The Solicitors Regulation Authority has backed away from forcing firms to publish price information.
But the regulator is considering how much more and what type of information it should publish about firms and solicitors in an effort to give consumers greater transparency and choice.
The issue is addressed in a discussion paper published by the SRA today, which invites stakeholders to give their views on regulatory data and consumer choice.
The paper makes clear that consumers need more help to make informed choices and suggests core and additional data that it might provide.
Its initial idea is to develop a register giving ‘core’ information including basic regulatory information, enforcement action, complaint data and insurance claims data.
Included in ‘additional’ data is quality information, specialism, service delivery and price information.
The final element is likely to be the most contentious, with the SRA stating that its ‘initial view’ is not to mandate the publication of price information at this stage.
‘We would like instead for firms to consider what pricing information they could publish on their own websites and include in our digital register,’ added the SRA.
Legal services regulators have come under pressure from the Legal Services Board, the Legal Services Consumer Panel and the Competition and Markets Authority to ensure consumers have greater access to information about providers.
The SRA said it knows many stakeholders ‘would like us to go further’ and propose more core categories, but is mindful of striking the ‘right balance’ between providing useful information and overloading consumers.
The regulator said it is mindful of – and will mitigate against – the burden and perception of unfairness from providers, but it stressed firms should see accessible data as a useful tool for reaching a wider market.
The discussion paper suggests quality information such as accreditations or panel memberships could be included in the digital register.
The SRA insists better information will help tackle the problem of unmet legal need, with surveys of consumers finding 83% seeing legal services as unaffordable.
Chief executive Paul Philip said: ‘If we get this right, we could help create a more competitive market, where consumers can make better choices and forward-thinking firms thrive.
‘It will also help small businesses access the legal services that could help them succeed and grow.
‘Yet we need to think carefully about what we publish and how. More information will not benefit consumers if they find it confusing, hard to access, or it is unhelpful.
‘We have also made good progress on getting rid of unnecessary burdens on firms. We will not ask firms to do more in this area, unless there is a clear benefit.’
Welcoming the news that firms will not be forced to publish prices, Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon stressed that the market is the best driver of competition and innovation.
She added: 'We do not think that yet more regulation forcing firms to produce information irrespective of whether it is relevant to their clients’ needs is the right answer. We will continue to support solicitors, through Find a Solicitor and other methods, to provide information that solicitors know will help clients.
'Greater public education in identifying legal problems - legal literacy - can play a significant role in empowering people to make the right choices about when to seek legal advice. The Society continues to expand its programme of public legal education.'