Legal regulators have failed to open up their professional registers containing disciplinary information to price comparison websites, despite having been instructed to do so by the Legal Services Board (LSB), the Legal Services Consumer Panel (LSCP) has complained.
Meanwhile, two regulators have risked confusing consumers by directing them to representative bodies’ websites for information held on the registers, it said.
In the second of its two discussion papers on how regulators can help consumers play a more active role in the legal services market – published a fortnight after the first – the panel examined efforts currently taken by legal regulators to empower consumers.
Last September the LSB indicated that opening up professional registers to comparison sites would be considered as proof that approved regulators are complying with the board’s approach to quality, while in June the LSB encouraged the regulators to make their registers available. “None have yet done so”, the LSCP noted.
“As far as we know, the only positive step to date is a commitment by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to organise a roundtable with comparison website operators in early 2013,” said the panel.
In a review of regulators’ transparency by making available to the public through their own websites the information in their professional registers, the LSCP praised the Bar Standards Board and the Costs Lawyer Standards Board for respectively integrating disciplinary findings within the contact information provided and listing any conditions on lawyers’ practising certificates.
However, it singled out ILEX Professional Standards and the SRA for criticism because visitors to their websites are redirected to their representative arms. “This seems an unnecessary inconvenience for consumers and sends unhelpful messages about how independently regulation works in practice,” it observed.
In relation to all the regulators’ sites, it said: “There is scope for improvement in relation to providing a broader range of quality information across all sites, for example links to Legal Ombudsman decisions.”
The panel praised the SRA for its plan to “lead a collaborative initiative among the regulators to launch a public network for consumers across England and Wales” in order both to provide a “resource for consumers when they need help and information” and to “allow members of the public to have a say about how lawyers are regulated”.
The website of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives was commended by the LSCP for providing consumer information that did not tend to advise the use of its members’ services rather than setting out a range of market options in a neutral way.
“Its guide to choosing a lawyer encourages people to try to resolve disputes informally before contacting a lawyer and mentions a range of legal professionals. It also advises people to shop around, suggests how to compare lawyers, and recommends how consumers can prepare for their first meeting,” the panel said approvingly.