Solicitors could lose more work to public access barristers under plans by the bar's regulator to publish prices online. The Bar Standards Board is consulting on rules to improve transparency standards. Self-employed barristers, chambers and BSB-regulated entitles would be required to publish on on their websites their most commonly used price models, such as whether they charge fixed fees or hourly rates.
Public access barristers will be required to go even further, publishing: their pricing model; indicative fees and the circumstances in which they may vary; whether the fees include VAT; likely additional costs such as court fees; a description of the service; and an indicative timescale for the key stages.
The bar tested some minimum disclosure requirements, based on recommendations made by the Competition and Markets Authority with nine chambers, entities and sole practitioners for three months. The regulator says no negative effects were reported by participants. One reported that their client conversion rate almost doubled during the pilot. Another has reported their largest turnover increase since displaying prices as well as a 'significant' decline in late payments.
Participants speculated that increased transparency may help to change the public's perception that barristers are expensive and would particularly benefit public access clients.
The BSB said there was no clear consensus on whether the minimum disclosure requirements should be mandatory. Some pilot participants said they should be applied to public access work as a priority.
Commenting on the consultation, Bar Council chair Andrew Walker QC said transparency is important 'but there can be no one-size-fits-all regime for legal services'.
Pending the outcome of the consultation and Legal Services Board approval, the BSB's latest rules could be in force by next May, by which point solicitors will have begun revealing more of their charges online.
From December, firms regulated under the Solicitors Regulation Authority will be required to publish the prices they charge and what the prices cover. Firms failing to comply could face enforcement action. However, rather than applying just to conveyancing, wills and personal injury as had initially been proposed, the new rules will also cover conveyancing, probate, motoring offences, immigration advice and the cost of bringing claims before an employment tribunal.
Meanwhile the Council for Licensed Conveyancers will introduce rules requiring its members to put more information in the public domain, such as whether they have referral arrangements.