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Based in Belfast city centre, McManus Kearney Solicitors specialises in debt recovery, commercial litigation and insolvency. Its other areas of expertise include consumer finance, wills and probate, property and conveyancing, and personal injury and medical negligence. Established in 1987, McManus Kearney has grown steadily and now employs 13 people.

Why McManus Kearney went for ISO 9001

Despite its more than two decades of growth and strong reputation, McManus Kearney has faced a number of issues.

“Some of our work practices were not particularly efficient,” says Mary Napier, one of the firm’s four solicitors. “Individual members of staff often had their own way of doing things, and their own place for saving documents – which no-one could find if they were out of the office.

“Also, a large part of our client base is made up of finance houses and banks. Their tendering procedures were becoming more vigorous and for some you couldn’t tender if you didn’t have a quality management system (QMS) in place. We realised we had to get ISO 9001 QMS certification to participate in and win tenders, knowing we would also gain from improved efficiency, consistency and staff communication.

“While some law firms in Northern Ireland have ISO 9001, Lexel or both, we went straight for ISO 9001 as it’s internationally recognised and more widely known among our clients.”

Building a QMS

McManus Kearney’s first step towards certification was to implement a case management system to help synchronise its work practices. Standard letters are now in the ‘firm style’ and all documents from a particular case are saved in the same place and accessible to every member of staff.

“It wasn’t an entirely smooth transition,” says Mary Napier. “Some staff resisted the changes, especially those who had been with the firm for a long time, so it was a challenge to get them to see the benefits of the case management system and ultimately of ISO 9001.

“We pressed on though, keeping some existing policies and procedures and adding new ones until all relevant areas of ISO 9001 were covered.

“During this period and in the run-up to the assessment, we trained our staff on ISO 9001 and its benefits. We knew the auditor would randomly select staff members to speak to, so we made sure we were ready!”

Assessment Day

McManus Kearney chose SGS to carry out its ISO 9001 assessment.

“We obtained quotes from various assessment bodies,” says Mary Napier. “SGS was the most competitive on price and was also recommended by a friend, so it was an easy choice.

“The assessment was a bit nerve wracking but SGS’s auditor was very professional and put me and the other staff at ease.

“I found SGS’s staff polite, friendly and accommodating. We had to change the date of our audit on more than one occasion due to the unavailability of key staff, and there was never any problem re-arranging the dates.”

McManus Kearney’s ISO 9001 certification is valid until August 2014. During this period the firm has to set yearly targets, check these targets are being met through internal audits, and undergo annual external surveillance visits.

SGS Assessor Chris Maguire says: “From an auditor’s perspective, the assessment went

well. The practice was thoroughly prepared, evidenced by the fact that no non-conformances were raised at the initial stage 2 visit. Consequently, it was easy to audit the practice will all staff being friendly, helpful and pleasant to speak with. This is typically the case for organisations such as this embarking on ISO 9001 certification for the right reasons – to better the company by embracing the standard’s concepts.

“The observations raised during the visit were seen as opportunities for improvement, rather than negatives. With this frame of mind, I'm sure the practice will continue to comply with the requirements of the standard, improve and serve all its clients well.”

Continual Improvement

ISO 9001 is based on a plan-do-check-act cycle of continual improvement. McManus Kearney’s staff are heavily involved in this process.

“We felt that the more staff are involved with decision making, the more likely they are to embrace changes,” says Mary Napier. “We therefore encourage staff to suggest improvements to, or new, policies and procedures.”

Among its initiatives, McManus Kearney has introduced:

  • A case management system used by all staff
  • A central list of approved suppliers, expert witnesses, counsel and other key people and organisations
  • A formal induction programme for new employees
  • Formal file reviews held every two months
  • Staff training assessments

Planned initiatives include: an improved intranet to further strengthen staff communications; a new staff handbook to replace various personnel-related documents; and more regular management meetings.

Benefits of ISO 9001

“We’ve got rid of some outdated procedures and become more streamlined and efficient,” says Mary Napier.

“Now our staff communicate with each other much better; staff have a clearer overview of the firm, and of other aspects of our operations, rather than simply viewing their own tasks in isolation; and staff approach certain tasks with a much better ‘business’ understanding. We’re less likely to hear ‘No-one told me’ since e-mails are sent to all staff regarding changes in working procedures and so on, which are then saved by the relevant departments.”

In addition, McManus Kearney has recently qualified to tender for more finance company work as it has an ISO 9001-compliant QMS in place – and then gone on to win the bids.

ISO 9001 Recommended

“I would recommend the QMS and ISO 9001 route,” says Mary Napier. “It’s hard work at the start, trying to put policies in place and gain staff co-operation, but it’s well worth it. The staff start to realise the benefits if they are involved in the process, feel they own it and then respond more positively to change.

“ISO 9001 certification really helps to open doors: in our case, for example, now we have ISO 9001 we can tender for additional lucrative finance company work.”