The Legal Services Board (LSB) has warned the frontline regulators that it will take action if they do not deliver new measures to improve transparency around lawyers’ services by September.
Earlier this week, the Legal Services Consumer Panel wrote to the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) to express its frustration at how little has been done on introducing indicators of the quality of legal services since the CMA first identified their need in 2016.
The letter from chair Sarah Chambers was critical of the speed of progress made by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) and CILEX Regulation – which last year published a joint report on a quality indicators pilot – as well as the LSB.
Requirements on publishing price and service information were first introduced for solicitors and licensed conveyancers in late 2018, and quality information was the next step.
The policy goal is to help consumers in shopping around for and choosing the right lawyer for them.
The LSB issued a policy statement on empowering consumers in April 2022, setting out its expectations of regulators and saying it expected them to “a sense of pace and urgency”.
It subsequently said it expected to see progress by this September but Ms Chambers considered it “highly unlikely that by September 2024 we will see the development of a consistent, comprehensive and comparable set of quality indicators that consumers need to be able to make informed choices in this market”.
An LSB spokesman told Legal Futures: “It is essential that anyone looking for legal help has all the information they need to find a suitable legal services provider. That includes knowing upfront what a lawyer could do for them, how much it might cost, and the level of service they should get.
“We agree there is a need for action, and that’s why we’ve set clear expectations for all regulators to improve consumer information. They’ve all assured us they will comply by September 2024.
“Should this not be the case, we have a wide range of powers to ensure regulators follow through and empower people who need legal services.”
CLC chief executive Sheila Kumar pushed back at the panel, describing the tone of its letter as “very disappointing”, and said the regulator would be writing to the CMA itself.
“The CLC’s informed choice agenda has significantly improved the information available to consumers choosing a specialist probate or conveyancing lawyer,” she said.
Ms Kumar explained that its 2024 business plan includes work taking forward the actions set out in last year’s report.
“This continued work will deliver further benefits to consumers. The CLC has worked hard to ensure that there is a consistent, cross-sector approach, which may have held us back, but a cross-sector solution is ultimately the most beneficial for consumers to compare across the range of providers.”
An SRA spokesman acknowledged that there was “more the sector can do to ensure that consumers have the best information to help them make informed decisions”.
He continued: “To support them, we are following the approach recommended by the CMA – taking an incremental approach and testing potential interventions before implementing them to make sure any changes bring about the intended benefits.”
He said the SRA’s business plan committed it to “further progressing” the findings of the pilot.
John Barwick, interim chief executive at CILEX Regulation, added: “We are currently evaluating the information our authorised firms are publishing and reflecting against the LSB’s empowering consumers policy statement expectations.
“We are considering where there can be improvements to the provision of consumer information. We have reached out to collaborate with other regulators to develop information provision and presentation in a consistent format across the sector.”