BSB to test if review and comparison websites work for barristers

Online reviews: Year-long pilot

Four lawyer review and comparison websites have agreed to join a Bar Standards Board (BSB) pilot on whether they can work for barristers and their consumers.

Trustpilot, Lawyer 365, Review Solicitors and Legal Utopia have signed up to a voluntary code of conduct that ensures barristers can complain about reviews of them.

The BSB is now looking for barristers – both direct access and referral – to join the year-long pilot. Any barrister it regulates may take part but employment specialists are particularly encouraged to take part.

So-called digital comparison tools (DCTs) are those that allow consumers to locate and select service providers, using a range of criteria such as location, ratings and reviews to help with the process.

The BSB’s move comes in the wake of a similar pilot run until February 2022 by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Council for Licenced Conveyancers and CILEx Regulation, the results of which should be published by the end of the year.

It forms part of the wider agenda pushed by the Competition and Markets Authority and Legal Services Board to help consumers shop around for legal advice. More specifically, the aim is to develop appropriate quality indicators to help consumers, alongside the existing requirements on publishing price and service information.

All the DCTs in the BSB pilot – which offer different services – have agreed via the code of conduct to ensure that barristers can respond to any reviews and have a clear complaints policy with a maximum seven-day response.

“DCTs shall have straightforward and transparent process in place to allow for reviews hosted on their tool to be removed,” it continues.

The code says consumers should be able to compare providers listed on DCTs using information other than price.

Participating barristers will be expected to sign up with one or more of the DCT pilot participants, encourage clients to leave reviews, engage with any reviews left where possible, and answer a small number of evaluation questions at the start and end of the pilot.

Barristers and DCTs can continue to join the pilot throughout the 12 months.

The BSB said the pilot would help it understand whether and how DCTs could further the regulatory objectives of protecting and promoting the public interest, improving access to justice, promoting competition in the provision of services, and protecting and promoting the interests of consumers.

Ewen Macleod, director of strategy and policy, said: “This pilot is an opportunity to explore how technology platforms such the digital comparison websites could facilitate choice of barrister, help promote consumer understanding of legal services and in the process contribute to improving access to justice issues.

“We hope to see the barrister profession come forward and participate in the pilot to assist us with understanding the benefits of this technology market for consumers and Bar.”

Recent SRA research showed that almost half of law firms were now using review websites, while consumers found them helpful when looking for a lawyer.

For more information on the BSB pilot, click here.

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