“No appetite” among law firms for transparency quality mark

Maxwell Scott: Most information reviews are the ones in shortest supply

There is “no real appetite” among consumer law firms for an accreditation scheme or othe recognition denoting the quality of their transparency, a report has found.

But the Association of Consumer Support Organisations (ACSO) agreed that the focus should shift from price transparency and towards transparency of quality.

It said that while a transparency mark suggested by the Competition & Markets Authority “could benefit consumers”, it would have to be “widely recognised and easily differentiated” from other accreditations.

The current “patchwork” of law firm quality schemes was “not necessarily helping consumers choose legal services providers or indeed provide quality assurance” in the first place.

“It remains to be seen whether the solution is a complete overhaul to create a universally-recognised accreditation scheme or whether other indicators, such as reviews sites, alongside the use of existing quality marks, are better placed to help consumers.”

The “general view” of its members was that “the public do not know or care about accreditations”.

There were also “concerns around how some accreditations manage their research (arguing that the way they make awards is itself not transparent and the conclusions formed could be confusing).”

On the other hand, they were “useful in theory” as a “quick-to-understand metric” and “occasionally” consumers asked if firms were members of the organisation, suggesting there was some value to them.

They were “seen as more useful for commercial clients who are more likely to seek them out”, but there were “firm benefits as a good measure of internal compliance”.

In Competition and transparency in the legal services sector, ACSO said that in 2020 the Competition & Markets Authority suggested that legal regulators explore the feasibility of developing a transparency quality mark.

The Legal Services Board (LSB) recommended a “sector-wide quality indicator framework” but the Law Society “noted that there is already a range of quality marks in the legal sector that exist for consumers, which should be enhanced before considering new measures”.

Since the introduction of price and service transparency requirements in various areas of law, the focus has turned to indicators of providers’ quality, with the Solicitors Regulation Authority leading work on the role of review and comparison websites, for example.

In its report, ACSO recommended stronger regulations mandating that legal services providers publish a description of services provided on their websites, such as which staff would deliver services and what their reputation, expertise and experience were.

There should also be “timelines showing the key stages of the work to be completed with indicative timescales and any factors that might impact these”. This should sit alongside pricing information, such as price lists and scenarios

Generally, ACSO said, the focus should be shifted from price transparency to “transparency of quality”.

The single online register envisaged by the LSB “may well assist” but would work better if it included the unregulated sector. The regulators’ transparency requirements should also extend beyond the existing areas of work, such as conveyancing and private client.

Legal services providers should “engage with online reviews” and regulators be encouraged to create rules and procedures on digital comparison tools like review and comparison websites.

In his foreword to the report, executive director Matthew Scott said “any proposals for greater use” of such tools needed to recognise “the different nature of legal services products and the difficulty (certain areas such as conveyancing being excepted) in standardising prices” when every case was likely to be different.

“Equally, online reviews can be a very useful source of information but there is a danger of manipulation. The most informative reviews – those from previous clients who were neither delighted nor dismayed by the service they received – are perhaps in the shortest supply.

“This is a conundrum which needs to be tackled if the level of unmet legal need is to be brought down and if our sector is to be sustainable and continue thriving in the increasingly challenging macroeconomic climate which we now find ourselves in.”

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