Solicitors should embrace the opportunity to show consumers what sets them apart from other legal advisers, the Law Society said in response to another review of the sector by an antitrust watchdog.
The Competition and Markets Authority last week announced that it will examine ‘long-standing concerns’ about the affordability of civil legal services and standards of service for both consumers and small businesses. A planned government consultation on removing barriers to market entry appears set to go ahead in parallel.
The CMA study will ask if clients are making informed purchasing decisions and if they have adequate protection when something goes wrong. Regulation will also be on the agenda.
The development has echoes of a review carried out by CMA predecessor the Office of Fair Trading, which ultimately spawned the market reforms of the 2007 Legal Services Act.
The Society said the new study gives the solicitors’ profession a chance to differentiate itself from non-regulated providers and increase consumer confidence.
Chief executive Catherine Dixon said: ‘Moving away from overly burdensome regulation, that does not service the public or meet business need, by placing greater reliance on solicitors taking responsibility for and driving their own professional standards is key.
‘There is also an opportunity to ensure that the public and businesses are informed that if they do purchase from an unregulated provider they will get less protection. Solicitors are trained, qualified, regulated, required to carry insurance and have professional standards.’
Gary Yantin, founder of the HighStreetLawyer network, said: ‘This probe is a great potential opportunity for the profession, especially smaller law firms, to showcase what they are doing well or to adapt well ahead of time to take advantage of the possible outcomes.’
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice is preparing a consultation on regulation originally announced by the Treasury, with the aim of making it easier for businesses such as supermarkets and estate agents to offer legal services such as conveyancing, probate and litigation.
The government plans to consult by spring on removing barriers to entry for ABSs and making regulators independent of representative bodies.
It remains unclear what, if any, impact the CMA study will have on that work. The watchdog will decide within six months whether it intends to refer the market for a more in-depth investigation, and a report must be published within 12 months setting out findings and actions it proposes to take.
Rachel Merelie, senior director of delivery and sector regulation at the cartel watchdog, said: ‘We would be concerned if customers are not getting a good deal, either because they do not know what to expect when purchasing a legal service, or because they are not seeking appropriate legal support in the first place.’
The CMA said recent surveys showed one in 10 users of legal services in England and Wales reported that the overall service and advice provided was poor value for money. Just 13% said they viewed lawyers as cost-effective, it added.