In the face of upcoming website checks by the regulator, Andrew Donovan looks at what to do to ensure you are complying with the requirements of the SRA Transparency Rules


Earlier this year the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) revealed plans to audit all 9,000-plus law firm websites for compliance with its Transparency Rules. The SRA now takes website compliance much more seriously, and non-adherence can result in fines. 

Who needs to comply?

Firms should not fall into the trap of thinking that the SRA Transparency Rules only apply if you fall into scope for publishing your prices. All law firms with a website must publish their SRA number, information about complaints handling and display the SRA digital badge.

In addition, firms that publicise any of the following services on their website must also provide specific details about their pricing:

  • conveyancing (residential)
  • probate (uncontested)
  • motoring offences (summary offences)
  • immigration (excluding asylum)
  • employment tribunals (unfair/wrongful dismissal)
  • debt recovery (up to £100,000), and 
  • licensing applications (business premises).

These duties apply to SRA law firms and ‘freelance solicitors’ only. Unregulated legal practices through which solicitors provide unreserved (and otherwise unrestricted) legal services to the public do not need to comply with the rules. Freelance solicitors providing reserved legal activities must comply with the requirements to publish complaints and pricing information on their website but are prohibited from using the SRA digital badge or otherwise giving the impression that they are an SRA-regulated law firm. 



What do firms need to do?

Firms should double check the five key points below on their website. 

1. Is the SRA digital badge on the website?

Most lawyers will be familiar with the SRA’s digital badge and know that the digital badge must be located in a ‘prominent’ place on the site. A reasonably sized badge in the footer of the website is a tried and tested approach.

2. Is your SRA number displayed?

This requirement is often missed as people can make the mistake of assuming that the digital badge itself is sufficient – it’s not. Your firm’s SRA number should also be on there. As with the digital badge, the SRA number must be in a prominent place.

3. Are complaints handling procedures presented? 

The rules require firms to publish “details of its complaints handling procedure” on their website and most firms tackle this by publishing their full client facing complaints procedure. However, somewhat confusingly, the SRA has also published generic template text intended to aid firms in complying with the specific requirements to publish on the website “details about how and when a complaint can be made to the Legal Ombudsman and to the SRA”. The result tends to be that most firms publish the SRA’s template information on the website about the role of the ombudsman, the SRA and how to contact those bodies plus a link to the firm’s full tailored complaints handling procedure as a separate page or document. Although clunky and repetitive, it is certainly compliant. While the SRA rules do not require firms to link to a particular page of the SRA website, evidence suggests that they prefer clients to be directed to their preferred page

4. Is your information accurate (not misleading)?

A key requirement for all law firm publicity, including websites, is that information must be accurate and not misleading. For example, if you are an alternative business structure (ABS) and only part of your services are SRA regulated, then the digital badge should only appear on those sections of the website which relate to SRA-regulated legal services. In the context of ABSs again, non-lawyers should not be described in a way which gives the impression that they are qualified lawyers. If you are publishing costs information, take care to ensure that you are giving an accurate picture overall. In attempting to ensure accuracy and to not mislead it’s important you don’t lose sight of these broader overarching duties.

5. Is your pricing information where it should be?

As noted above, not all areas of legal practice listed on a law firm website result in a requirement for firms to publish their prices (at least, not yet). If you do work in one of the relevant areas, however, you will need to publish information on how you charge for the relevant practice area, what rates you charge, likely overall costs and disbursements, VAT and other costs meriting consideration. 

The SRA have published templates for what they are looking for specifically on fees but exercise caution when using them. The SRA templates on their own do not include all of the required information (such as staff qualifications) so it’s best practice to work through the templates, the rules and your own pricing information.

Presenting pricing

For those who already have pricing information published on their website, be aware of the following common pitfalls.

1. Prominence

As a general rule, the SRA do not like costs information simply being linked to in the footer. The strong preference is to have a main menu tab for pricing / fees or alternatively to link to the information from the relevant services pages on the website. 

2. Total costs

The starting point should be to provide a simple, clear and accurate price for the services in question. For fixed fee work or other work which follows a typical pattern, this is usually straightforward. If this is genuinely not possible however, firms should try to provide an average or typical cost which might include a range from X to Y. This could also be broken down further into different estimates for ‘simple’, ‘moderate’ and ‘complex’ matters. The key point is that an hourly rate is a basis of charging – not a price – and will generally not be sufficient to comply. 

3. Information about staff

It’s necessary to publish information on the experience and qualifications of anyone conducting work covered by these requirements (and the supervisors for the work). This is frequently forgotten and is often relegated to the ‘people’ or ‘about us’ section. Sometimes these biographies omit the individual’s actual qualification and when they qualified, which must be included. It should also be clear who is supervising what work. Ideally, the costs information would include details of the supervisors for the area of work and then link through to the staff details (which is where qualifications and experience could be listed).

4. Disbursements

It can be difficult to estimate the total cost of likely disbursements. If exact figures cannot be given, then an average cost or range of costs should be provided instead. Try to avoid failing to address items where you are uncertain that costs will be incurred in each case. If the cost is ‘likely’ then the best costs information which you can estimate should be published.

5. Value added tax

It should be clear whether value added tax (VAT) is to be applied to the costs or disbursements and if so what the amount of the VAT is (either by stating VAT is charged at 20% or calculating the sum in currency). The SRA takes issue with firms simply stating ‘plus VAT’ or ‘excluding VAT’ in their published costs estimates. The SRA requires you to specifically state the amount, whether as a percentage or, when dealing with actual sums, the figure.

6. Description of work

The requirement to detail what the firm will actually do for the price on the website is an easy one to miss, particularly for those keen to provide concise costs information to clients. The SRA wants to see a description of the key stages of the relevant legal matter. The SRA has some examples of this in their templates. In practice this requirement makes the pricing information rather long-winded but again you do need to find a way to comply. 

7. Timescales

Many firms miss the fact that timescales for the work should be included in the costs information on the website. Strictly speaking, there should be a timescale for each key stage of the matter, not simply details of how long the matters overall typically take to conclude. In practice, however, even the SRA’s own templates appear to acknowledge that for some practice areas there is really only one ‘stage’ and therefore one timescale to consider. 

8. Price inclusion

Has the firm made it clear if something that would normally be expected to be included in the price hasn’t been? This is a difficult requirement to demonstrate compliance with as for the most part it will not be relevant. Unfortunately, the SRA appear to expect something to be published by firms to make clear that this requirement has been considered, regardless of whether unexpected costs are likely to arise or not. Obviously if there are elements one would normally expect to be included for the fee but are not, then do stress this very clearly instead. But for most firms, making clear to the SRA that it has complied with this requirement will generally involve inserting a simple statement to the effect that the firm anticipates that all expected costs have been included in the fees detailed. 

9. Clarity and accessibility

Overall, is the costs information “clear and accessible”? The overall aim of the Transparency Rules should not be overlooked in favour of the minutiae of the SRA rules, which can be challenging given the prescriptive nature of the requirements.