The Legal Services Act 2007 set out a new regulatory framework for regulators where it requires the SRA to have regard to "the principles under which regulatory activities should be transparent, accountable, proportionate, consistent and targeted only at cases in which action is needed". Our move to OFR ensures that we regulate in the principles set out under the Act. The Act will also enable new forms of legal practice to develop such as alternative business structures (ABS) and Legal Disciplinary Practices (LDP).
The EP will deliver the technology and process capability that both OFR and ABS will require. The drivers for the EP also include replacing obsolete ICT systems, introducing self-service and online interaction with the profession and achieving significant cost savings through more efficient working and the phasing-in of targeted technological systems.
The three phases of the EP are:
- Migration Phase 1 (MP1) to go live on 28 February 2011
- Migration Phase 2 (MP2) to go live on 27 June 2011, and
- Migration Phase 3 (MP3) to go live on 26 September 2011.
The new online functions, including admission and practising certificate renewals will replace paper-based systems from July 2011 onwards. These will follow on from the introduction of online student enrolment launched at the end of February 2011.
This will reduce unnecessary administration processes, make the SRA more efficient and facilitate a more personalised service for our users—for example, users will not have to input the same data into several different forms.
The move to online systems has been designed to eradicate errors and to make the information we keep more secure. Online systems will also be tailored to individual user requirements. For example logging into the mySRA page will be done on a secure site using information already held, such as date of birth and Roll number, for those solicitors already on the SRA system.
A modular approach will be used to tailor questions to the user and their requirements. This approach reduces duplication and is effective in providing the information the user requires.
For each application, a staff member will be responsible for compliance and for any declarations made online. Contact will be made with users by letter in the first instance, where instructions will be given on how to log on in order to provide proof of identity.
We are moving services online and this will be the primary point of access for users. By providing our services online, we will not only be able to provide a quicker service but will be able to access consistent sources of data and information to identify and make improvements to any gaps in our service.
Web and online services have been created to increase efficiency of access to our resources, reduce cost and provide equitable access to information. The use of online options and the withdrawal of some existing methods of operating will have an impact on our stakeholders. For example, the change from a paper-based application system to an online application system is key to the way we will operate our future processes. A paper-based application option will however still be available to individuals who require a reasonable adjustment.
The student enrolment online application includes questions about whether the user requires any reasonable adjustments. We also have FAQs for student enrolment queries. A statement on the form for disabled users is quoted as, "please call the contact centre if you have a disability that impacts use of the internet". Therefore users who cannot access the online form are referred to the contact centre.
This replacement of the current paper-based system with online application screens will
- reduce potential clerical errors from the staff handling, moving and transferring application information between the various systems that make up the current process of work schedules
- permit restrictions on data where necessary, and
- enable collation and analysis of specific data sets, including equality and diversity information.
Web and online systems will create
- commonality and consistency
- an optimum user experience, and
- a model that will work for both online and offline applications.
An "optimum user experience" is defined as "independently verified conformance with ISO 9241-151", which is the international standard on web usability (referenced in the EP style guide). A suggestion is that to measure conformance with the ISO, we could, for example, require independently verified passes in 80 per cent of the checkpoints in the "usability checkpoints" XLS.
We are ensuring ease of use for our users by reducing the amount of content and questions which are visible. For example, we are creating an "optimum user experience" by excluding questions which an individual may not need to answer. These will be identified by previous answer choices.
We are looking to improve and enhance the user experience with our online application system. For example, online applications will provide context specific guidance and "help" options. This will provide focused, real-time assistance to users which static, paper-based guidance is unable to provide.
We will be able to regularly update our equality data information through EP. Internally, as part of this process, we will look to improve our data collection and analysis in order to improve the services we provide. For example, collecting data via online applications increases data consistency and accuracy through the use of data validation and mandatory data collection at the point where the user provides the update. We are aiming to be able to align our equality data fields with recommendations made by the Legal Services Board (LSB).
This has a potential positive impact for our stakeholders as a streamlined system will reduce contact time and will enable "standard" applications to be processed as quickly as possible with immediate approval in a large percentage of applications.
The online application form will therefore support us to improve our services. A suggestion is to put into place analytical tools to measure user behaviour and identify trends and patterns on the usage of the online application system and of the data captured within the modules. We can use this information to target services and support where necessary.
We will look to ascertain that
- the questions are clear, fair and easy to understand (individual SRA units will need to ensure that the questions submitted for the EP are relevant and understandable)
- the explanatory guidance is suitable
- the flow and logic of the application process are suitable, and
- the application process and form is flexible enough to suit different business models.
Online processes will also provide the opportunity for users to self-review their information.
