Law firms should be forced to publish details of complaints and prices, consumer panel says

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2 February 2016


Davies

Davies: regulators “must rise to the task”

Law firms should be required by their regulators to publish details of complaints and average prices on their websites, the Legal Services Consumer Panel has said.

The panel said it would also like to see “more sector-specific information” about legal services, such as litigation outcomes and success rates.

The lack of information to help consumers choose lawyers has been a long-running theme of the panel, and in a report entitled Opening up Data in Legal Services, it said legal regulators should “make the collation and publication of first-tier complaints a regulatory requirement and mandate for its publication”.

A spokeswoman said this could include the number of complaints per year and the kind of legal work involved. She said it could be subject to a threshold, removing the need for some firms to publish anything.

The report also recommended that law firms should also be required to publish on their websites “the average cost of legal services” and provide consumers with this information on request.

“Fixed fees is the optimum solution especially in areas like family law and will writing where consumers are often at their most vulnerable.

“If fixed fees cannot be offered in these cases, then providers of services should be able to give clients a range of prices, using previous experience and professional expertise to cost appropriately.”

The panel called on legal regulators to commission research on quality, and in particular for the Solicitors Regulation Authority and Bar Standards Board to “lead the way by commissioning mystery shopping research in one or two areas of high risks”.

The panel said there was scope for the other regulators to be proactive, suggesting that the Council for Licensed Conveyancers could publish information on the “speed, accuracy and registration timeliness” of conveyancing transactions.

The panel recommended that the Legal Ombudsman (LeO) publish all decisions “in full”, and provide “a contextualised summary and analysis of cases decided informally”.

The report said LeO should review its policy on public interest cases, which has resulted in only one being published, and improve its website, which was “difficult to navigate”.

Elisabeth Davies, chair of the consumer panel said more needed to be done to encourage consumers 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.”

Giving an example of the scope for more “sector-specific information” about legal services, the report cited “information on litigation outcomes”, including success rates.

Florida-based analysts Premonition named two QCs, Michael Fordham and Phillippa Kaufmann, as the barristers with the highest win rates in the senior courts in a ground-breaking report last summer, triggering an angry reaction from some lawyers and commentators and has since issued a series of reports on the best performers in various parts of the High Court.

The report said the legal sector had a “long way to go in using information either as a consumer engagement or regulatory tool”.

It concluded: “The information or data provided may not be perfect to start off with, but this should not impede its release. Regulators in other sectors have made strides by releasing imperfect data, then refining and developing it as dissemination matured.”

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One Response to “Law firms should be forced to publish details of complaints and prices, consumer panel says”

  1. This seems like another case of legal services slowly catching up with financial services. The FCA publishes on its website information about those firms with more than 500 complaints a year and the firms also publish information about their own complaints record. The FCA – and its predecessors – have long since tried to improve transparency about how consumers pay for financial advice and including a “tariff” on lawyer’s websites seems a good idea. Also, the financial regaultors have used mystery shopping of firms for “thematic” work, it is a very useful tool with careful handling. The Financial Ombudsman Service has long had an excellent website summarising for both firms and consumers(and their advocates) information about its approach to casework and the rationale behind decisions.

  2. David Severn on February 2nd, 2016 at 8:15 am

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