Buckley: concerns about voluntary guidance

The Legal Services Board (LSB) has marked as “sufficient” action plans produced by legal regulators to introduce price transparency and release other information to the public to help with purchasing decisions.

The verdict on the original action plans published at the end of June came in the wake of the regulators reaching the next stage of the process by launching consultations on how they will actually implement transparency.

The oversight regulator was invited to monitor the plans last December by the Competition and Markets Authority when it published its legal services market study.

The LSB said the action plans provided “a sufficient starting point from which transparency reforms can be delivered”. 

Regulators were “working well together to make progress on joint initiatives and to deliver a coherent approach”, the board said.

However, under the heading of common issues to address, the LSB noted that some of the plans were “silent on whether regulators were considering publication of first-tier complaints data”, which the CMA recommended as being necessary quality information as opposed to price information.

The consultations published last week raise this issue.

It also observed that some regulators were intending to rely on voluntary and not mandatory transparency requirements. “Voluntary guidance may not create strong enough incentives for providers to disclose the full range of information that consumers need,” it warned.

Collaborative efforts between regulators included considering a joint register for disclosing data they held to the public. “We encourage all regulators to continue to work together to agree a set of data fields for disclosure of data ahead of any launch of such a register,” the board said.

A criticism was that while milestones stated in some actions plans were “high level and several years into the future”, elements of other plans “were missing clear milestones” altogether.

The LSB said it would report again on progress in autumn 2018.

Chief executive Neil Buckley said: “It is encouraging that all the regulators have produced action plans which we consider represent a sufficient starting point for the necessary reforms which will increase market transparency.

“Our assessment of the action plans welcomes the collaboration between regulators and the leadership shown by individual regulators in different aspects of this agenda.

“We also highlight some areas where more work is needed by some regulators to address the challenges outlined by the CMA.

“These areas include… finding the right mix of mandatory requirements and voluntary guidance and enabling consumers to compare the quality of legal services as well as price.”

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