The Bar Council has criticised as ‘not practical’ proposals by the Competition and Markets Authority to encourage more openness about prices and quality of service.
Responding to the competition watchdog’s interim report on the legal services market, the bar’s representative body said that given the bespoke nature of work carried out by barristers, providing detailed upfront pricing information is not practical in ‘most cases’.
The Bar Council’s response mirrors that of the Law Society, which last month cautioned against the proposals adding that ‘market-driven solutions can and will plug the transparency of information gap’.
The Bar Council added that when barristers are instructed by referral ‘as they most commonly are’, any perceived barriers to comparisons are ‘fully mitigated by the role of the professional client who is able to assist the consumer make an informed choice on quality and price'.
Publications and comparison guides including the Legal 500, Chambers & Partners and bar association websites can also be used to compare quality of service, the bar council added.
The council said it did not oppose the idea of a ‘central hub’ for comparing information, with Legal Choices a possible candidate. However if it is to be used it must remain ‘neutral and objective’, said the council.
In July the CMA said that competition in the legal services market did not merit a formal investigation and that it would instead focus on ways of improving the information available to consumers before they buy.
The bar's response agrees that now is not the time for a review – particularly given that many of the developments prompted by the Legal Services Act 2007 are still at a relatively early stage and their impact is not yet known.
It goes on to outline several other reasons not to change the status quo.
Among its concerns are:
- That changes to professional titles could lead to a blurring of the lines between regulated and unregulated providers and amount to the creation of a new regulated title of ‘lawyer’; and
- The position of McKenzie friends, where it says that more clarity is needed surrounding the rights of audience.
The response adds that alternative regulatory models post ‘very significant challenges’ and it would be difficult to see how activity-based regulation could work.
‘Many practitioners … undertake considerable advisory work and most barristers undertake a mixture of different activities. In addition, certain solicitors are qualified to undertake advocacy,’ the council said.
It added: ‘This model could lead to practitioners being regulated by multiple regulators and being over-regulated by different and potentially conflicting rules.’