With the Legal Services Board agreeing with the SRA in relation to price transparency, what does this mean for your law firm and how are you going to ensure you comply with the new rules which hold a December 2018 deadline?

Under the new rules, firms will be required to:

Publish on their website, price and service information for specified legal services such as:

  • Debt recovery (up to £100,000)
  • Employee and Employer tribunal claims (unfair/wrongful dismissal)
  • Immigration
  • Licencing applications for business premises
  • Probate
  • Residential conveyancing
  • Road traffic Offences

The rules do not apply for publicly funded work undertaken. For “freelance” solicitors, the SRA are proposing to allow those working along to provide reserved legal services to the public under individual authorisation. The SRA are stating that they do not wish to impose any additional regulatory compliance on firms.

The aim of the above is to assist clients in by providing clarity of certainty of what their legal fees are going to be. Authorised bodies will be provided with the new SRA digital badge which essentially provides a layer of protection against fraudulent activities, promotes an awareness of what consumers require, and shows that firms understand and adhere to the regulations. This will include publishing on their website the firm’s complaint’s procedure, including how and when complaints may be made to the Legal Ombudsman/SRA/CCL. The badge will also serve as a validation of those firms.

The rationale behind the rules is that following the CMA report, it became apparent that consumers wanted more information to enable them to make informed decisions and the choices available to them when accessing legal services. It was clear that the prices charged and the services offered were ambiguous and that the product was not always what it said on the tin.

As a firm, what will you be required to publish:

  1. A full description of services offered: The scoping of which would be fully outlined in your Client Care Letter/Terms of Engagement
  2. The costs of services: These must be clear, no more hidden additional fees. In the event where the full costs are not available, consider the options available, for example break it down into stages so that the client is aware of the potential costs.
  3. Hourly rates -v- fixed fee: If the firm is charging on an hourly rate basis these will need to be published, consider placing these on the profiles of the fee earners, facilitating the client to decide early on. Firms may also want to consider an hourly rates table on their website. In the event that a fixed fee is in place, does it clearly set out what is included within that fixed fee?
  4. Disbursements: Provide clarity and certainty (where possible) as to what the disbursements will be during the potential life cycle of the matter. For example, for conveyancing transactions firms may want to consider providing a full list on the website of possible disbursements. In other matters, the firm may want to consider listing the types of disbursements that may need to be funded, so that it does not come as a surprise to the client.
  5. VAT: Be clear as to what will have VAT added.
  6. Referral Arrangements: Disclosure as to whether a referral agreement is in place and how much has been paid will need to be published. It does of course need to align with your CCL and TOE.

How can you make this work on your website?

Firms will be considering how to achieve this, what also needs to be considered is “does your firm link up to any comparison sites or other websites”. There is an increasing number of firms that are white labelled under other organisations and they will all need to align, particularly in relation to conveyancing where you can obtain online quotes.

Complaints information must be published to include what the complaints handling procedure is, including details about how and when a complaint can be made to the Legal Ombudsman, SRA and CLC.

Firms must display in a prominent place its SRA number and digital badge.

In the event that a firm does not have a website the firm must make the information available on request.

What next?

We will be publishing a series of blogs on what to do next, breaking down the requirements so that you have a go to resource.

For further information please contact:  victoria.simpson@applycompliancetoday.co.uk