AUSTRALIAN law firms operating in the most competitive market in memory will be given a vital chance to differentiate themselves on equal terms, with splintered quality assurance schemes taking the first steps towards a peak system last week.
Mirroring well-documented moves to create a national legal profession, a number of providers of law firm best practice certification and training — namely Standards Australia International (SAI Global), QL Incorporated, the College of Law (COL) and the Law Society of NSW — have agreed to merge their energies into a single program.
Ross Wraight, managing director of SAI Global, which is creating a new professional services division to oversee the scheme, said the finer details of the wholesale project would be released in full come early December.
The new initiative encompasses a two-tiered system — Law 9000 and Excellence in Law — of best practice certification based on principles inherent in QL and ISO 9000 offerings.
Senior representatives of the four founding signatories believed a combination of the two certifications, both of which are currently offered to law firms, would involve tougher criteria.
“By bringing together the two schemes on offer, law firms can strive for recognition that is globally recognised and immediately linked to credibility,” Wraight said.
Firms that satisfy the requirements of SAI Global auditors will automatically earn the right to display the world-renowned ‘5 Ticks’ StandardsMark.
According to SAI, only 77 of Australia’s 7,000 plus law firms currently boast ISO 9000 accreditation. College of Law managing director Neville Carter added that about 50 had achieved the QL equivalent.
Carter acknowledged best practice schemes had so far received “mixed results” from the profession. However, he was confident the inaugural offering of renowned business standards tailored to the unique management interests of law firms could shrug off previous apathy.
He said the new regime had received support from regulators and professional indemnity insurers, who had already flagged premium reductions for qualified firms.
But national support was also cited as a necessary ingredient for the joint venture to well and truly meet its goals of a level playing field for all Australian firms.
To that end, Carter and COL colleague Greg Dwyer said discussions were currently ongoing with other law societies and the Law Council of Australia.
“We can’t say too much about [the discussions] publicly, but there is no question about policy support,” Carter said. “We are going to start in New South Wales and grow outwards from there.”
Asked to specify differences between current offerings and the hybrid system, Wraight said SAI audits would be more stringent, and there emphasis added on “continuous improvement”.
Dwyer estimated it would take an “average-sized” firm without QL or ISO 9000 systems in place six to 12 months to be brought up to speed.
“But it really depends on size and internal motivations,” he added.
The external costs of qualifying, he predicted, would range loosely from about $7,000 to $20,000, again depending upon size and the present health of practice management within the firm.
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