The Legal Practice Management Association (LPMA) has been working on the draft of a revised standard on behalf of the Bar Council since mid 2011. Senior managers and senior clerks in chambers will largely be responsible for implementation and the LPMA has taken the opportunity to ensure that the new standard will focus on continuous improvement to client services. It will not waste time on tick-box exercises which have little value to the success of the business. The draft revised standard, which was completed in April, is now out for consultation and we are inviting comments from chambers and interested parties.
We have set out to ensure that those bodies with an interest in promoting quality services at the Bar are satisfied that the new BARMARK meets or exceeds their requirements. The LPMA has therefore benchmarked the revised standard against the LSC’s Quality Mark for the Bar, the Solicitors Quality Mark, the new Solicitors Regulation Authority Handbook, Lexcel, ISO9001, Investors in People, and compliance standards required by the Bar Standards Board, the Attorney General’s Department and the CPS. It is anticipated that BARMARK-accredited chambers will be subject to less frequent monitoring than non-accredited sets.
One size does not fit all
The one-size-fits-all approach is no longer appropriate in the new deregulated legal environment. The onus will be on chambers to demonstrate good business practice relevant to the market they are operating in and to show that this has had an impact on profitability. The new kitemark will allow chambers to demonstrate excellence in the most appropriate way to their circumstances. Whilst a commercial set might be able to plan three years ahead with confidence, a criminal set, or one that is predominantly funded through CFAs, will need to keep a close eye on developments over the next 12 months.
Operation and content
We envisage that the new standard will operate online through the Bar Council website. It will be structured in much the same way as a tax return so that chambers complete only those sections of the BARMARK accreditation that are relevant to them. There will be core competencies that must be met by all sets, however. These will cover: strategic development and operational management; financial management; human resources and pupillage; client care; and clerking and case management. Optional modules, which chambers will select as necessary, are likely to include: public access; ABSs; contracting with the Legal Services Commission (LSC); and tendering and contracting with local authorities and other suppliers of work. As with the tax return, relevant guidance about how to evidence the competencies will be embedded in the system and accessed through hyperlinks.
The revised standard will require more input from barristers - unlike the current version of BARMARK. For example, under the section on strategic development a chambers will be asked to demonstrate that “leadership and effective management improves the performance” of the organisation. One of the outcomes required is that “managers and senior barristers are role models of leadership, teamwork and knowledge sharing”, and one of the ways of evidencing this will be to ask junior barristers and staff for examples of this behaviour.
Equality and diversity issues - relevant to every aspect of the day-to-day running of chambers - should no longer be viewed as an “add-on” and have been integrated into each section of the standard.
Timing and assessment
Introduction of the new standard will be staggered, with plenty of time for chambers with existing BARMARK accreditation to make preparations. Discussions are ongoing as to which body, if any, will conduct the assessments, the basis on which the standard will be issued, and a suitable appeal process for chambers not deemed to have made the grade.
In a rapidly changing legal market with new challenges and opportunities around every corner, we want to ensure that this revised quality standard provides a framework which will help chambers focus on priorities and achieve business objectives. It has no value otherwise. It must give confidence to every client. It must be viewed as a mark of quality across the industry; one that says this is an organisation which is professionally run, commercially competent and delivers a service which stands out from its competitors.
See the draft new standard at www.BarCouncil.org.uk or email Alex Straker astraker@BarCouncil.org.uk. The consultation period will close on Friday 29 June 2012.
Christine Kings, Commercial Director, Outer Temple Chambers
BarMark 2012: timeline
End of April: draft of the new standard completed
May/June: consultation with chambers and interested bodies
End of June: core competency model integrated into Bar Council website
September: launch of new quality standard
Quality Mark holders
The Legal Services Commission intends to withdraw the Quality Mark for the Bar (QMB) standard. It has been agreed that all existing QMB holders that wish to obtain the new BARMARK standard will be offered a reduced registration fee, provided they apply for the standard within 3 months of the standard becoming operational. These chambers will then be required to be audited against the revised BARMARK standard in accordance with its procedures. The Legal Services Commission will contact all QMB holders to inform them of the steps that they will need to take.