Four websites accessing law firm information in SRA open data initiative

Philip: search facility bringing new visitors to SRA website

Philip: search facility bringing new visitors to SRA website

Only four organisations have so far taken advantage of a Solicitors Regulation Authority initiative that gives them access to information about all 10,000 law firms.

On top of the searchable, online database of firms that was announced in March, this basic data – essentially firms’ contact details – was also made available in April to registered data re-publishers via a new web service.

It allows data re-users – such as comparison websites, and consumer rating/review websites – to access refreshed data every 24 hours. It also lets them directly query the data set from a third-party web application, to create ‘mash-ups’ with other data such as geolocation, service offerings, standard fees and client feedback.

According to information released last week, the four republishers currently accessing the service are ‘find a solicitor’ website, conveyancing comparison service, conveyancing risk management software supplier, and online complaints service AccessSolicitor and Resolver also work together.

Both the Legal Services Board and the Legal Services Consumer Panel have pushed for regulators to make data available, in particular so as to encourage comparison websites to enter the legal market.

The SRA said it was also embracing the government’s public data principles by making the information available to re-publishers.

Previously the SRA provided data directly to comparison websites that met the criteria set by the consumer panel.

Speaking back in March, chief executive Paul Philip said: “We know that consumers look to regulators for authoritative and reliable information. Open data is not just about transparency and availability—above all, the information we provide has to be useful.

“We want to help people to make informed decisions when buying legal services. This first step makes our basic data freely available but we are looking at how best to open up access to more information.”

Mr Philip told last week’s SRA board meeting that more than 10,000 people have used the ‘Law firm search’ facility since its launch in March, searching for firms by name or ID number, “and going on to browse content designed to help and inform users of legal services”. The majority of these people have never visited the SRA website before, he added.

AccessSolicitor CEO Warren Smith said he has been pushing for access since 2013 and it took the SRA over two years to share any data at all, and over three years to semi-automate updates.

“People engage people and not firms so the SRA’s publishing of firm information, while welcome, does very little to improve client choice. I’ve been lobbying for over three years for the SRA to level the playing field and provide just the same solicitor data that the Law Society’s Find a Solicitor service has always published.

“It is an absolute disgrace that this access to basic solicitor data has not already been provided a long time ago.”

Ownership of the roll of solicitors was a major bone of contention when the SRA was created a decade ago, and is likely to be again when the government consultation on regulatory independence is published. As well as being a public resource, the Law Society monetises the roll through selling solicitors’ data to third parties for marketing purposes.

Its ‘Find a solicitor’ service provides more detailed results than the SRA’s search.

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