The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has decided to stop funding Legal Choices, the consumer-facing website which until now has been collectively run and paid for by all the legal regulators.
The Legal Services Consumer Panel (LSCP) said it was “disappointed” by the move and called on the BSB to reconsider.
A spokesman for the BSB said the move would take effect on 1 November this year.
“Having invested significantly in the Legal Choices website in recent years, the BSB has decided that it can best meet its aims to offer the public information about how to get legal help from barristers via its own website which it is currently redeveloping.”
The spokesman said the BSB would “continue to link to Legal Choices and to offer the site content”.
However, he said the BSB had “given notice to our partners” on Legal Choices, along with Legal Services Board (LSB) and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) that it would cease funding the website.
One of the recommendations of the CMA’s market study into legal services, published in December 2016, was “revamping and promoting the existing Legal Choices website to be a starting point for customers needing help, information and guidance on how to navigate the market and purchase services”.
The regulators are in year two of a three-year enhancement plan for the Legal Choices website and social media channels, which may in time include a single register for all lawyers and links to lawyers’ disciplinary records.
They are supported by an advisory panel made up of 17 organisations, ranging from Citizens Advice and Mind to the Federation of Small Businesses and Which?.
A spokesman for the consumer panel described the website as “an important one-stop shop where consumers and members of the public can get comprehensive information on lawyers and the type of services they provide”.
He said the panel was “disappointed” by the BSB’s decision. “The panel is pleased that the BSB will continue to contribute with content to the Legal Choices website to ensure consumers can access updated information on barristers, but hopes that it will re-consider its decision on funding the website.”
Dr Helen Phillips, chair of the LSB, said: “We are in ongoing dialogue with the Bar Standards Board and the other legal regulators about the situation.”
She said the CMA’s study market study and the LSB’s own research had shown that the legal profession needed to do more to help consumers understand legal services and compare providers.
“The Legal Choices website improves access to justice by helping consumers to identify legal issues and decide whether they could benefit from a legal service.
“It also helps increase transparency about price and quality, which incentivises legal providers to compete on offering value for money and to innovate.
“To protect consumer interests, it’s vital that all regulators demonstrate their commitment to these principles by investing in transparency measures.”
In its annual report last month, the consumer panel called on regulators to include more information about unregulated providers on Legal Choices.