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Does the legal sector need to be more transparent about pricing?

Last week, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) published two pieces of research supporting the movement to encourage lawyers to be more transparent with regards to their pricing. One research paper is named ‘Price transparency in the legal services market’ which was conducted from a firm perspective with 1,146 legal firms surveyed. The other is ‘Price transparency in the conveyancing market’ from a consumer perspective with 4,001 members of the public and 1,001 recent house buyers.

Transparent pricing in the legal sector has been in the spotlight since the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) report was released back in December 2016. And now off the back of the research, the SRA announced that “Greater price transparency would help people make better choices about legal services”.

The legal sector generally still adopts a very traditional approach to pricing but is it still the right approach in an increasingly connected world? It is now second nature for consumers to refer to price comparison sites for many different services as it allows for complete transparency when choosing a provider and the legal sector will not remain immune to change forever, indeed fixed fees have permeated family law quite significantly in recent years driven by changes in legal aid.

When charging on an hourly basis, solicitors through experience can provide an estimation of the total cost but of course, there is always the danger that unforeseen complications could escalate that initial estimate. Fixed fees offer certainty and peace of mind from the outset at what can be a sensitive time for a bereaved family.

Tom Curran, Kings Court Trust’s Chief Executive Officer commented on the matter: “Kings Court Trust would urge all solicitors to review their pricing structures in light of these new findings and to consider offering fixed-fees to meet consumer demands.”

“At Kings Court Trust, we’ve always offered a guaranteed, fixed-price as we believe it’s essential to be open about pricing so each individual has clarity on the service we’re providing and the cost involved. We truly believe that fixed fees do not compromise on quality but provide a consumer route into transparency alongside quality.”, Tom Curran added.

The ‘Price transparency in the legal services market’ research revealed that a surprisingly low percentage (18 percent) of the firms surveyed advertised price information on or offline. 53 percent said that they didn’t advertise prices because they based the price on the needs of each client and 17 percent because they didn’t want competitors to see their prices.

From a consumer perspective, the ‘Price transparency in the conveyancing market’ revealed that two-thirds of people surveyed said they shopped around but just 15 percent of consumers could obtain the pricing information they wanted without making a specific request first.

However, we could see changes to regulations in 2018 as the SRA Chief Executive, Paul Philip said: "We will consider the research findings alongside responses to our late 2017 consultation on better information, so that we make sure any future changes are based on strong evidence. That it is sound in practice as well as principle."

It certainly seems that pricing transparency among solicitors is set to be a hot topic of conversation in 2018. We expect that it will continue to hit the headlines over the coming months so we’ll strive to keep you up-to-date with the latest information.

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