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SRA to consider giving consumers guidelines on how much to pay solicitors


Cost guidelines: SRA says it recognises the "difficulty"

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) is investigating whether to provide consumers with guideline price ranges for legal services, it has confirmed.

The move follows a call to provide better information to clients about solicitors’ services.

It came in a report from Vision One Research, which was commissioned by the SRA to conduct focus groups gathering views on outcomes-focused regulation (OFR).

The report noted that consumers generally do not have an appreciation of what they should pay for a solicitor, nor how long they should expect a matter to take. While solicitors tend to provide consumers with information on processes, timescales and prices, “there is no external source to validate their claims”.

As a result it recommended that the SRA deliver “communications highlighting key information for each legal service (such as an overview of the process, guideline price ranges, etc)”.

Asked whether the SRA would take forward the suggestion of guideline price range, a spokesman told Legal Futures: “All of the recommendations are being considered by the SRA’s consumer affairs function in the lead-up to October 2011, so we will be looking at how practical this particular one would be. We realise the difficulty in providing such guidelines and will be discussing how best to proceed.”

The SRA will know that rigid guidelines are highly unlikely to be viable for a number of reasons, but consumer groups are sure to welcome general indicators that would help the public assess if they are being overcharged.

The research found some concerns over OFR, particularly that the right outcome cannot necessarily be guaranteed in every single case “and therefore it is potentially risky to base regulation on achieving these”. Consumers also said that focusing exclusively on outcomes could possibly lead to a poorer-quality service.

“Some consumers argued that the experience of using legal services was more important to them than the actual outcome they received. This was particularly the case for female participants in our research, many of whom placed most importance on the strength of the relationship with their legal services provider,” Vision One reported.

Some in the focus groups also expressed disappointment with the 10 SRA principles that will govern OFR, saying they seem generic, with little relevance or influence for actual customer outcomes. There was a feeling that some of the principles overlapped – “Act in the best interests of each client”, “Provide a proper standard of service”, and “Protect client money and assets” appeared to them to cover the same ground. There was a suggestion that the first of these three principles was the one to concentrate on.

The research found that time and speed are “crucial” to consumers being happy with the outcome they receive – speed, in fact, “can be a critical outcome in its own right – some consumers told us they might not pursue their interest simply because the timescales involved are too long”.