‘The rules aim to ensure people have accurate and relevant information about a solicitor or firm when they are considering purchasing legal services and will help members of the public and small businesses make informed choices, improving competition in the legal market.’ Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) Price Transparency Rules
The past decade has seen a substantial change in the way UK legal firms operate. Driven by regulatory reforms, rising levels of competition, consumer pressure and a growing reliance on technology, they’ve been forced to consider, and adapt to, new ways of delivering services across a diverse and competitive landscape. It hasn’t been easy.
A new factor in this transition was the introduction of the SRA’s Transparency Rules in December 2018. The SRA determined that putting these rules in place would improve competition in the legal marketplace by offering clients ‘access to accurate and relevant information so they could make an informed choice when considering the purchase of legal services’.
A website sweep by the SRA in April 2019 found that only 25 per cent of tracked firms were totally compliant with the new rules, 58 per cent partially compliant and 17 per cent not compliant at all. SRA Compliance Update
Primary areas of non-compliance were the complaints information on offer, VAT and disbursement costs, key stages / time scales and cost / disbursement information. Three months on from their findings, we conducted independent research to see how legal firms are adopting the new rules.
Compliance is rising
Our results indicated that compliance is increasing. Of the 31 sites we investigated, 42 per cent were totally compliant, 42 per cent partially and 16 per cent not at all. This indicates a strong move from partial to full compliance, while the number of non-compliant firms remains relatively static. Topics that appeared particularly difficult for firms to comply with include a listing of services included (or not) in the price, key matter stages and likely timescales.
It was clear from our own research findings that the majority of firms are making a real effort to comply. Considering the wide range of customer requirements, the complexity of rules and processes and the unpredictable nature of legal matters, the difficulties of implementing this new model are understandable.
Price transparency: Overcoming the barriers
Many lawyers are worried that set website prices could be misleading because they do not consider individual case details. Their main concern is that a client will believe that the published website price is exactly what they will be charged. They are also aware that listing, and costing, each element of a matter could inflate the actual cost of their service and drive business elsewhere.
Those who wish to offer a more personal approach, based on case details, comply by publishing price models for a ‘typical’ matter. They include all of the elements required by the SRA but with a disclaimer stating that all clients will be given a clear and precise price quote following an initial consultation.
A changing horizon
The SRA Transparency Rules are pushing law firms in the right direction. Forward-looking legal practices now accept that being customer focused is the key to future growth. They know that consumers of legal services are now becoming confident and savvy enough to look-around, find, and compare, potential providers.
The percentage of legal services consumers who currently ‘shop around’ continues to grow. Those seeking conveyancing and family services were most likely to price compare (40 per cent and 30 per cent respectively) while only 16 per cent seeking probate, power of attorney or personal injury services did so.
When asked what they considered the most important factors when choosing a legal services provider, 78 per cent said reputation, 72 per cent price and 70 per cent specialism. Price, however, was the most important factor for those in need of conveyancing services (82 per cent).
Many of the firms we reviewed are counteracting the focus on price by adapting their websites to offer free, relevant content online, covering both general and specialist areas. This includes summary advice, blogs, news articles, legal clinics, no-charge consultations and fast, easy contact channels. Smart.
These firms know their success will be determined by how quickly they can adapt to the new channels and technologies that deliver services in a way that meets clients’ changing expectations and offer real value to both parties.