CMA urges legal regulators to move faster on price transparency

CMA: keen not to lose any momentum

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is concerned at the pace with which regulators are planning to introduce greater price transparency in the legal market, it has emerged.

It has also been suggested that greater use of fixed fees could stimulate unmet legal need.

The most recent minutes of the remedies programme implementation group – which is co-ordinating the work being done by regulators to respond to the CMA – recorded CMA director Sharon Horwitz telling the group that the authority “was keen not to lose any momentum and that, where possible, tightly scoped trials or pilots could be used in advance of wholescale regulatory changes which might necessarily have a longer lead time”.

The meeting was held in June when most of the regulators had produced their action plans, and Ms Horwitz noted that some actions looked like they may not happen until the end of 2018 at the earliest.

This would be “a long time from the report being published and give little time for market adjustments before the CMA’s three-year review”.

The minutes said: “The CMA was keen to see progress on a shorter timeframe even if incremental and iterative.”

The SRA told the meeting that it would likely consult on enhancing disclosure requirements in a limited number of areas of law. Ms Horwitz whether it intended to expand these requirements into other areas of law if they were found to be successful.

“The SRA’s view was to see how the market reacted and reflect on the need for any further intervention depending on whether providers of other services started making better quality information more generally,” the minutes said.

“Both CMA and [Legal Services Board] expressed the desirability of having a broad coverage of interventions and voiced an expectation that mass market services would be covered – conveyancing was a good example where in order to really bring about change all regulators of the service would need to be involved, working to a collaborative timetable.

“The group discussed the risks around potentially increased regulatory burdens on small high street firms which served consumers and small businesses, whereas larger firms servicing large corporate clients would be potentially less likely to be affected.

“Research submitted to the SRA by one business had however suggested that certainty over price might actually grow the market and reduce unmet legal need, as many consumers overestimated the cost of legal services and thus never sought professional help.”

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