The Solicitors Regulation Authority will give firms time to acquaint themselves with new transparency rules – but will be proactive about those still refusing to comply.
Last week saw the advent of new requirements for all firms working in certain types of consumer law, including publishing their prices, details of those doing the work and how long legal services are expected to take.
Failure to comply with the regulations is to be treated as a disciplinary matter and could result in sanctions against defaulting firms.
But the SRA is keen to stress it wants to help firms rather than immediately clamp down on those who have yet to amend their websites.
Chief executive Paul Philip, speaking during the SRA compliance conference in Birmingham yesterday, said: ‘We will send people lots of reminders and then be forced to take regulatory action for the tiny amount of people that don’t do it. It is not about giving people a hard time.’
Philip said the regulator will not just rely on reports coming in of non-compliance, but instead will perform a ‘thematic review’ to check for itself whether firms are publishing the right information.
Solicitors speaking at the conference expressed doubts about the merits of the new rules and how useful they may be for clients in practice – particularly if the legal service turns out to be more expensive than they were led to believe.
A panelist on one of the break-out sessions, Wanda Goldwag, chair of the Office of Legal Complaints, said solicitors should regard the new requirements as an opportunity rather than with scepticism. ‘Many products are just as complex as telling someone how handling their conveyancing will be,’ she added. ‘We need to tell people there is a basic price. In their mind [clients] are thinking "this could be £10,000 or £500". That gap is just too big.
‘I think it will help [solicitors] because you are now competing with other people who are leading on price – for example these things you call conveyancing factories.’
The new rules apply to conveyancing (residential), probate (uncontested), motoring offences (summary offences), immigration (excluding asylum), employment tribunals (unfair or wrongful dismissal), debt recovery and licensing applications.
Price information, the SRA says, must be presented in a ‘clear and easy to understand format’, providing a total cost or, if this is not possible, an average or range of costs.