Consumers are still in the dark about the technical and service quality of their prospective lawyer, a watchdog said this week.
The Legal Services Consumer Panel said it remains difficult for people to make informed decisions about their provider – four years after the Competition and Markets Authority made the same assessment of the sector. The panel’s latest comments came in its consumer impact report which measured how the legal sector is faring against the CMA recommendations.
The panel said a dearth of quality indicators weakens the progress that has been made towards price transparency in recent months, and creates the danger that consumers place too much emphasis on price at the expense of other important factors. Law firms are currently required to publish information about the cost of certain services and who will be handling the work.
There is now a call for regulators to work together to build a common quality indicator framework that can be used across the sector, which will not only aid consumer awareness but help lawyers understand where they need to improve.
Sarah Chambers, panel chair, said: ‘The sector must continue to focus on transparency as a regulatory tool that has the power to empower consumers and enhance effective choice and competition.
‘I am still concerned that very little progress has been made towards establishing quality indicators, considering that we are now in the fourth year since the CMA identified a need.’
Researchers found little improvement in the amount of consumer-focused research by regulators. The smaller regulatory bodies face significant resource constraints so conventional consumer research may not be feasible within their budgets.
However, the panel said consumer research was not an ‘optional extra’ for regulators and its absence ‘raises issues about their capacity and capability to fulfil the regulatory objectives they are charged with’.
The panel also said that the SRA’s fining powers are not adequate to be an effective deterrent. Currently the SRA can fine solicitors or non-ABS firms up to £2,000 (for ABSs the maximum fine is £250m). Increasing fining powers beyond £10,000 would require primary legislation and the panel said the Legal Services Board should support the SRA’s resolve to bring about reform.