Twenty law firms and seven comparison and review websites have signed up to a pilot that will test how they can best work together to improve the information available to consumers.
The pilot is being run jointly by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), CILEx Regulation and the Council for Licensed Conveyancers, focusing initially on conveyancing and employment law services.
Consumers will be able to link to the participating websites from the SRA’s own website.
The aim is to encourage dialogue between firms, websites, the regulators and the public about how best to expand the use and comparison of quality indicators.
It is the next stage of the Competition and Markets Authority-inspired push to make it easier for consumers to shop around.
Research published by the SRA last year found that 42% of consumers who had used a legal service said they would consider posting a review on a comparison website.
Having to date focused on factual matters such as price and service standards, the regulators are now tackling the more difficult issue of quality indicators and they see online reviews as part of the mix.
The law firms and websites will work together for at least six months to test how best to make reviews work for all concerned, as well as other useful and comparable indicators of quality.
The participating websites are ReviewSolicitors, Trustpilot, The Law Superstore, Legal Utopia, reallymoving, Reviews.io and Solicitor.info. Last month, a law firm was awarded damages of £25,000 over a defamatory review published on Trustpilot.
The law firms have agreed to open themselves up to reviews, while the websites have signed up to a voluntary code of conduct. Requirements include providing clear information about any commercial relationships with legal services providers and ensuring consumers can compare providers on information other than price.
The code says there should be a “straightforward process” for consumers to amend or remove a review they have posted, and the sites should have a clear complaints policy for both consumers and providers.
There should also be a facility for providers to respond to reviews.
All three regulators have been looking to recruit firms to the pilot in recent weeks and they expect the number to grow as they push resources out and promote the pilot.
The SRA has published a guide to engaging with online reviews, including dealing with negative or fake reviews.
More resources will follow, including webinars and introductory sessions with the website operators.
The SRA and the other regulators will be actively promoting the value of reviews to the public, including linking to the sites involved in the pilot from its own website. They will also be talking with clients about how easy it is to leave accurate reviews.
In a blog published today on Legal Futures, SRA chair Anna Bradley said the regulators wanted to understand “what the genuine indicators of quality in legal services are, and how to make this information available to support service comparisons”.
She continued: “I’m pretty sure that comparative information has to include service reviews. After all, we all take online reviews for granted in other sectors; routinely checking things like the star rating of an electricity or broadband service provider. So why not for a solicitor advising on a home move?
“Giving clients the opportunity to feed back their views and say to others that the firm they used is worth their custom, is the closest digital equivalent of ‘word of mouth’.”
There is an open invitation for other firms to join the pilot. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org