In May 2020 the SRA commissioned an evaluation of their Transparency Rules. Janet Noble looks at how the findings can benefit firms.

It’s not news that potential clients increasingly use the internet to search for the legal services they need. A recent SRA commissioned survey of 3,539 users of legal services found that just 10% believed solicitors to be an unaffordable option after accessing published information on price. This was compared to half of consumers who had assumed before new transparency rules that solicitors were unaffordable.

Although compliance with clear pricing has improved, the SRA still has some concerns as the survey shows only 68% adherence for those areas of law covered by the price and service information element of the Transparency Rules and 28% for those areas not covered. As a result the SRA recently indicated they would resume work to assess levels of compliance in firms.

The requirements

Just as a reminder, since 2018 the SRA Transparency Rules require solicitors to publish:

  • price and service information for certain services in a prominent place on your website
  • costs information including the typical overall cost, the basis for charges, including any hourly rates or fixed fees
  • the experience and qualifications of the person carrying out the work
  • disbursements and VAT, including the current rates that apply and, where it is impossible to anticipate disbursements, a realistic range based on experience
  • your complaints handling process as well as how clients can complain to the Legal Ombudsman

In addition, all SRA-Regulated firms’ websites were also required to display the SRA Digital Badge (‘clickable logo’) from November 2019.

Note that if you don’t have a website all the above information must be readily available in another format.

New sweeps

The SRA has already made web-sweeps of firms’ websites and contacted firms where it found evidence of non-compliance. This resulted in a small number of firms being subject to disciplinary procedures for persistent non-compliance, where the regulator has imposed internal sanctions including fines and rebukes.

So, what can you do to ensure you are prepared for an audit or, if you have already met the requirements, how you can improve your transparency? Consider the following:

1) Demonstrate value

The report demonstrates clearly that the decision to instruct a firm is more often made on value for money and not price so including everything involved in the likely cost demonstrates what the client will get for their money. The survey also shows that consumers like fixed costs where that is possible.

2) Clarity in messaging

Communicate your prices and the rationale for them in a clear, concise and jargon-free way.

3) Engagement

Use your website as a shop window to engage with clients—offer detailed biographies of your staff including qualifications and experience as well as photographs to personalise the consumer experience. Case studies will give potential clients an indication of how their matter may be handled.

4) Highlight your experience

The most important descriptor of quality in the survey was establishing the expertise of the firm, including showing that the firm is regulated. You can build trust by demonstrating your experience.

5) Big yourself up

Display the firm’s credentials, accreditations and awards, as well as those of the key staff. Remember, if they don’t know you, these things will establish credibility. You can also include positive reviews or a testimonial section for each department (consumers are used to this) but make sure this is kept up to date.

6) Create useful content

Publish thought pieces, blogs and legal updates to raise your profile and showcase that you, and your fee-earners, are leaders in your field.

7) Use social media

Create a profile for the firm and for your staff by using channels such as Twitter, LinkedIn etc to highlight key cases, blogs, articles and videos to draw people to fresh website content.

8) Go beyond the requirements

Consider applying the principles of transparency across all services you provide–not just the compulsory ones. This can make your firm look like you are not just adhering to the rules but are open and transparent across the board.

Now that we are in the second lockdown (with more likely to follow in the New Year) it is more important than ever to showcase your prices and services in the absence of new clients attending the office.

The SRA has some very useful guidance including templates to assist you. See also the Law Society’s Practice Note on this subject.