Law firms will have to publish details of their employees’ experience and the time work is likely to take – as well as their prices – when new transparency rules come into force in December. The Solicitors Regulation Authority today confirmed the scope of regulations designed to ensure clients have the information they need to make an informed choice of legal services provider.
The SRA believes the new requirements meet the demands of the Competition and Markets Authority, which saw consumer information as a weakness of the sector following its study of the market in 2016.
The areas of work requiring price transparency were already well known to solicitors: costs for residential conveyancing, probate, motoring offences, employment tribunals and immigration must all be published on firms’ websites.
For small business clients, firms must also state their fees for debt recovery (up to £100,000), employment tribunals and licensing applications for business premises.
The full list of rules is now published, and requires that firms also publish what services are included under the displayed price, any services not included in the price that might reasonably be expected to be included, and typical timescales and key stages of the matter. Prices must specify whether VAT is included and must be in as clear and understandable a format as possible.
Firms will also have to provide details of the experience and qualifications of teams and individuals who will carry out the work.
The SRA has made clear that it is prepared to bring disciplinary action against any firm which does not comply. Those without a website must ensure that information is readily available upon request.
The SRA has published guidance, best practice tips and templates to help firms and stresses that rules do not require them to publish a binding quote for each scenario. When an unforeseen complexity arises or where the client’s instructions create extra work, firms should provide revised costs information.
Paul Philip, SRA chief executive, said: ‘Publishing information on price, services and protections will not only benefit the public, but will also help those who deliver these services win business and connect with their customer.’
Meanwhile research published today, undertaken by YouGov for the SRA, has found the complexity of information available – and lack of price information – are the main barriers to small businesses accessing legal services. The survey of around 1,000 small business owners or managers found 60% perceive cost as a barrier that might limit their access to legal services. But in an online test, small businesses without access to pricing information assumed solicitors were more expensive than the actual costs.
Less than half of small businesses already spent time searching the internet when looking for legal service providers, but 75% would spend more time doing so if more accessible information was available online, the research found.