Way is now open to published price lists for legal services

Monday, 03 July 2017
Legal regulators have published action plans describing how they will respond to the Competition and Markets Authority's (CMA) recent study of the legal services market, which demanded greater transparency for consumers, including published price lists.

The CMA report appeared in December 2016. It concluded that competition is not working well in the GBP11 billion-a-year legal services market for consumers and small businesses in England and Wales. The investigation found that upfront information on price and quality is often not available to consumers because only one in six service providers publish their prices online.

The report recommended that legal service providers display information on price, service, redress and regulatory status, including the publication of pricing information for particular services online, and the use of comparison sites for customers.

The CMA also criticised the current complex regulatory system, which it said imposes costs on providers that can outweigh their value in protecting consumers, and may harm competition in the long term. It asked the Ministry of Justice to make regulators more 'flexible and targeted at protecting consumers'.

In April 2017, the CMA's recommendations were formally accepted by the legal sector's super-regulator, the Legal Services Board (LSB). The LSB gave regulatory bodies two months to produce action plans that would prompt law firms to publish more detailed information for consumers on practitioners' prices.

The nine regulators supervised by the LSB delivered their plans last week, with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

They are the Law Society; the Bar Council; the Master of the Faculties; the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives; the Council for Licensed Conveyancers; the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys; the Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys; the Association of Costs Lawyers; and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales. Also, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants are listed as approved regulators in relation only to reserved probate activities.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority, a strong supporter of the CMA's recommendations, plans to launch a trial of price-list publishing in conveyancing and other specific areas where pricing is less complex than elsewhere. It also confirmed the rules will be changed to allow solicitors to work outside LSA-regulated firms.

'In considering how we publish price information, we need to continue having in-depth conversations with everyone, from law firms to consumer groups, to get this right', said SRA chief executive Paul Philip. 'We want to make sure we strike a balance between making sure consumers have access to consistent, useful price information, while not overburdening firms with over-restrictive rules.'

The LSB welcomed publication of the regulators' action plans, which it said showed regulators 'remain on track' to implement the CMA's recommendations. 'We will assess these action plans over the summer and continue to monitor progress on reforms thereafter', said its chief executive Neil Buckley.

 

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