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Law firms will have to publish their charges for conveyancing, wills and accident dispute advice under proposals outlined by the profession’s watchdog.
Better information on price and quality of service will help the public to make better legal choices and law firms find new clients, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) said.
At present, the public can struggle to find useful information either on price or the quality of legal services, the authority says.
That means that they find it difficult to make reasoned choices and some do not seek professional legal help when they need it. If they do go to a lawyer, only one in four shop around, according to the SRA.
Under the plans, a single register would collate basic information on solicitors and law firms. The SRA proposes that firms should publish information on their charges and the services those prices include. This would only be for certain types of work, such as conveyancing, wills or personal injury work.
The profession is to be consulted on what areas of work would be most appropriate.
We do not want to impose unnecessary burdens on firms
The SRA also proposes to publish data collated by firms on the complaints they receive, although it recognises that to be meaningful, such complaints would need appropriate context.
Information could be made available on the SRA website and on comparison sites.
As a further protection for the public, the authority is proposing to create a logo showing that firms are regulated by the SRA and covered by its compensation fund. Solicitors working in businesses not covered by a legal regulator would be unable to use these logos, but would still need to provide information on the client protections that they have.
Paul Philip, the SRA’s chief executive, said the regulator was attempting to “get the balance right. We do not want to impose unnecessary burdens on firms, or publish information that is unhelpful or too complex”.
Solicitor rule book to be slashed
More than 300 pages are to be axed from the solicitors’ rule book, the regulator confirmed yesterday.
The SRA said the move was designed to make the rules “simpler and more focused on high standards”, and that they would be condensed to about 130 pages.
Getting the chop under the plans will be what the regulator described as “restrictive rules that add cost without sufficient public benefit”.
They include the need for early checks on students and trainees, so that character and suitability testing is focused on point of entry to the profession; the need for a solicitor-owner or manager to seek approval before moving firms or roles; and the “often misunderstood rules” around being “qualified to supervise” which, according to the SRA, “do not provide any guarantee of competence, but prevent solicitors establishing their own firms once they have qualified”.
The Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, rejected the proposed cut, saying it would “create a Wild West marketplace for legal services”.
Joe Egan, the society’s president, accused regulators of “ploughing ahead with proposals that would see solicitors subject to entirely different regulations depending on where they practise. The regulator has failed to think through the implications for consumer protection nor has it proposed adequate safeguards.”