Solicitor data opened to comparison sites by Christmas

Topics: Regulation and compliance

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  • Elisabeth Davies

The Solicitors Regulation Authority has agreed to share its data on solicitors with comparison websites set up by third parties by the end of this year.

The regulator has responded to a call from the Legal Services Consumer Panel to provide more information for online registers of practitioners. 

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In a letter to the panel, SRA executive director Crispin Passmore said a ‘data extract’ – likely to include the size of the firm and any disciplinary issues in the past – will be in place by Christmas.

This will be the precursor for the development of an online register of solicitor firms that can feed directly to comparison sites – expected by the end of 2015.

The pledge comes as the Legal Ombudsman has published complaints data in a 'comma separated value' (CSV) format, facilitating re-use, despite previously suggesting this was not appropriate.

The 'open' CSV format allows for comparison sites and others to more easily transfer information on more than 3,000 decisions made by the ombudsman.

As well as the SRA, the Council for Licensed Conveyancers and the Intellectual Property Regulation Board (IPReg) have also agreed to share their data in a reusable form.

The Legal Services Consumer Panel has published the names of eight comparison sites which have met its standards through a self-assessment, although it stresses this is not an endorsement.

The publication of data has been a key aim for the panel since its inception following the Legal Services Act, with regulators summoned to a meeting in March this year to explain how they would improve openness.

In a blog published today, panel chair Elisabeth Davies (pictured) said real progress is now being made in bringing data about lawyers into the public domain.

The panel has previously suggested other information such as price and consumer feedback should be included in legal comparison websites.

‘Not every regulator is fully on board yet, but this progress is really positive and there’s scope to build on it in the future, with talk of publishing all the information in one place, for example on the Legal Choices website,’ Davies said.

‘The quest for open data has been at the heart of the panel’s policies since 2011. Transparency is absolutely essential for consumers if they’re going to be able to make informed choices, protect themselves from harm and have confidence in the regulators.’

Readers' comments (10)

  • Are these people thick, or just stupid?

    In what possible way is "open data" - by which they mean un-vetted, statistically meaningless information such as "number of complaints ever received" going to help anyone?

    Firstly, the data is useless. How does it assist anyone to know that ABC Legal Services have had 9 complaints and DEX Lawyers have had 300?

    Secondly, and I'll let the moronic comsuner panels and ombudsmen, and touchy-feely "empowerment in legal choices" briage into a secret here [hush]... people pay to be included in a comparison site, it isn't done out of the goodness of anyone's heart.

    That's right. Amazing though it may sound, you don't have to have to be the best to be on the "Bestsest ever solicitors .com" - you just have to set up the monthly direct debit! And who is going to pay a comparison website to publicise their complaints data?

    I didn't even know that the "Chair" of the Legal Services Consumer Panel (£15,000 per year for turning up 30 days a year) has a blog. Now I do know, I still can't read it, because of the irresistable urge to burn my PC.

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  • Incidentally, this

    http://www.legalservicesconsumerpanel.org.uk/assets/images/clip_image002.jpg

    is what £15,000 for 30 days gets you. Money well spent, I say.

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  • Her blog.....gaaaah! What a load of utter waffle. Frightening that such people are in these positions of authority. Very simple principles seemingly cannot be understood by them.

    Just a small extract:

    "It has been said that there is a fundamental clash of values between professionalism and market forces – that the focus on price threatens quality standards, or profit is undermining principle. These concerns are overstated and ignore the role of regulation to manage these and other risks. However, for the professions, there is no point hankering after a return to some golden age; instead they need to find ways of redefining and/or reasserting professional values in the modern world. Or as Richard puts it, professionalism is precarious but it’s also adaptable."

    She seems to think, bafflingly, that the mere existence of regulation means that reductions in price won't affect the quality or professionalism of service. Unless you are currently very inefficient and /or overcharging, then that is nonsense.

    I had a very dumb partner who thought similarly; his idea was to offer cut price fixed fees to attract clients. Then, when he realised we would not break even if the job was done well and thoroughly, he preferred to cut corners and work sloppily. Result, pissed off clients and bad reputation and risk of of breach of regulatory rules. It just wasn't good service, the kind of service that a true PROFESSIONAL would be compelled through an inherent sense of duty to provide. Like me. But I can't do it on a shoestring. I need to pay enough knowledgable staff to process the work accurately and promptly, and to ensure regulatory requirements are met. Did you get that Davies? Being able to comply with regulation takes time and costs money!

    Bar a minority of bad eggs, my experience is that for someone to have a professional mentality comes from working hard to acquire a demanding professional qualification, during which time the professional mentality, ie putting your client above your own interests, is instilled. How anything less can be thought better for 'consumers' is puzzling.

