Price transparency review reveals solicitors are more affordable

A one-year review of Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) transparency reforms indicates encouraging trends as research found most consumers now believe that solicitors are not as expensive as they originally thought.

The regulator surveyed 3,539 recent users of legal services and found that only 10% of consumers, who now have access to information on price, believe that using a solicitors is an unaffordable option for them. This was compared to half of consumers who had assumed before new transparency rules that solicitors were unaffordable.

The report findings revealed that the availability of more online information about solicitors and law firms is already making a difference as people start to use it to help with decisions about accessing legal services.

Since the pandemic hit, the general public and businesses are increasingly shopping online, as nearly a third (29%) of law firms also said they recommend proactively publishing more online information to win new leads.

The introduction of SRA’s transparency rules in December 2018 meant that all regulated law firms must publish price and information on their websites about certain common legal services. Firms without websites should make the information available in other formats. And since last November they have also had to publish their complaints procedures and display the SRA clickable logo.

The main key findings from the research included:

• 77% of the public find information now available online is useful in helping them find and choose potential legal providers

• The final decision on who to instruct is then ultimately based on experience, recommendations and reputation in 83% of cases

• 68% of firms said they are now publishing the required information on services and prices, with 90% saying they are displaying the clickable logo

Law Society president David Greene commented on the review. He said:

“The level of consumer engagement with the pricing information available is encouraging but it also needs to be seen in the context of relatively recent measures which are still bedding in.

“The Law Society has always maintained that the cost of legal services is one aspect of a complex picture. It is therefore encouraging to see that in most cases, the final decision on who to instruct is ultimately based on experience, recommendations and reputation.

“We have also provided substantive assistance to the profession to support its compliance with the rules and broadly the profession has sought to comply. However, the Law Society recognises that there is still work to be done and our support for members will be reviewed to address any gaps or issues that have been identified.”

Paul Philip, SRA Chief Executive, said of the review:

“Currently only one in ten people who have a legal issue are going to professional providers such as solicitors for help. We know that a lack of easy to find information about the services law firms’ offer and the cost of those services is part of the problem.

“So it is really encouraging to see that, although it is still early days, people and small businesses are looking at the information now available and finding it useful, particularly as they think about the type and costs of the service they need. In these difficult times and with more and more of us relying on shopping around online, it is also welcome that many firms see publishing information as an important part of winning new clients.”

With over two thirds of firms now publishing the required information on price and services, this is a significant change, as before the introduction of price transparency in 2018, SRA found only 18% of firms publishing any pricing information online.

The SRA have found their own web evaluation has confirmed that the majority of firms are making an effort to follow the rules.

Other key findings from the research from law firms were that 65% said they found the transparency rules clear and the guidance the SRA issued proved useful – and encouragingly 28% of firms also reported that they are voluntarily publishing prices on wider legal services not covered by the rules.

While, more than half (59%) of firms actively use the Solicitors Register to validate details of other solicitors they deal with.

However, it has also been suggested that many may not be meeting all the price transparency requirements. Earlier this month, Paul Philip, Chief Executive of the SRA provided his monthly update to the board and outlined the steps the organisation were going to take as they once again began to hunt for those firms who were non-compliant.

Read the SRA’s one-year review report here.

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