The role of price comparison and customer review websites are set to come under scrutiny from the Legal Services Board (LSB) as part of efforts to help consumers judge the technical quality of the legal advice they receive.
Lawyers could also be required to provide service or client-care information in a specified standard form similar to ‘Key Facts’ in financial services.
These are among a range of “regulatory interventions” that the LSB is to examine that address “quality risks”.
The LSB is also to explore the feasibility of introducing a single regulatory badge – as suggested by the Legal Services Consumer Panel – as a way for consumers to distinguish between regulated and non-regulated legal services.
Publishing its approach to “safeguarding quality” – the LSB’s formal response to the work of the consumer panel on quality in legal services – the board said its objective is “to enable consumers, wherever possible, to take an active role in making informed choices about the appropriate level of quality for them”.
It said the approved regulators should consider how better information could be made available to consumers about technical quality – as opposed to service quality, which research shows consumers feel better able to judge – and also what “additional regulatory tools are required to underpin consumer judgements about an appropriate provider”.
The regulators also need to define and enforce minimum competence standards, in relation to both technical and service quality, it said.
The LSB said: “Consumers may want to pay more for a higher quality of advice and service, but the consumer panel research suggests that at present individual consumers often base such decisions on either personal recommendations (which may not always be reliable or based on a full understanding of the service offered) or superficial indicators such as the location and appearance of offices.”
However, the LSB emphasised that any regulatory controls should be aimed at ensuring services are delivered to a clear “fit for purpose” quality standard, but not “gold plated” in a way that restricts access or inflates prices unnecessarily.
The consumer panel already has good practice standards for price comparison websites on its workplan for the coming year.
The LSB’s work on this issue over the next year will encompass three strands: developing a better understanding of quality risks; producing a toolkit identifying the regulatory tools and interventions that could be used to ensure minimum quality standards and their pros and cons; and developing a framework for assessing risks to quality to enable targeted responses.
LSB chief executive Chris Kenny said: “The consumer panel has identified quality assurance as an important priority in consumer protection. The board agrees and will support the approved regulators in identifying and acting on risks to quality. As such, this work complements our recent document on regulatory effectiveness, showing how we will seek to work in partnership to develop regulators’ capacity while focusing on what really matters to the public.”