Law firms and sole practitioners will have to publish the ‘average cost’ of their services and regulators the full details of enforcement sanctions if recommendations by the sector’s consumer watchdog are taken up.
In a report published today on opening data, the Legal Services Consumer Panel also says that restrictions on supplying data to legal comparison websites should be lifted.
According to the report, commissioned by the Legal Services Board, legal regulators are far behind’ those in other sectors in requiring the publication of information such as data on first-tier complaints.
It contrasts the multiple steps required to find information on a lawyer or firm with the new Financial Services Register. As a first step, it says basic information about a practitioner should be linked to ‘conduct and complaints data’ along the lines of the Bar Standards Board website.
Publication of the volume and nature of first-tier complaints data ‘has the potential to improve market transparency and to aid consumers in making informed decisions’.
The panel admits that ‘there are challenges with price transparency’ and that ‘exact estimates may not always be possible’.
However it notes that ‘there is an arm of the profession, cost lawyers, dedicated to understanding and advising on legal cost’. Drawing on this expertise, providers ‘should give more accurate estimates’ and in the event these are exceeded, bear the additional cost.
Elisabeth Davies (pictured), the panel’s chair, said in a statement: ‘More needs to be done to empower consumers and encourage them to make informed decisions. Information, simply presented, at the time of need, is one tool that can be used by legal services regulators.
‘We have seen this tool adopted in other sectors and although there are challenges, we hope regulators rise to the task and begin the journey towards more transparency, and effective engagement.’