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Firms’ websites must show prices, SRA announces

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Under new proposals confirmed by the SRA, law firms will now be required to publish the prices they charge. This will cover conveyancing, probate, motoring offences, immigration advice and the cost of bringing claims before an employment tribunal.

In 2016, the Competition and Markets Authority recommended the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and other legal regulators take action to improve the information available for clients in the legal services market.

Last year, the SRA consulted on proposals to deliver on this. The Law Society responded strongly against these proposals, alongside a range of other organisations.

On 14 June 2018, the SRA announced that it had decided to proceed with most of its proposals. The SRA’s intention in pursuing these changes is to help clients understand the legal services available, and their prices, without the need to formally consult a firm.

Price and service information from December 2018

The key change is law firms will be required to publish price and service information on their websites for clients in the following areas of law:

Individual customersBusiness customers

Residential conveyancing

Debt recovery up to £100,000

Employment tribunal claims for unfair or wrongful dismissal

Employment tribunal claims for unfair or wrongful dismissal

Immigration (excluding asylum)

Licensing applications for business premises

Probate (where property and assets are within the UK and uncontested)

 

Motoring offences (summary only and dealt with at a single hearing)

 

This information must include things such as:

  • the total cost, or if not practicable, the average or range of costs
  • the basis for charges, eg hourly rates or fixed fees
  • the experience and qualifications of those carrying out the work, and those supervising.

SRA: flexibility and indication of cost

Firms may wish to note the following from the SRA’s announcement (at paragraph 36).

  • The SRA is clear that its changes are focused on transparency of prices, and not forcing adoption of certain pricing models like fixed fees. It states: ‘Our rules will not stipulate which type of pricing or charging model firms should use.’
  • The SRA has also stated that the changes are ‘broad enough to provide firms with flexibility in how they publish their prices, whilst being clear enough to make sure consumers get a good upfront indication of the cost’ [emphasis added].
  • Also stated: ‘Our rules will allow firms who do not know the total cost of a service to provide the information they do know, for example the average or range of costs.’
  • The rules will ‘enable firms to provide prices based on a standard case and make it clear what additional services would incur additional fees’.

Firms must abide by the existing obligations to give clients the best possible information on costs. However, the SRA seems to indicate the approach it will take on the issues will have some degree of flexibility.

How to complain

All firms, regardless of client or area of law, will also need to provide information about their complaints procedure, including how to make a complaint to the Legal Ombudsman and to the SRA.

New digital badge

The SRA will develop a new digital ‘regulated by the SRA’ badge that all firms must use on their websites. The badge will allow a user to validate the firm is authentic with the SRA, and clicking on it takes you to the SRA webpage spelling out the client protections you get when using a regulated law firm.

Digital register – during 2019

The SRA will also create a new digital register of firms and individual solicitors. This is intended to help clients and other solicitors validate who they are dealing with. This will bring together information currently spread across different registers, and entries will include information on disciplinary or enforcement action, conditions on a practising certificate or authorisation, areas of practice and date of authorisation. 

No publishing of complaints data

In response to our concerns, the SRA has decided not to publish complaints data on individual firms, as it originally proposed. It said that publishing complaints data without meaningful context could be of little use or misleading, and could affect smaller firms’ reputations among clients.

Michael Lonergan is a policy adviser at the Law Society. 

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