General introduction to the series of articles
As from the 1st of February 2012, when new contracts started with Family and Family with Housing practitioners, the Legal Services Commission’s mainstream face-to-face civil and crime providers have been operating under the same standard terms. It is unlikely that many people have had the time and/or motivation to read the contract but it is useful to know what’s in it.
In this series of articles Vicky Ling considers the impact of the contract from a practical point of view, to help you operate in a way which suits you and your clients, and won’t fall foul of the LSC.
Clauses 8, 9 & 10: Keeping records and completing and returning forms; provision of information and access to your premises; standard of contract work, including peer review
Clause 8: Keeping records and completing and returning forms
Unsurprisingly, you must have a file for each matter/case and maintain them in an orderly manner. The contract goes into detail about what must be kept on the file, listing: correspondence, attendance notes and disbursements what work was done, when and by whom, how it was performed and how long it took. This also applies to electronic files.
You must maintain true, accurate and complete records of all activities you undertake in connection with this contract, including:
- Records of how you monitored performance and compliance with the contract, and any corrective action you have taken – for example through file reviews, notes from team meetings, reports to partners/directors’ meetings etc.
- Records of any client complaints received and how they have been handled – these are required by the SRA in any event
- Results of any client satisfaction surveys
- The results and reports of any internal and external audits, for example by your financial auditors or the SQM delivery partnership
- Records of all identified non-compliances and corrective action taken – again file review records will generally meet this requirement
- Details of the operation of your equality and diversity policy, procedures and communications and an assessment of its effectiveness – good practice and check IB for the SRA as well
- Information about your organisation for internal use including office manuals and information relating to your clients
- Annual accounts and information referred to in Clause 4.1;
- File reviews and details of corrective action taken to improve performance
- The identity of, and work performed by, any agents, counsel, approved third parties and sub-contractors you have instructed – keeping your approved list up to date will help you to comply with this.
- Up-to-date records (including accurate values) of current work in progress in respect of all contract work. This means keeping time recording up to date is extremely important.
- Note that in relation to Crime, John Sirodcar, the LSC’s national contract manager stated in 2011 that Crown Court LGFS cases do not have to be time recorded:
‘The position has not changed with the introduction of the 2010 Standard Crime Contract. Time recording is good practice but is not required for LGFS work except where required under the Criminal Defence Service (Funding) Order 2007 (as amended) such as special preparation.’
You must keep secure all documents provided to you by or on behalf clients, a court or a relevant professional body if they relate to contract work.
You must maintain records (other than contract work files see below) for a period of six years from the date the record was created, unless you are required to keep them for longer by law or by a professional body.
You must retain all contract work files until the latest date you are required to keep them by law and/or your professional body and/or six years from the date of the last of the following events:
- Closure of a matter or case has been reported to the LSC;
- A final claim for payment for your work on the Matter or case has been submitted;
- All payments in respect of the matter or case have been made.
If a matter or case has been transferred elsewhere at a client’s request, you should retain copies if, without them, there is a risk that you will be unable to demonstrate compliance. The contract says that where a client has changed solicitors, obtaining an irrevocable undertaking from the new solicitor to return the file, should it be required for audit purposes, will be sufficient. The LSC has recently published guidance based on audit findings which indicates that
when a file has transferred to another provider, it is the original firm’s responsibility to provide a copy of the file or obtain the original file from the new provider. The guidance can be downloaded HERE (PDF).
If you keep your files electronically, you must ensure that they are an accurate and complete record of all matters which would have been included had the file been a paper file, including:
- ensuring that documents are held in pdf format; and
- they comply with National Audit Office requirements for ensuring that electronic copies are accurate copies of any corresponding paper document.
Clause 9: Provision of information and access to your premises
The LSC may conduct an audit at any time and you must give them access to your premises as long as they give you at least 48 hours notice.
If the LSC notifies you that an official investigation is to take place you must not remove any records from your premises without their consent.
If the LSC asks you for information about your Quality Standard (i.e. Lexcel or the SQM) you must provide it. You must write to the LSC with the outcome of any third party’s audit and provide them with a copy of their report within seven days of your receipt of it.
Your staff need to be aware that LSC representatives are allowed to undertake mystery shopping exercises by telephone, visit or otherwise. However, I am not aware that the LSC has conducted such exercises on a significant scale, and certainly not for many years.
The LSC can carry out client surveys and you must provide them with such information as they need to do this. You can ask to be provided with the results.
Clause 10: Standard of contract work (including peer review)
It seldom hurts to state the obvious – so the contract says you must perform contract work in a timely manner and with all reasonable skill, care and diligence. You must hold an acceptable Quality Standard – Lexcel or SQM.
You must ensure that staff are allocated work according to their role and on the basis of their skills, competence and capacity and any requirements set out in the specification. This reinforces the importance of effective supervision.
You must also keep your eye on the standard of work provided by freelancers, agents etc. They must allow the LSC to obtain status reports on them, including from the SRA. If the LSC notifies you that they reasonably believe such a person is unsuitable to perform such work, you must stop using them.
The LSC is carrying out far fewer peer reviews (through the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies) than they used to; but they are still taking place. You must be assessed at Threshold Competence (3) or above. The LSC has published checklists of good practice indicators, which firms can use to benchmark their files and ensure they achieve good peer review scores. There are checklists for Crime, Family, Debt, Education, Immigration, Housing, Mental Health and Welfare Benefits, as well as a generic guide. More information can be found on the LSC’s website HERE (PDF).
- Transforming legal aid survey - 30th September 2013
- PCT: incredible alternatives - 7th June 2013
- What was that we signed? - 28th March 2013
- The Low Commission: ‘no magic solution’ - 15th January 2013
- Legal Services Commission’s Standard Contract 2010 (article 8) - 11th January 2013
- ‘Massively oversubscribed’: legal aid contracts from April 2013 - 4th January 2013
- Legal Services Commission’s Standard Contract 2010 (article 7) - 1st November 2012
- Legal Services Commission’s Standard Contract 2010 (article 6) - 9th October 2012
- Welfare Benefits: in scope or not? - 3rd August 2012
- Legal Services Commission’s Standard Contract 2010 (article 5) - 27th July 2012