Marzena Lipman, regulatory policy adviser, provides an update on the work the regulators are doing on digital comparison tools (DCTs) for consumers and what it might mean for law firms.

Since the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) 2020 progress review recommended further improvements on information transparency, especially around service quality, both the Legal Services Board (LSB) and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) are focusing their work on quality indicators.

The work of the LSB

In July the LSB unveiled their initial thinking on quality indicators after gathering stakeholder views in a discussion paper which explored the their potential usefullness to consumers. The LSB’s plans include developing a sound quality framework-based on three criteria:

  • independent quantitative data,
  • consumer feedback, and
  • general information about providers, alongside supporting the development of digital comparison tools (DCTs), such as review sites and comparison websites.

The LSB wants to promote public and law firm trust in these services via a voluntary accreditation scheme for DCTs with a code of conduct operated jointly by regulators, similar to schemes run by Ofgem and Ofcom. The LSB will also focus on improving contextualisation and provision of data about a provider’s performance and encouraging public bodies to publish more information about the technical quality of legal work, for example error rates.

The LSB intends to publish a draft policy statement for a public consultation in September which will set expectations of legal regulators to enhance the provision of quality indicators, and wider issues around information on price, service, redress, and public legal education.

The SRA pilot

In parallel, the SRA is conducting a pilot with DCT review/websites and law firms, jointly with the Council for Licensed Conveyancers and CILEx Regulation, to explore how to increase the amount of easily accessible, comparable information on the quality of legal services providers which can be made available to clients. To date some 70 law firms and 10 DCT organisations have signed up to participate in the pilot, including Trustpilot, Review Solicitors and Law Superstore and the SRA is encouraging more practitioners to get involved. The SRA reported that most law firms benefited from taking part in the project and as a result have extended the pilot beyond its initial six months to open it up to more firms. If you’re interested you can still get involved in the pilot by contacting the SRA at qualityindicators@sra.org.uk.

To encourage law firms and practitioners to engage with DCTs review sites, the SRA has published tips on how to respond to negative or fake reviews and how to not compromise on client confidentiality in the process, as well as addressing specific issues related to comparison websites, for example advertising and referrals.

The Law Society response

The Law Society submitted a response to the LSB’s paper emphasising that consumers should be provided with information on quality and not just prices. The challenge is how to develop meaningful benchmarks across diverse practice areas that would indicate to a consumer what high-quality legal services should look like. The regulatory system and minimum entry standards should provide assurance around the quality of legal advice. Improving consumer awareness of this should be a crucial part of developing the overall strategy on quality indicators. While consumers may value customer feedback to indicate service quality, technical quality markers should be factored in, such as specialisms, practising experience and any accreditations or quality marks.

The Law Society is also concerned about any mandatory signposting requirements to customer reviews and other DCTs since they could create a disproportionate burden especially for small firms and practitioners. Given the concerns about comparison tools in other markets identified by the CMA, regulators should ensure that the DCT market operates fairly and that consumers, law firms and practitioners have the trust and confidence to engage with such tools. Earlier in June the CMA launched an investigation into fake reviews on Amazon and Google, so it is important that both LSB and SRA take account of the CMA’s findings.