The Solicitors Regulation Authority has proposed a requirement for law firms to publish their prices online, and to outline what services are included, in a bid to increase transparency and help consumers when choosing a legal services provider. The proposals were born of a call by the Competition and Markets Authority for greater transparency in the legal sector.
However, the Law Society criticised the proposals, arguing that the plans are unnecessary, and even unhelpful, given the complexity of the legal needs that clients may have.
Whilst misconceptions about the potential costs may be a barrier preventing some from accessing legal services, publishing complex information about fee structures is not necessarily going to reassure nervous potential clients, and could add unnecessary confusion if they are not sure what the services they need could extend to.
Whilst the intent of the reforms is highly laudable, I suspect the Law Society raises valid questions about how much benefit this move would really offer consumers in practice, over and above existing procedures.
The Society said there is ‘no robust evidence’ that consumers feel they have limited choice, indeed research this year from the Legal Services Consumer Panel found 71% of consumers had reported having a fair or great deal of choice. Chancery Lane also suggested that some aspects of price publishing might cause confusion or mislead, as some clients are not able to assess the extent of their legal needs when they make their first enquiry. ‘It is therefore unlikely that accurate and meaningful price information can be provided on a website,’ said the Society. ‘Consumers in that category will be no better informed by "shopping around" or any more able to make an assessment of the real cost.’