Regulators will randomly check hundreds of law firm websites to check they are meeting new requirements for price transparency.
Since December, firms have been subject to new regulations requiring them to publish details of their prices and service information if they work in certain areas of law. A survey earlier this week found considerable opposition from the profession, with a third of firms reporting they had opted against publication.
The SRA stresses it does not wish to dictate what fees are charged, and that it appreciates the new rules require changes to websites. But the regulator has made it clear non-compliance is not an option.
The regulator this week confirmed plans to ‘sweep’ around 500 law firm websites chosen at random for compliance, as part of regular checks. Firms found to have taken no steps to comply, deliberately refused to comply, or deliberately provided vague, misleading or meaningless information, will be in line for more serious sanctions such as a rebuke or a fine.
Speaking at a media briefing yesterday, SRA chief executive Paul Philip said the organisation has always wanted to take a proportionate approach, but warned those continuing to disregard the rules. ‘This is not a hugely important thing, but you are obliged to do it and you are forcing us into taking disproportionate action when you should just comply and move forward,’ said Philip. ‘I have no doubt we will end up with a rump of people who are not doing it.’
The SRA also confirmed it will work with consumer group to raise awareness of the new requirements and to encourage reporting.
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 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.