    I realise she is thinking that unqualified people could potentially provide the same high standard of service. Well, that may be right if they are not subjected to the same level of rigorous regulation that we are but elsewhere on her blog she indicates they should be, and that's about the only thing I agree with her on! However, she needs to explain how that would then make it any cheaper for consumers, unless she is thinking that unqualified people will charge less. Not sure how if they have to have the same level of insurance etc. They may charge less to grab market share but then the thing they will lack is the very thing clients need; real knowledge and experience.

    The idea that Mcakenzie friends etc can provide this is nonsense. The voluntary sector only works because it is heavily supported by pro bono services of qualified professionals. And that only goes so far. The perpetuation of the myth that there is a large amount of simple process legal work and form filling etc is dangerous. Any part that can be done by less expensive staff already is, and the saving passed on to the client, as we already compete in the market. Opening the playing field to cowboys looking to make profit on low price, high volume work, is hardly going to protect the consumer, which I thought was her objective.

    In the golden age she she refers to, clients could easily tell the wheat from the chaff by simply checking someone was a qualified solicitor. Market forces did the rest. Now, they have been confused by all the 'lawyers' and 'legal services' out there that Davies praises. It just widens the pool for bad eggs, and potentially with no redress. Those in that wider pool who may provide a decent service won't be able to do it any cheaper than most solicitors do.

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  • If the LSCP believes there is no connection between price and service then the LSCP is living in a dream world.
    Why is it that those conveyancing firms with whom we deal who offer cheap fees appear to employ people who don't know what they are doing so we spend a lot of time pointing out what they are doing wrong.
    How come cheap wills often dont address all relevant issues.
    The fact is the SRA isn't regulating anyone. It exists as a punishment process for those who get caught.
    The desire for greater turnover, as illustrated above, at any price is the great Solicitor disease.
    Turnover is vanity. Profit is sanity.
    Price is not the overwhelming criteria for most clients. For those clients who are price conscious whatever you do won't be good enough. Your first thoughts should be towards profit ie a proper price structure together with an enhanced customer experience.
    I can think of no reason why the LSCP is required and it along with the LSB should be wound up.

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  • Dominic Cooper is legend and pretty much always right.

    This obsession with comparison is disturbing.

    It has a place, like virtually anything else, but anyone with a modicum of intelligence asks themselves are they actually meaningful and reliable ?

    Ultimately, much as insurers and the SRA might not like it, law is a highly risky business as is the subject matter itself.

    There has always been and always will be a large degree of 'fly by the seat of your pants' however risk averse you try to make it, as indeed are all sectors where advice is sought.

    Inherent risk, leads to a variety of outcomes, including complaints, many of which are highly questionable and reflect the 'consumer' having a go culture, Esther Rantzen and 'Which' have engendered. it becomes self fulfilling, shock horror !

    Treat comparison websites with caution and of course, they will be littered with caveats !

    I used to think you had to be good to get in the Legal 500, but realised many years ago, errm, no..you just pay to get in it.

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  • So what are they going to call it?
    Compare the shyster dot com?
    Advertised by a bunch of stuffed animals, dressed in court garb, chasing an ambulance and speaking in a 'funny' accent?
    ....sign me up now

    Or can I suggest compare the regulator.com too - looking at the LSG headline 'Failure to cooperate’ case prompts LeO review'
    Advertised by caricatured swine, snouts in troughs....

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  • I understand a number of professions were subject to competition review, that of solicitors leading to the LSA 2007.

    Are any other professions such as accountants, surveyors etc being subjected to this nonsense and their standing being reduced to that of package holidays and car insurance ??

    Actually car insurers seem very good at influencing government to protect their own interests... Mr Djanogly.

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  • How does this square with data protection. Some at least of the data held by the SRA is provided as part of the process of remaining a solicitor. Unless the forms have changed without me noticing there is no waiver of a solicitor's data protection rights and, as an information holder the SRA has a duty to keep data confidential.

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  • Presumably, this idea of Regulator-fed "comparison site for our profession will be applied to the Medical Profession?
    I seem to recall that the Surgical branch identified that the raw data paid no attention to so much relevant information behind the "outcomes" that it really was meaningless. I don't hear much about it. And the Road Insurance site that was commercially skewed in favour of the Owner! Ho ho ho.
    Is this Government really throwing every crackpot scheme into the news and this is just an idle thought by some idle Regulator whose gout is troubling them?

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  • This is very worrying for us all. I have no problem with consumers choice, but based on what? The number of complaints, size of firm etc . The Titantic was said to be the safest ship in the world-! I would urge those who wish to run with this to think it through before others hijack it.

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