it is reasonable that, sooner or later, many Conveyancing Solicitors will get their houses in order and be welcomed into the CQS fold.
But it does not follow that those firms may brand themselves as superior, when the odds of eventual success are stacked in their favour; superior, or ‘excellent’, in comparison to whom? Those very few firms who were finally refused CQS status, or the mass of Solicitors whose applications are pending or not yet submitted?
Now that mortgage lenders are paying attention to its value, CQS approval is becoming a necessity for all serious Conveyancing Solicitors’ practices, but member firms should recognise their qualification for what it is – not a ‘badge of excellence’ but recognition that they, like many other firms, are delivering a solid, respectable quality of service.
As the market becomes ever more volatile and competitive, Conveyancing Solicitors would be wise to see the Conveyancing Quality Scheme not as the finish line, but instead as the first step of a marathon.