Solicitors are worried that publishing fees will encourage potential clients to obsess about price, which will affect their ability to uphold the integrity of the law, a regular bellwether suggests.
LexisNexis's latest report, The changing face of law, says the profession is facing an 'unprecedented level' of price pressure. Since December, firms have been required to publish price and service information on their websites, or to provide it to prospective clients on request if they do not have a website, for specific legal services.
The report states that respondents were concerned that the Solicitors Regulation Authority's transparency rules will 'further drive down costs and quality'. Even if firms reveal prices, some solicitors said it would not necessarily indicate what a client would actually pay.
One in 10 solicitors thought transparency was a 'force for good'. Three in 10 respondents have already published their prices or are getting ready to. However, a third of respondents' firms considered, then decided against, publication.
The report says some solicitors think publication will encourage potential clients to focus solely on prices even more. The transparency rules were seen as a risk by 41% of respondents, compared to 14% who saw them as an opportunity.
Karen Purdy set up her Cambridgeshire-based private client firm Purdys Solicitors in 2003. She told the report: 'I doubt the SRA template for probate charges would get customers to choose your firm. Instead it helps to flag up how complex it is. I doubt customers will read all that nor know what will apply to them.'
Purdy said charges can help firms to 'stand out'. While fee information on her website is designed to help clients, she said it was 'far better to call for a chat to clarify what charges apply to their circumstances and to find an adviser they like'.
She added that her firm only publishes fees where it is compulsory. She prefers to give tailored quotes, pointing out that many clients call wanting 'a simple will' but their circumstances 'are anything but simple'.
Meanwhile, six in 10 respondents thought today's price- and customer-driven culture - was affecting lawyers' ability to uphold the integrity of the law. A third said this was a regular problem.
Purdy told the report she understood that consumers want to compare prices, but stressed that solicitors must protect their professionalism.
She recalled one enquirer who 'asked my fee if they wrote a letter and I "just put it on my headed notepaper". Ultimately we are liable and it is our practising certificate and reputation on the line, if we don't provide proper legal advice'.
One in five solicitors thought the majority of their work was won purely on price, which could explain unease over transparency rules, the report suggests.
Nick Woolf, director and principal solicitor at London firm Nicholas Woolf & Co, told the report: 'Business is lost on price rather than gained. Although this may force prices down, it makes it difficult for solicitors to provide a proper full professional service at a profit. The incorporation of AI and blockchain may assist in reducing solicitors' fixed expenses in some areas of law.'