Law firms could be forced to sign up to comparison websites as part of ongoing measures to raise transparency across the legal sector.
A paper prepared for January’s meeting of the Legal Services Board revealed continued disquiet about the profession’s response to the Competition and Market Authority’s call in 2016 for action to aid consumer choice. One option being actively explored now is to compel firms to appear on platforms comparing prices or performance.
Despite solicitor firms being compelled to publish prices for certain types of work and sport an SRA digital badge on their websites, the sense remains with the oversight regulator that the CMA will want to see more has been achieved.
The LSB was required by the CMA to pay special attention to improving market transparency for consumers and potentially act if regulators were not doing enough to plug information gaps.
In particular, the CMA requested that consumers be given more information about the price and service they will receive, comparison sites be provided with more data, and that regulators promote the use of independent feedback platforms. The CMA will report at the end of this year on how well its recommendations have been implemented.
Ahead of that assessment, it is now felt by the LSB that ‘limited progress’ has been made on the promotion of feedback platforms and quality indicators. The idea being floated is that the LSB mandates the use of a public facility for customers to leave feedback on the quality of the legal service they have received. This option was rejected by the CMA in 2016 which wanted to see how the market developed, but its report still noted the ‘apparent lack of willingness [by law firms] to engage with comparison platforms may inhibit their widespread use and subsequent regulatory action may be necessary’.
The LSB said current evidence suggests consumer use of comparison sites ‘remains low and law firms are still not embracing them’.
While mandatory membership of a comparison site is one option, another may be for firms to be required to signpost clients to a site where reviews may have been posted.
Comparison sites have largely struggled to make headway in the legal sector, with the few attempts at creating such a site failing to capture the public attention in the same way as similar sites have done for the insurance and energy markets.
The LSB is also considering a requirement to publish aggregated trend data on complaints received by firms. One option remains to name providers alongside this information, but the board appears unconvinced.
The LSB will now review the merits and practicalities of ideas raised at last month’s meeting and will talk with front-line regulators to explore further options. A further update is expected this summer.