SRA gets tough on transparency
Act now or face action is the latest update from the SRA – the SRA has already approached 2,000 randomly selected firms and will be checking on thousands more in the coming months.
The SRA Transparency Rules came into force on 6 December 2018 and further rules were added in 2019. This innovation was introduced after it was found that consumers found a major barrier to instructing a solicitor was due to a lack of accessible information.
The rules were brought in following a study from the Competition and Markets Authority that found consumers and small businesses were put off from seeking legal advice due to a lack of sufficient information on price, quality and service.
What are the SRA rules on Transparency? These are what a firm must publish with information on price and about their services on their website, if they offer these services (or be asked if a firm does not have a website):
The areas of law that cover members of the general public are :-
- Buying a house (residential properties only)
- Probate (uncontested cases)
- Motoring offences (summary offences only)
- Immigration (not including asylum)
- Employment tribunals (unfair/wrongful dismissal)
The areas of the law that cover business are :-
- Employment tribunals (unfair/wrongful dismissal)
- Debt recovery (Up to £100,000)
- Licensing applications (for business premises)
The SRA also sets out, as part of the transparency rules, that as well as prices, they also must publish:
- what services are included within the price
- anything not included that you might expect to be
- details about the experience and qualifications of their staff
- likely timescales and how long the work should take
Following the introduction of the transparency rules the SRA carried out a review of websites of law firms in Spring 2019 and found that only 25% of firms were fully compliant with the regulations.
By October 2020 the SRA was reporting its findings from a one-year evaluation. The IRN research “SRA Transparency Rules – One Year Evaluation” that was carried to produce the report covered several areas including the impact of the rules, the benefits of the rules and the challenges of the rules.
I’ve looked at some of the interesting outcomes of the report and have pulled out the following:-
- 83% of consumers said they had the information required to make a choice of solicitor
- 67% of consumers looked at the price information displayed on the law firms website
- 80% of consumers agree experience / reputation is more important than pricing.
- Consumer interviews show that many make their final choice after speaking with the law firm from a telephone call or meeting rather than based on the website alone
- Implementation of the rules has not created significant extra costs for firms
- 41% of consumers are aware of legal services price comparison websites
- 29% of law firms agree they would recommend price and service information is good for business
Over and above the rules
The publication of a firms pricing structure on its website has seen other areas of law included in firms approach to transparency over and above the rules. This table shows the practice areas not covered by the rules (in blue)
(Graphic taken from year-one-evaluation-of-transparency-rules_research-report.pdf (sra.org.uk) prepared by IRN Research | Intelligence, Research and iNsight for the travel, legal, information and financial services sectors. (irn-research.com))
Clearly firms are wanting to increase the information they give to potential clients up front not just in the areas the transparency rules the SRA dictate.
Further 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
Recently the SRA brought out practical tips to help law firms comply with the transparency rules. The SRA has had to take regulatory action with some firms that are not complying with the rules. A free webinar is available targeted at small firms which covers what the rules are, common areas where firms fall short, easy to use template to aid compliance and the SRA approach to compliance.
As the SRA starts to deal with non-compliance of the transparency rules by January 2021 nine firms had been sanctioned. The SRA is undertaking regular checks of the websites of law firms.
Recent sanctions published include firms in Bristol, Manchester, Slough, Shenfield & Bath being fined with payments of £1,000 & £2,000 and some being rebuked with all paying costs of £300.00.
Compliance may not have featured on the top of the list of concerns for firms during the Corona Virus pandemic but now is the time to review compliance of the Transparency Rules. Don’t get caught out!
Links to useful pages
Published on 24 March 2021 this is the link to the SRA practical tips to help you to comply SRA | The SRA’s transparency rules – practical tips to help you comply | Solicitors Regulation Authority
The Law Society produced a useful briefing paper on the Transparency Rules back in July 2018 SRA transparency rules: briefing for members | The Law Society
The rules themselves were lasted updated on 29 November 2019 SRA | Transparency Rules | Solicitors Regulation Authority
The use of the clickable logo became mandatory on 25 November 2019 for the transparency rules SRA | Clickable logo | Solicitors Regulation Authority