The Legal Services Board has urged regulators and professional bodies to engage with comparison websites for the benefit of consumers, including providing access to their registers, Legal Futures can reveal.
The possibility of accrediting comparison websites has also been put on the LSB’s medium-term agenda.
LSB chairman David Edmonds has written to the regulators and professional bodies to support the recommendations of a report from its consumer panel,  published in February.
The report called on the LSB to work with the panel to facilitate discussion between consumers, comparison sites, providers and frontline regulators so as to secure the voluntary adoption of 20 good-practice standards identified by the panel.
In the longer term, and depending upon the progress of a self-regulatory solution, the panel said the LSB should consider accreditation of comparison sites. It also called on regulators to open up their professional registers so that comparison sites and others can use this data “to provide innovative solutions to consumers”.
Mr Edmonds said: “Consumer choice tools such as comparison sites can help your members connect with consumers, harnessing their own competitive advantages to grow their businesses and thereby ensure that the profession overall is stronger. Such sites may also provide a platform for forward-thinking firms to compete with larger brands that are looking to dominate in some areas of the legal services market.”
He asked the regulators and professional bodies to inform him “what role your organisation will play during 2012 and 2013 to tackle the issues raised”.
He continued: “In particular I am keen that professional bodies and regulators make available their professional registers as these may be an important foundation for online consumer choice tools. We take no view as to whether regulators should charge for the register but we will be keeping the Office of Fair Trading informed of progress in this area.”
Though the LSB said it will consider the issue of accreditation “at an appropriate point in 2013/14”, once the shape of the legal market becomes clearer, LSB papers show that members of the board were concerned about the risks of the LSB accrediting a particular site or arrangement and a user who suffered loss or damage because of the inadequate performance of the site seeking redress from the LSB.
Mr Edmonds acknowledged that some in the profession may see issues such as this as an unnecessary distraction, “especially given what they may consider to be the perfect storm of new entrants and increasing competition, more empowered consumers and liberalising regulation.
“However, the consumer voice is usually the quietest and thus we must listen carefully and act quickly: if we do then our joint endeavours to make the legal services market work well for consumers will be much the easier.”