We have changed our approach to payments. This will mean that the application approach to payments will be changed from cheque to BACS. Where a user requests a same-day transfer, the cost attached to this would be £25.00. We will be able to override this cost if necessary. As part of this online process, postal orders and cash will no longer be offered as payment types.
As part of MP3, users who are making a claim through Claims Management, for example, will submit their application online. The online process will provide support and guidance to applicants. As these claims arise from consumers of legal services, and the profession, we will be able to support with reasonable adjustments where required. We will continue to provide requests for applications in a different language on an individual, case-by-case basis and we will monitor these requests.
We receive a number of queries about claims from people with literacy problems or who do not speak English as a first language. One suggestion for a better way to support these individuals' needs is to provide extra guidance to organisations such as Citizens Advice, who often support them through the claim process. We can have a look at how these users can receive support and guidance where there are difficulties such as literacy, language or restricted internet access.
Automatic reminders and information are sent to users submitting online forms. These automatic reminders cease if there are issues or concerns with an applicant who may not wish to receive such reminders. Reminders also cease in cases of bankruptcy. Reminders are sent once an online form has been submitted. If an individual has been given support to fill in an online form with the CAB, for example, we can potentially look to reroute reminders by post.
ABS online applications will be processed by Authorisation and will have guidance notes linked to the forms as with our other online forms.
Our diversity census (compiled in mid 2010), based on solicitors on the Roll with a practising certificate, showed that 0.7 per cent of solicitors had declared themselves to have a disability. The number of responses from the profession totalled just under 35,000, a 29.7 per cent response rate from this census.
Disability access online is catered for by the SRA website conforming to the appropriate standards. This is set out in our web policy. Technology can support disabled people to access online information and forms through the use of a variety of assistive technology methods that such users may already have.
The web accessibility standard is identified in the EP style guide as WCAG 2.0. The styles guide states that all EP-delivered user interfaces must achieve AA conformance; in addition, all failures to achieve AAA conformance must be reported and explained. As the style guide does not specify how conformance is to be measured, a suggestion is that we need to state that AA conformance must be evidenced by the findings of an independent expert review. This is because automated conformance review tools are inaccurate and are considered inadequate by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the author of the WCAG 2.0 standard.
Web and online access to resources can also present barriers for some disabled people, for example where individuals may find it difficult to browse a website in a different-sized font or in different colours.
The duty comprises the following three requirements:
- The first requirement is a requirement, where a provision, criterion or practice of A's puts a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage in relation to a relevant matter in comparison with persons who are not disabled, to take such steps as it is reasonable to have to take to avoid the disadvantage.
- The second requirement is a requirement, where a physical feature puts a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage in relation to a relevant matter in comparison with persons who are not disabled, to take such steps as it is reasonable to have to take to avoid the disadvantage.
- The third requirement is a requirement, where a disabled person would, but for the provision of an auxiliary aid, be put at a substantial disadvantage in relation to a relevant matter in comparison with persons who are not disabled, to take such steps as it is reasonable to have to take to provide the auxiliary aid.
Where the first or third requirement relates to the provision of information, the steps which it is reasonable for A to have to take include steps for ensuring that in the circumstances concerned the information is provided in an accessible format.
Subsection 20(5)—on the face of it, auxiliary aids would include the full range of assistive technologies utilised by people with disabilities to access computers, systems, applications and specific functionality.
As an employer our duty to make reasonable adjustments does not exist unless the employer knows, or could reasonably be expected to know, that "a worker has a disability and is, or is likely to be, placed at a substantial disadvantage" (section 6.19) 2.
Our internal IT system, Dynamics CRM, is a customer relationship management (CRM) package built and supported by Microsoft. Dynamics is a tool used exclusively by The Law Society Group employees, in which the SRA is included. Dynamics is not directly accessed by Group customers or by other external stakeholders. As it is not an outward-facing system, the Group's legal obligations with respect to the accessibility of Dynamics CRM are limited to its obligations to Group employees.
Despite arguments in favour of general "accessibility testing" (which necessarily entails sampling), that method cannot offer the level of certainty required under the SRA's duty as an employer to make reasonable adjustments. Under the terms of the Act, and in view of the statutory and non-statutory guidance that supports it, conducting general accessibility testing is unlikely to serve as defence against any failure to address a substantial disadvantage suffered by a given employee.
The most effective method to ascertain that a given employee user with a disability is not placed at substantial disadvantage, is to test that user's particular configuration of their specific browser-screen-reader combination against the content, system or functionality in question.
Therefore in making reasonable adjustments for users of internal IT systems, consideration should be given to the specifics of each case as it arises: the individual disabled person, the job they are or will be doing, the practices they must follow to perform their role and the IT systems they are required to use.
