Price transparency regime for solicitors approved

Buckley: Significant first step

The Legal Services Board (LSB) has approved new rules proposed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) requiring law firms to publish prices.

LSB chief executive Neil Buckley described the rules as a “significant first step” in the SRA’s efforts to improve transparency, which “should help to promote competition and contribute to improving access to justice”.

In its application, the SRA said its objective was to “enable consumers to compare different providers and make informed choices about which provider will best meet their needs”.

Along with publishing prices on their websites for a selection of consumer and several business services, firms will have to publish details of their complaints procedures and display “in a prominent place” the SRA’s proposed new digital badge.

The consumer services covered by the new rules are residential conveyancing, probate, and immigration applications and appeals (excluding asylum).

Two further categories are advice and representation at magistrates’ courts in relation to summary-only road traffic offences and employment tribunal claims for unfair or wrongful dismissal.

Business services are advice and representation to employers in relation to defending employment tribunal claims for unfair or wrongful dismissal, debt recovery up to the value of £100,000, and advice and representation in licensing applications.

Under the new rules, costs information must include the total or average cost, the “basis for your charges, including hourly rates or fixed fees”, and the “experience and qualifications of anyone carrying out the work, and of their supervisors”.

Disbursements must be included, including whether they were subject to VAT, details of the services, such as “key stages of the matter and likely timescales for each stage”, and, where conditional fees or damages-based agreements were offered, the “circumstances in which clients may have to make any payments themselves for your services”.

All costs information must be “clear and accessible” and featured in a “prominent place” on websites.

Firms must also publish details of their complaints handling procedures, including how to complain to the Legal Ombudsman and the SRA, and display the firm’s SRA number and digital badge in a “prominent place”.

The LSB also approved a set of regulations paving the way for the SRA to set up a digital register of law firms, combining information on services offered with regulatory decisions.

Following LSB approval, the SRA has said the transparency rules will be implemented in December this year.

All of the legal regulators are taking action on transparency following the Competition and Markets Authority’s recommendations in 2016.

The Council for Licensed Conveyancers has also submitted its rule changes for approval by the LSB.

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