Get ready for the SRA’s transparency rules


Posted by Chris Davidson, a director at Legal Futures Associate Moore Legal Technology

Davidson: Make new rules work for you

You will no doubt by now be aware that the Legal Services Board has approved new rules proposed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) requiring law firms to publish price and service information on their website for certain areas of law, namely:

  • Residential conveyancing;
  • Probate;
  • Immigration (except asylum);
  • Road traffic offences;
  • Employee and employer tribunal claims (unfair/wrongful dismissal);
  • Debt recovery (up to £100,000); and
  • Licensing applications for business premises

The SRA has also announced that all firms must publish details of their complaints-handling procedure on their websites and carry a new SRA digital badge that will be provided to all authorised bodies.

The digital badge is designed to assist consumer awareness and understanding of regulatory protections, help clients to validate a firm, and assist in protecting against fraudulent activity, such as cloned websites.

The badge will also click through to a new SRA landing page listing client protections such as the level of insurance cover and eligibility to submit a claim to the Compensation Fund.

Getting ready for the December 2018 deadline

During consultation, the Law Society had raised concerns with the SRA about the impact the proposal could have on firms that do not have capacity and/or funding to revamp their websites to respond to such requirements.

Nevertheless, firms will have to comply with the new rules by December 2018, and the SRA is expected shortly to publish guidance on them.

For our law firm clients in England and Wales, this will in any case be straight forward as we will help make them. However, if your law firm, like many others, has fallen behind the curve in terms of its online presence, implementation will probably feel like an unwanted hassle in your already busy and stressful lives.

You, along with myriad other law firms, may have been thinking about improving your website for months if not years, but it’s one of those things that you keep putting off as fee-earning pressures obviously take precedence.

So, with the deadline for complying with the new rules approaching, perhaps now is the time to not only address the SRA’s requirements, but to take a fuller, root-and-branch look at your website and online presence in general to ensure that it’s working for you, not against you.

Agree with the changes or not, the SRA’s motive is to improve transparency, which “should help to promote competition and contribute to improving access to justice”, according to the LSB’s Chief executive Neil Buckley.

In its application to the LSB, the SRA said its objective was to “enable consumers to compare different providers and make informed choices about which provider will best meet their needs”.

Given the fact that recent studies suggest that 96% of people looking for legal advice will use a search engine and 74% of potential clients will visit a firm’s website before instructing, consumers are already comparing potential providers online, and this is just another layer of transparency to help them on their buying journey.

Therefore, it’s vital that you do everything you can to win the hearts and minds of potential instructing agents online. Leave nothing to chance – make sure the SRA’s required changes work for your law firm, not against you

Implementing the SRA changes will offer a layer of transparency around your pricing and service delivery, but if this isn’t done within an online environment that is supportive of that information, then this additional transparency could end up being counterproductive.

That being the case, here are some things that you should consider alongside the SRA’s required changes.

Website design

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does your website offer a certain level of sophistication in design and user experience that is aligned with the online expectations of an increasingly internet savvy population?
  • Does your website accurately portray your firm’s brand and value proposition?
  • Does your website accurately portray the depth or your expertise?
  • Does your website prominently display indicators of trust?
  • Given that your website will often be a potential instructing agents first experience of your firm, are you making a positive first impression?

If properly addressed, all of the above can be used to, for example, support a certain price point by suggesting gravitas, authority and expertise. Pricing information delivered within a website that answers no to all of the above isn’t likely to be as well received.

Content

You know how good your law firm is. The average person visiting your site via organic search has no idea, while the person visiting your website via a referral has an inkling but would like some more information about what you do and how you do it.

This is where publishing in-depth, authoritative content on your site comes in to play. You will need to publish information around pricing, so it makes sense to say as much as you can about what it is that you expect people to pay for. Use content to highlight your experience, expertise and authority across relevant areas of practice.

Lawyer bios

It also makes sense to be transparent about who will be carrying out the work. People buy from people, as the old saying goes. Certainly, across all the law firm websites we manage, the bios of fee-earners are always amongst the most visited pages, so don’t be shy.

Trust icons

If you are ranked in the legal directories, have won awards, are industry accredited, then these ‘trust icons’ should be prominently displayed on your website – for desktop, mobile and tablet.

Case studies and testimonials

Further demonstrate authority and help build trust with potential instructing agents by highlighting to them, where possible, the terrific work you have carried out for others.

Publications/media

If you have been published in relevant industry publications, or called upon by the media for an opinion, make sure this is referenced on your site (and always ask for a link back to your site from such publications where possible).

If you’ve worked on particularly complex or high-profile cases, try to leverage that as much as possible.

Social

If used properly, social media platforms relevant to your audience can be a great place to highlight thought leadership, knowledge share, debate, network and engage with potential clients.




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