Transparency is a critical element in the legal services industry as it ensures the public is able to make informed choices before instructing a firm by having accurate and relevant information about that firm.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) lays out a set of transparency rules that require law firms to publish specific information if they provide services in a number of common areas. The most recent transparency rules came into force in November 2019.
Recently, law firm consultancy, DG Legal, conducted a survey of 422 websites to determine levels of compliance with the SRA’s transparency rules among law firms. The survey covered key areas such as price transparency, complaints handling procedures and displaying regulatory status. Overall, it was found that most law firms appear not to understand the transparency rules.
Let’s take a closer look at a few of these areas and what they really mean.
Pricing & service transparency
DG Legal’s survey showed that approximately 90% of firms were not compliant with price transparency rules.
According to the SRA, price and service details must be published in a clear and easy to understand format.
Pricing requirements include the total cost or average/range of costs, the basis for the charges, including any hourly rates or fixed fees, common disbursements, the inclusion or exclusion of VAT in the listed prices and an explanation on when clients may have to make payments towards conditional or damage-based fees.
Regarding service requirements, this includes explaining exactly what services are included for a quoted price, services that are not included, especially where clients may reasonably expect them to be, typical timelines and key stages of the services performed and the qualifications of anyone carrying out the work and of their supervisors.
As previously mentioned, the objective of pricing transparency rules is to ensure that consumers have enough information to make an informed decision regarding legal services and legal representation to avoid or reduce misunderstandings after work is undertaken. It is, therefore, disappointing that consumers may not be armed with this important level of detail prior to instruction.
At Kings Court Trust, we have always been committed to fair, fixed and transparent pricing for our services, which is always presented to clients prior to work commencing. We also always disclose exactly which services are included in our fixed fees. We are proud of our approach and our clients always appreciate the upfront clarity and lack of surprise when the work is completed.
Close to three-quarters (72%) of the law firms surveyed were not compliant with rules on complaint handling. The failure was primarily in the lack of information provided or that the information was difficult to find.
The SRA Code of Conduct states that complaints must be dealt with “promptly, fairly, and free of charge”, so it is essential that they are handled promptly. They also provide clear guidance, templates and procedural details to aid firms in accurately complying with this rule.
Any business will strive to provide excellence in their services, sales and interactions however on occasion, consumers may be unsatisfied or concerned about the service received. The precise reasons why a legal practice fails to comply with the SRA complaint handling rules can only be presumed, however, while they can sometimes be unpleasant to deal with, complaints are opportunities to address issues or correct areas for improvement within a practice so should be viewed as a beneficial exercise.
For more information on the Kings Court Trust complaints procedure, please see our FAQs.
According to DG Legal’s survey, there have been a few concerns raised regarding how law firms are demonstrating their regulatory status.
The SRA has made a digital badge available for use by all regulated firms in order to help differentiate them from any unregulated firms. It also functions to confirm that a firm’s regulation certificate is valid. It is mandatory for regulated firms to display this badge along with their SRA number on their website however it was found that approximately 25% of firms failed to display the SRA badge or number at all or in a sufficiently prominent manner.
Furthermore, a third of firms displayed a logo but did not do so correctly, meaning they either displayed a Law Society or SRA logo, which they are not allowed to do, or used an out of date logo.
Within such a knowledge-based industry, having the reassurance that the firm one is dealing with is regulated can offer a level of trust and confidence in the level of service one can expect to receive. It can also offer that competitive advantage when competing for business with other firms who may offer lower prices for the simple fact that they do not have regulatory overheads nor offer the same quality as a regulated firm. For these reasons, demonstrating registration with any regulatory bodies is vital.
Kings Court Trust is fully regulated by The Council for Licensed Conveyancers ('CLC'). Even though estate administration providers are not required to be regulated, we have chosen to be regulated to ensure our clients get the added security and protection that our regulator brings.
In all, these results are important as they show the compliance challenges in the legal services industry. It can be argued that some firms need to take a more proactive approach with ensuring compliance with transparency rules. At Kings Court Trust, we are proud to completely transparent with our pricing and fully regulated so our clients get the added security and protection that our regulator brings.