Small law firms should not be exempt from any new requirement to publish complaints data, the Legal Services Consumer Panel (LSCP) has argued.
Dr Jane Martin, the new chair of the LSCP, said the information should be incorporated into the beefed-up ‘digital register’ planned by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
The SRA suggested, in a discussion paper published last autumn, that ‘small firms’ – those with up to four partners and turnover of up to £400,000 – could be exempted from the new requirements.
Dr Martin said the panel was against a “blanket exemption” for small firms, as it would mean that “firms which serve a considerable number of individuals, including vulnerable consumers, would not be obliged to provide this most important data set”.
However, she accepted that the SRA may need to have “parameters or thresholds”, such as number of complaints, in deciding whether data should be published.
Dr Martin agreed with the SRA that data from the Legal Ombudsman could be combined with details of first-tier complaints to give consumers a “better picture of the firm or individual they are contracting with”.
She also agreed that the SRA should take a “dual approach” in asking firms to publish collated data while gathering and publishing its own complaints data.
Dr Martin said consumers needed “pertinent information in a simple manner” before they chose a lawyer.
She said the panel’s “strong feeling” was that information about a firm’s specialism should be considered ‘core’ information, alongside basic firm details, enforcement action and indemnity insurance.
Dr Martin called on the SRA to “show leadership” by working with other legal regulators to produce a single digital register across the sector.
“The benefits of standardisation and consistency cannot be overestimated,” she said.
Dr Martin said the single register should be a feature of the Legal Choices website, as recommended by the Competition and Markets Authority in its report.
She added that the SRA’s “package of transparency measures”, including transparency on prices, should be consumer-tested.
“Consumer testing will play a crucial role in safeguarding against ineffective or even misleading information. Consumer research, testing, and evaluation, will also offer valuable insight into what information consumers prioritise, and the appropriate way to present said information.
“This would be particularly important when establishing the digital register.”