Regulation chiefs have given frontline regulators less than three months to outline how they plan to improve standards of transparency in the legal sector.
The Legal Services Board said today that regulators must provide an action plan by 30 June to ensure consumers have more information about their legal services provider.
The call follows a report in December by the Competition and Markets Authority which placed transparency at the heart of proposals to improve the sector.
The LSB today published four outcomes it wants regulators to achieve, including a ‘step change’ in standards of transparency to help consumers understand the price and service they will receive. Clients must also have more understanding of the redress options available and the regulatory status of their provider.
The LSB wants promotion of the use of independent feedback platforms, more data accessible through comparison tools and better information available to assist consumers when they identify their needs.
On this final outcome, regulators are urged to either enhance the existing Legal Choices website and pursue alternative mechanisms such as partnering with existing websites like the one run by Citizens Advice.
But regulators are warned off creating their own accreditation schemes and reminded this is still the role of representative bodies.
The LSB said its policy is that frontline regulators should set the minimum standards required of firms, with schemes to promote higher standards left to others.
Neil Buckley (pictured), LSB chief executive, said his organisation is encouraged by the ‘collective goodwill and early progress’ from regulators since December and is keen that this continues.
He added: ‘The LSB has long been clear that there is a need to increase competition in the market and a major part of achieving this will be to ensure there is better information available for consumers in relation to price, quality, redress and regulation.’
One frontline regulators have published their action plans, these will be assessed against the LSB’s preferred outcomes.
The CMA's plans were greeted cautiously by members of the profession, who warned that promoting competition should not be to the detriment of vulnerable consumers.
Law Society president Robert Bourns said it was ‘astonishing’ the CMA report did not place more emphasis on consumer protection and warned of the risk of eroding trust in the legal system.
Responding to the Legal Services Board (LSB) recommendations following the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) market study, Bourns said: 'It is helpful that the LSB has set out its thinking on how the frontline regulators may implement the CMA’s recommendation.
'Helping clients to make informed choices is at the heart of every solicitor's practice. The Law Society’s Transparency Toolkit supports solicitors to provide ever more useful and accessible information on their services while also meeting their regulatory obligations. People need relevant information and there has to be a much more concerted drive at public legal education so people understand the real value of seeking advice from a solicitor.'