Authors:Vicky Ling
Last updated:2023-09-29
Time to review your manual?
Marc Bloomfield
Description: Practice management
Clues and tips on updating your office manual.
Very few people relish writing and reviewing systems and procedures, but having efficient and consistent working methods that comply with the law, regulation and other requirements are key to a happy workplace.
SQM and Lexcel requirements
Organisations need to hold the Specialist Quality Mark (SQM) or Lexcel to qualify for a legal aid contract. Any change to your chosen quality standard should prompt a review of the relevant section of your manual. The Legal Aid Agency updated the SQM to V3 in October 2022. Some requirements were new to the SQM, but are long-standing legal requirements (eg, data protection and anti-money laundering), so are likely to be in your manual already:
A1.1 – business plan – to include a communications plan and a regular cycle of team meetings;
A4.1 – safeguarding policy;
C1.4 – consideration of whether you need to take any action in relation to anti-slavery legislation;
C2.1 – consideration of whether you need to take any action in relation to Criminal Finances Act 2017 Part 3 and have procedures in place to prevent enabling tax evasion;
C2.5 – anti-money laundering and terrorist financing; and
F6.1 – data protection.
Lexcel is currently v6.1. It is divided into two versions, one for private practice firms and one for what The Law Society calls ‘in-house’ practices, which includes not-for-profits such as Law Centres.
The SQM requires you to review your procedures annually (G3.2). Lexcel requires you to have a review procedure, but does not stipulate a frequency (3.7c).
Changes in the way you work
Organisations have made significant changes to their working methods since the COVID-19 pandemic, due to remote and hybrid working. There is plenty of good practice guidance available, for example from the Solicitors Regulation Authority and The Law Society on supervision, and Acas on general people management issues.
It is helpful to bear in mind that the office manual is designed to be used by everyone in the organisation rather than being an expert’s guide. It is good practice to involve the people affected when redrafting policies or procedures so that they are practical, rather than taking a top-down approach, which may not always be workable.
If your office manual has become a large number of separate documents that you find unwieldy, you may want to group them together, perhaps adopting the overall sections of your quality standard, eg, for Lexcel: structure and strategy; financial management; information management; people management; risk management; client care; and file and case management.
It is helpful to adopt a consistent format and to distinguish a policy (a high-level statement of intent) from detailed procedures that people need to follow in relevant circumstances. You may wish to include an automatic table of contents using the feature in the ‘References’ tab in Word. You can then update automatically when you make changes. Clicking on the headings will hyperlink you to the page you need.
Sample format front page – data protection
Description: Vicky Ling column Feb 2023 Sample data protection manual front page