Enforced publication of reams of information about legal services may hamper and not help consumers as they seek to make an informed choice about instructing a solicitor.
New research, from London Economics and YouGov, shows how vital it is that consumers get the right information, in the right way and at the right time.
“Solicitors already do a lot of work to ensure this happens for their clients,” points out Law Society of England and Wales president Joe Egan. “Solicitors are better placed than the regulator to know what information clients need, and to provide it in a user-friendly format.”
“Legal issues can be extremely complex so publishing a raft of information without proper context - as the regulator is proposing - may confuse rather than aid consumers.
“There is no ‘one size fits all’ – these are complex issues that need careful unpicking. In this instance the regulatory approach is inflexible and risks driving competition on price alone, rather than on other important considerations such as quality or protections.”
The research, commissioned by the Law Society, takes an in-depth look at how consumers behave. The results underline the complexities of consumer behaviour in relation to legal services, strongly indicating there is unlikely to be a standard set of information or way of providing it that all consumers will benefit from.
Joe Egan added: “People tend optimistically to assume that things won’t go wrong. Our research showed that this can lead to consumers placing too much reliance on price information on a website, and not enough reliance on other factors that may be more important such as the experience of the solicitor and the regulatory protections in place.
In a surprise admission, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) – which is behind the consultation - acknowledged unregulated entities cannot be forced to publish anything about their business, including about the level of client protection they offer, while regulated law firms would be forced to publish reams of information.
"It seems counter-intuitive that consumers should have less information about solicitors operating away from the full protections of regulation," Joe Egan added. “Nor does it seem sensible to put additional burdens on high street firms, which their unregulated competitors will not face.
"Most clients seek legal advice at moments of great anxiety and stress. Helping them to make informed choices about what is required to resolve their legal problems is at the heart of our work.
Notes to editors
The SRA’s consultation on its proposals for solicitors’ firms sharing information closes on 20 December 2017. We are encouraging all interested parties to take part.
See the SRA consultation
The Law Society has already submitted its response including the research.
Read the Law Society response
Additionally the Law Society has developed a transparency toolkit to help solicitors firms explain their pricing.
View the toolkit
About the Law Society
The Law Society is the independent professional body that works globally to support and represent its members, promoting the highest professional standards, the public interest and the rule of law.
Press office contact: Ben Davies | +44 (0)20 7316 5592