LSB opens debate on improving transparency of the quality of legal services

New research from the Legal Services Board provides insights into the challenges people face when comparing and choosing legal services providers. This is partly because they lack the knowledge of what they need or how legal services work, and partly because the information is hard to find, inconsistent or non-existent.

Sixty-nine members of the public from diverse backgrounds across England and Wales took part in a qualitative research study. They were asked about potential ways of making it easier to gauge and compare the quality of legal services.

Participants said they would value overall customer (or ‘star’) ratings as an ‘at a glance’ overview of actual clients’ experiences. Participants were also drawn to the idea of a single online register of legal services providers. They felt it would offer an impartial, trustworthy ‘whole market view’, addressing challenges in comparing and choosing providers.

This is a qualitative study designed to provide insights into a range of views held by individuals on this topic. Since the research is qualitative in nature, the findings should not be read as being statistically representative. The research will guide our policy development on these issues alongside responses to the discussion paper and evidence from other sources.

The research has been published alongside a discussion paper that invites stakeholders to share their views on improving the transparency of quality in the legal services market to support effective consumer choice.

In December 2020, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) published a review assessing progress on the recommendations of its 2016 study on the legal service market. It found a mixed picture on the evidence of improved consumer engagement and noted that more needed to be done, particularly around transparency on the quality. The CMA made further recommendations and asked the LSB to take the lead in coordinating action by the regulatory bodies on developing quality indicators.

Some of the regulatory bodies have begun work in this area. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC) and CILEx Regulation have launched a pilot scheme involving law firms and comparison website providers. We are working closely with the regulatory bodies and will consider any emerging findings in our work.

Dr Helen Phillips, Chair of the Legal Service Board, said:

“People who need legal advice tend to be in a vulnerable position. They may feel stressed and anxious, and compounded by the worry of their situation they find it hard to judge and compare the services they need. The market needs to work better for consumers so that people who need help can find it easily.

“The CMA has asked us to coordinate activity across the regulators, and brokering collaboration is a good fit with our role as the oversight regulator.

“Although there has been a welcome improvement in price transparency following the introduction of new rules and guidance by the regulatory bodies, price is just one aspect of consumer choice. People also need information about the quality of services, among other factors, to assess value for money in the round. This will also drive competition in the market.

“Our discussion paper sets out some of our thinking on how we can achieve our long-term goal of increasing transparency and potential actions for us and the regulatory bodies. We look forward to hearing people’s thoughts and ideas.”

The LSB’s discussion paper invites responses until 22 April 2021.

Law Society president David Greene said:

“The LSB’s research and consultation follows the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) 2020 progress review, which found that positive progress has been made in the sector on increasing transparency around prices, but less was done on service quality.

“We engaged constructively with the CMA and they clearly listened to us and recognised the progress made by law firms.

“The solicitor profession has made significant strides in providing more information for clients on their prices and services, while kite marks and accreditations provide further useful indicators on solicitors’ expertise in specific areas of law.”

He added:

“The LSB has outlined a proposed framework for improving transparency regarding service quality that considers issues such as how to define quality, determining what type of information to collect, what information channels to use, as well as what the options are for improving consumer engagement.

“We will be seeking views from members to shape our response, in order to ensure the solicitor profession is well represented.”

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