Legal services consumer champions today criticised regulators for placing too much emphasis on price and not enough on quality when seeking to improving transparency in the profession.
Approved regulators including the Solicitors Regulation Authority are set to require firms to reveal prices, timescales and staff expertise, in response to the Competition and Markets Authority’s call for greater openness.
But the Legal Services Consumer Panel said there is a ‘distinct lack of progress and focus’ on ensuring the public get information on quality. Too great a stress on price transparency without this information, it said, could mislead consumers into thinking dearer services mean better quality.
Consumer panel chair Sarah Chambers said: ‘In-depth work must be done at regulatory level to ascertain which quality indicators are meaningful, how information should be collated, and crucially, how information should be presented to consumers.
‘It is disappointing that we have not begun to see this thinking develop amongst the regulators, nor are we seeing robust challenge from the LSB on this matter.’
The panel said it was concerned that some regulators, such as the Institute of Chartered Accountants, which is the second biggest probate regulator in England and Wales, has opted to introduce price transparency through voluntary guidance. Such an approach ‘goes against the letter and spirit’ of the CMA requirements.
The panel’s verdict came as the Legal Services Board, the oversight regulator, published its progress report on the commitments given by regulators in response to the CMA report.
In contrast to the panel’s gloomy outlook, LSB chief executive Neil Buckley said he was pleased at the ‘very good progress’ made, with new requirements for providers coming in the next few months.
‘Collectively, the regulators have developed a stronger understanding of existing levels of transparency, undertaken research with consumers and providers to inform their proposals and have planned evaluation exercises,’ said Buckley.
‘Consumers will soon start to see the benefits of this work as these changes begin to be implemented.’
The LSB did acknowledge that issues will need to be addressed over the next year with regard to comparing the quality of providers.
Where regulators have opted for a voluntary approach, Buckley said they must review the effectiveness of their approach to ensure it delivers the right outcomes.