In light of this, it is necessary to determine whether the selection of Dynamics is compatible with our approach to making reasonable adjustments as described above. The following discussion establishes whether Dynamics is an appropriate software to use.
In early 2011 MediaLT, an Oslo-based software maker and trainer focusing exclusively on the disabled-user market, made public the results of testing it conducted using JAWS 10 (a popular, proprietary screen-reader) and Internet Explorer 7 with Dynamics CRM 4.04. MediaLT's test team comprised 50 users with a range of disabilities.
MediaLT's report highlights relatively few specific problems encountered by its test team. Most issues identified during testing related to user orientation within the UI, and likely would be remedied by frequent or regular use of the interface.
The conclusions—particularly, the level of detail at which issues are identified and workarounds devised—encourage testing Dynamics CRM 4.0 on behalf of the Law Society Group in response to the specific needs of a given employee.
From the above discussion, at present, it is clear that the SRA, as part of the Law Society Group IT shared services, is complying with its legislative obligations to provide reasonable adjustments. To ensure that this remains the case, the SRA (via the Group) should take all reasonable steps to discover whether any SRA employee who is required to use Dynamics has a disability that negatively impacts their use of the tool. This situation should be monitored on an ongoing basis.
In the event that we discover that an employee who is required to use Dynamics has a disability that impacts their use of it, we must:
- first determine with the employee in question whether they are placed at a substantial disadvantage as a result, and
- if they are so placed, take prompt, reasonable steps to remove said disadvantage.
In addition, given the potential for concerns to arise in the future regarding the accessibility of internal IT systems, it is recommended that we document our approach to making reasonable adjustments for users of internal IT systems. Furthermore, it would be advisable for such documentation to be jointly owned by the Law Society's Group IT function and its Group HRD function, rather than by the SRA alone. Internal stakeholders who could be usefully included in the drafting process are representatives of the SRA and of our corporate Group equality and diversity units.
Associated with said documentation, it is recommended the Group specifies a set of default responses for users with disabilities of specific kinds. For example, the Group could decide that employees with seriously impaired vision will, by default, initially be offered use of a particular assistive technology product and version.
We will be delivering business-focused learning and development activities which support and embed the changes in culture and skills required to support our new way of regulating the profession. To support this process, we have instigated a programme of transformation and change across all business areas. This will have an impact on our staff, and in particular where a change in skill requirements is required to apply the new ways of working.
This impact may require staff to retrain. Fourteen per cent of full-time employment reductions have been identified at primarily administrative grades. This will have a greater impact on female members of staff as the ratio between female and male employees sits at seventy per cent to thirty per cent respectively. We will monitor the impact of this closely.
We have consulted with the Disability Advisory Group, who have suggested that information and guidance provided on online forms could also include some British Sign Language clips for important pieces of information.
We have spoken to the Sole Practitioners Group (SPG), who felt that the format of online forms is very important. The group also raised the point that not all of their members used online systems and would therefore find online access an issue. We will work with various groups to try out these forms.
Informal feedback from a visually-impaired business user of Dynamics CRM suggests that the native accessibility features of the product are robust. The user, who is blind, suggested that the ease with which screen-reader users interact with Dynamics is likely to hinge on their role in the business process. The user rates the task of accessing information stored in Dynamics as "OK," but describes the task of adding new organisations or contacts, and system administration tasks, as "harder".
There are "plenty of keyboard shortcuts in the Dynamics Outlook plug-in", he adds. Tallying with MediaLT's test findings, the user states as follows: "As ever, regular use improves results...and, generally, there are workarounds via Outlook."
Again, this evidence suggests that accurate assessment of the presence or probability of a substantial disadvantage arising from the Group's implementation of Dynamics CRM is only possible given detailed knowledge of the specifics of the individual user and the actions they are expected to perform using Dynamics CRM.
We document our approach to making reasonable adjustments for users of internal IT systems.
The Group specifies a set of default responses for users with disabilities of specific kinds.
To measure conformance with the ISO, we could, for example, require independently verified passes in 80 per cent of the checkpoints in the "usability checkpoints" XLS.
To put in place analytical tools to measure user behaviour and identify trends and patterns on the usage of the online application system and of the data captured within the modules.
For us to look to providing guidance to organisations such as the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) who support individuals with literacy or language difficulties to make a claim.
Confirm how AA conformance must be evidenced by the findings of an independent expert review.
To ensure the EP is compatible with Zoomtext, Super Nova and Dragon as per the results of WebAIM's Screen reader second user survey.
To provide some measures to accommodate those with accessibility issues and to make online web access and our services easy to use to ensure accessibility and provide customisation of specific needs where possible.