Regulators must set quality standards in the public interest

It is in the public interest for regulators to set standards, rather than leave it to consumers to work out the quality of a solicitor or law firm said the Law Society of England and Wales in its response to the Legal Services Board’s (LSB) Quality Indicators discussion paper.

The LSB is seeking views on its discussion paper on how to improve transparency of quality in the legal services market to support effective consumer choice.

This follows the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) 2020 progress review, which recommended improving the transparency of information on service quality for consumers. The oversight regulator is considering the possible measures to make it easier for consumers to obtain quality indicator information.

Law Society of England and Wales president I. Stephanie Boyce said:

“High professional standards, honesty, integrity and high-quality legal advice lie at the core of our profession.

“Solicitors strive to meet the highest standards of service, which explains the high level of client satisfaction compared to other professions. Our research has found that 90% of people are pleased with the service they received from solicitors.*

“The Law Society helps to drive up standards in the profession and demonstrate quality to consumers through the accreditations we offer to legal practices and individual solicitors.

“Regulators should exercise their powers to ensure that consumers can have confidence in the quality of legal services that a regulated provider is likely to provide, rather than leave it for consumers to gauge ways to assess quality standards as best as they can.

“The regulatory system and minimum entry standards should also provide assurances around the quality of legal advice. It must also improve awareness of these among consumers, and it should be a crucial part of developing the overall strategy on quality indicators.”

There is already a range of mandatory and self-regulatory quality marks in the legal sector, including the Law Society’s accreditations, and the LSB should examine how to enhance the level of consumer engagement with existing quality schemes, before considering any new measures.

I. Stephanie Boyce added:

“Professional ethics, honesty, integrity and confidentiality should be integral parts of quality measures, so the public can maintain trust and confidence in the profession and the justice system.

“Given the low public awareness of legal issues, public legal education should also be factored in more prominently in the mix of possible tools to make consumers aware of existing quality marks and nudge them to engage with information available from credible sources they can trust.”

Digital comparison tools

Digital comparison tools (DCTs), which aim to bring together a number of products or services and offer a variety of ways to help consumers choose between options, need to be carefully considered.

“Adequate consumer protection measures would be necessary to ensure clients can safely engage with DCTs, and the market is not distorted so that the public can maintain trust and confidence in the legal sector and the wider justice system,”

added I. Stephanie Boyce.

“It is vital that any decision to determine suitable quality indicators is supported by robust evidence. Therefore, the Law Society supports the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s pilot with DCTs and law firms to test potential scenarios in practice and evidence from the pilot should be used to inform any future policy considerations.

“However, we consider that any mandatory signposting requirements to customer reviews and other DCTs may create a disproportionate burden for firms and practitioners, given their limited use to consumers.

“We are keen to share our expertise of accreditations as well as insight of our committees across a range of practice areas to explore the most helpful quality indicators for clients.”

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