What will greater transparency in the legal services market mean for your firm?
Whilst the legal services sector has undergone significant changes over the past few years, the shift towards greater transparency in the market means this is set to continue.
Regulator proposals on transparency, from the SRA in particular, have been met with a mixed reaction, namely in relation to what they will mean for professionals and their firms. However, though the aim of the proposals is to enable consumers to be more informed in their decision making, this does not mean that those required to implement the changes will fail to benefit.
In fact, the resulting regulations which are eventually put forward could provide firms with a valuable opportunity to differentiate services from competitors.
Initially, the request for greater transparency in the legal services market was made by the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA), with one of the headline statistics revealing that just 17% of legal service providers publish prices online. According to the CMA, regulators, as well as firms, should do more to satisfy unmet demand for certain legal services.
In response, the Solicitors Regulation Authority confirmed its support for the publication of prices, advising on how it thought the market should proceed, and opening a consultation on its planned proposals.
Within the proposed plans, the regulator acknowledged the challenges that price publication could raise for firms, citing concerns in regard to access, comparability, as well as that it could result in a ‘race to the bottom’. However, one of the main obstacles cited related to quality, something that price alone fails to indicate.
Whilst price can, of course, go some way towards influencing consumer decision making, the quality of that service being delivered is ultimately what the consumer is looking for in a legal provider.
As was highlighted by the SRA’s Crispin Passmore at the annual LFS Conference last year, the requirement for firms to publish prices encourages improvement of processes as well as take steps to stand out from the competition. However, it is the communication of this which will predominantly be key.
One of the suggestions put forward in the SRA’s consultation is for firms to highlight the specialisms of the firm and to effectively utilise quality data.
Whilst the majority of firms practising in the same area of law may offer similar services, their areas of specialism are likely to be quite different. Therefore, following the introduction of price publication, focussing on specialist skills, accreditations and even languages spoken could become much more important for firms.
In addition to looking at factors which differentiate a firm, consumers are likely to want to know about the experiences that others have had with a firm, going in search of reviews. This is what makes providing quality data so important for firms; no matter how highly you describe the standard of your services, a potential client is far more likely to place trust in an online review from a real customer than an explanation on a website. From the perspective of a new visitor therefore, being able to access the reviews of previous clients may lead them to choose your services over those of a competitor.