LSB warns regulators of enforcement action on lawyer quality indicators

Reviews: Concerns over slow progress 

The Legal Services Board (LSB) has warned regulators that they could face enforcement action over “slow” progress in developing quality indicators to help consumers choose lawyers.

The LSB said that where regulators failed to take “sufficient action” to implement its policy statement on empowering consumers, it “may wish to conduct thematic or targeted reviews and/or undertake enforcement action”.

In a paper for its most recent board meeting, the LSB said: “Overall, while regulators have made some positive progress in empowering consumers to engage with the legal services market more effectively via price and service information, the pace of progress on quality indicators has been slow.”

The oversight regulator said it shared “concerns about the pace of progress” with the Legal Services Consumer Panel (LSCP), which wrote to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in January this year, complaining about “painfully slow progress” on quality indicators.

The LSB believed the best way to make progress was to “hold the regulators to account” on compliance with the expectations of its statement of policy, published in April 2022. It informed the CMA in February this year about its work on the issue and promised to “continue to engage” with it.

The LSB said the policy statement set out “both general expectations, principles, and specific expectations for the regulators”.

The aim was to empower consumers by ensuring they had sufficient information about the quality as well as the price of legal services. This would enable them to “shop around and make the right choices”.

The LSB said at the time that said it expected to see “a sense of pace and urgency” from regulators in improving the flow of information.

Since publication of the statement, the LSB said it had obtained confirmation from regulators through the Market Transparency Co-ordination and Oversight Group that “they expect to meet the statement of policy’s expectations by the end of September 2024”.

The oversight regulator has been working to implement the CMA’s recommendation, in its 2020 review of the earlier 2016 legal services market study, that there should be “a single digital register of all regulated entities and professionals”.

Working in co-operation with the LSCP and the regulators, the LSB said it had developed a ‘Regulatory Information Service’, and the Legal Choices governance board had committed to “identifying the design and implementation process” via the Legal Choices website, which would “have the functionality of a single digital register for all regulated legal professionals”.

Legal Choices is the consumer-facing website run and paid for by all the legal regulators.

The LSB said its most recent assessment of the regulators’ performance showed they “still had varying amounts of work to do to fully take account of the statement of policy, meet its expectations and demonstrate how their initiatives do so”.

The Bar Standards Board, CILEx Regulation and the Faculty Office needed to do “more on transparency”, while the Solicitors Regulation Authority, CILEx Regulation and the Council for Licensed Conveyancers needed to “make clear” how they would implement the findings of the joint quality indicators pilot.

A report on the pilot, launched in 2021, was published last summer. It found that consumers considered reviews and comparison websites helpful in choosing a legal services provider, but “barriers remain” to making information on services and performance more readily available.

Pilot law firms, including some of the smallest firms in the study, said they had seen increased contact from consumers as a direct result of engaging with online reviews.

The LSB said it would write to regulators this month, asking for assurance that they were implementing the policy statement’s expectations “and set out what we may do if they cannot provide us with sufficient assurance”.

The regulators would be formally requested to provide the assurance in September 2024. In October and November, the LSB would review regulators’ responses and “consider further action in relation to any regulator who has not provided sufficient assurance”.

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