The advent of fully-fledged legal services comparison websites has taken a major leap forward today with an agreement by regulators to publish data they hold on practitioners.
The Legal Services Board, the oversight regulator, said it has secured 'agreement in principle' from all approved regulators to publish details in a ‘reusable format’.
The information is already available in the public domain through the Legal Choices website, operated by frontline regulators.
However operators of independent websites have lobbied for data to be made available in bulk, in an easily reusable format.
The LSB and Legal Services Consumer Panel say they want to open the way for comparison websites to obtain regulatory data directly.
The Gazette understands that this could pave the way for sites to compare solicitor firms based on factors such as price, complaints history and consumer feedback reviews.
A letter to the frontline regulators, signed by the LSB and consumer panel and sent last week, reveals that regulators have agreed to the principle of making data ‘openly available’.
They are given until Easter to confirm the timescale for release of data, with a request to confirm what work is feasible in the next three months.
‘While some practical difficulties might emerge, the guiding principle should be to release what is possible in the short term with a view to expanding and improving on this data in the medium term,’ the letter says.
‘Opening up data is in line with wider government policy and good practice, and is an essential step in providing consumers with the information they need so they can effectively stimulate competition and growth.’
The consumer panel said it has been asking the regulators to open up professional registers since 2011.
A panel spokesman added: 'The regulators are not being asked to publish data they don’t hold at the moment. In fact in most cases the data is actually already in the public but not currently in a reusable format.'
A Law Society spokesperson said that the Society's Find A Solicitor service is 'the gold standard for solicitor directories', and that it has 'more improvements on the way to make it even better for both consumers and solicitors'.