What transparency? Only 28% of websites show prices

The new SRA badge: Soon to be compulsory for firms

The profession has a long way to go to comply with the new price and service transparency requirements, with just 28% of firms compliant or close to compliant, Legal Futures research has found.

A snapshot survey of 50 law firms’ websites showed that only 14 had the kind of information on their sites that the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) requires with its new rules.

We simply Googled ‘conveyancing solicitors near me’ from our base in South Hertfordshire to find that the vast majority of firms showed no sign that they were aware of the new rules that came into force yesterday.

Indeed, a few did not even include basic regulatory information that they have long had to put on their websites.

In some instances, firms had added comprehensive fee information but not service information or details of staff.

How the information was displayed varied. Some firms referenced it in the menu across the top of their website – one even called it ‘Transparency information’ – while others included it within the pages for the specific services. A couple hid it away in a link at the bottom of their sites.

Two firms made somewhat grudging reference to the fact that they were publishing the information because it was “required” by the SRA.

Some firms had conveyancing fee calculators – although most required a submission that would be replied to by email, rather than an instant quote – but their lack of fee information for other services covered by the new rules indicated that these were already in place.

Examples of comprehensive information included Comptons Solicitors, Harold Benjamin, Starck Uberoi and Keith Flower & Co, which also stressed that it did not pay referral fees.

The Council for Licensed Conveyancers’ (CLC) transparency rules also came into effect yesterday.

Two of the websites we visited already included the new digital badge that the SRA launched yesterday.

The aim is to tell people that they are on the website of a regulated law firm and forms part of the transparency push, in response to what the SRA said was “the public’s demand for better information on the protections people get from using a regulated law firm”.

It said research carried out earlier this year found that, when searching for a legal services provider, 79% felt more comfortable selecting providers that displayed a badge, 86% wanted to have access easy access to information on protections, and consumers were 14% more likely to buy services from a firm displaying a badge than an identical firm that did not

By clicking on the badge – which will only display on the websites of SRA-regulated firms – visitors will be able to access information outlining the protections offered to them.

This includes that the firm meets the SRA’s standards, has appropriate insurance and access to the Compensation Fund, and that its clients can potentially raise complaints with the SRA or Legal Ombudsman.

While use of the badge is initially voluntary, it will become mandatory for all SRA-regulated firms later in 2019. More information about it can be found here.

SRA chief executive Paul Philp said: “By publishing prices, outlining services and displaying our new badge, regulated law firms will be able to set themselves apart from others and help potential clients to see the benefits they offer.”

The badge is also likely to help with anti-fraud efforts. The CLC was the first to introduce a digital badge last year, with the aim of significantly reducing the risk of impersonation online through cloned or copied websites. It also helps to identify fraudsters setting up fake firms claiming to be regulated by the CLC.

    Readers Comments

  • John Harvey says:

    Actions speak louder than words. Why should firms that don’t follow the rules be trusted to charge for advice to lay clients on compliance with rules etc. Prompt action is needed

    Some years ago the Charity Commission started “class actions” against charities which failed to submit accounts to it. And published the names of those being investigated to protect potential donors.

    SRA should take a similar approach with those failing to publish price information to protect potential clients – the reason that it exists.

    Proper use of artificial intelligence should make this a comparatively easy operation. If SRA doesn’t take a lead comparison sites can be expected to do so.

  • Kevin Peake says:

    Amazed more firms are not doing this -let alone providing calculators to help clients deal with the complex pricing, especially on probate. The industry need to move into the future to serve client needs

  • Arthur Robinson says:

    Information about the fees to be charged must be given to every client in the initial client care letter. The SRA rule on Transparency has been dreamt up by people who believe that this requirement will benefit potential clients of a law firm. It is window dressing. It is pointless.

  • Jebediah says:

    Like all ‘bright ideas’ introduced across the board by regulatory bodies, this will do nothing but burden the smaller firms and not the larger firms. Most larger firms have such complex websites that they can simply bury their legal notices somewhere that is not easy to find. Smaller firms with less complex websites who are acting for clients more susceptible to price cannot do this and eventually it will cause the smaller firms to begin undercutting one another in a bid to secure work. Using a professional service based on a cheaper price is a dangerous game as that drop in price must be made up for somewhere and with smaller firms the most natural place will be to lower overheads through hiring less qualified fee earners. The consumer, who never foresees the potential dangers of the transaction like the lawyer does, may be happy paying less, but really they will eventually be receiving a lower standard of service and the solicitor will be left providing its professional service in an ever increasingly litigious world without proper remuneration for its time and without the sufficient margins to hire the right talent.

    The other alternative, which is happening at the moment is that firms will start to charge in complex ways, charging an initial low base rate to appear competitive, but then adding on small fixed fees of £50 here and there to carry out admin tasks that should really form part of the instruction anyway.

    The SRA should look to regulate in a way that nurtures the law firm. All this does is add yet another obligation and damage the smaller firm in an attempt to appear to be promoting transparency and accountability and in the long run will probably lead to a fall in quality in the wider UK legal sector when compared with other countries.

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